“The task of the Christian is to remain open to being carried forward by God to a deeper level of maturity. In [Hebrews] 6:1-3 the preacher is saying very simply, You cannot go back in time. You cannot pretend that you do not understand the foundational truths you learned after you became Christians. You cannot act as if you need someone to specify for you what it means to be a Christian in the world. You have to assume responsibility for the level of instruction, knowledge, and experience you already possess.” – William Lane


Though I track his social/cultural commentary somewhat regularly in the NYT, this is the first book I’ve read by David Brooks. Bobos in Paradise is a witty and sometimes mean-spirited description of the U.S. upper class, circa 2000. For a social commentary, the book is a bit outdated. However, I still found it useful & relevant. It provides a solid foundation from which to observe the cultural and moral trends of today, which aren’t too far away from the late-90s atmosphere of the “Bobos”.
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“Bobos” is a term Brooks coined to describe the new elite, a mix of 60s bohemian ideals and 80s bourgeois drive for success. He does a fine job of tracing the origins of our country’s educated class, bringing the reader up to speed with a very abridged (albeit colorful) history from 1770- 2000. From there, he generalizes the Bobos’ consumption habits, political ideology and morals with biting wit. These generalizations range from laughable caricature to surprisingly resonate sketches of our lives.
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The real value in this book comes not from Brooks’ description, but rather his analysis and projection of how Bobo morals & ideology will influence our culture. Two chapters in particular make this book worth the read- “Politics & Beyond” and “Spiritual Life”. In the politics chapter, Brooks asserts that it is possible to be “tranquil to a fault”. He quotes Tocqueville, who had these same fears 170 years before: “What worries me most is the danger that, amid all the constant trivial preoccupations of private life, ambition may lose both its force and its greatness, that human passions may grow gentler and at the same time baser, with the result that the progress of the body social may become daily quieter and less aspiring.” 
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 According to Brooks, this atrophy of ambition has come to pass. In broad, but arguably accurate strokes, he observes the Bobo generation detaching from public life with a corrosive cynicism for government as well as for public & private institutions. This apathy breeds complacency, paralyzing political progress or social change.
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Reading this chapter got my wheels turning and I’d like to take the *briefest* aside to toss in my two cents. There really is no greater contrast between our youth counterculture and the counterculture of the 60s. Hippies found their common identity in fighting injustice, protesting the war and taking political action (or exiting the political arena, which is still a political action). Today’s hipsters couldn’t be further from hippies. Their identity is founded on not what they believe in, but what they buy (or, more accurately, pirate). Be it vintage or designer clothes, obscure music, or whimsical ways of decorating, the hipster finds fulfillment in the discovery and ownership of something he or she usually didn’t even create. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not railing on consumerism in itself. I do believe well-made things deserve to be recognized, bought, collected. However, there seems to be something missing if those items form a generation’s central identity and meaning.
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Reading this chapter got my wheels turning and I’d like to take the *briefest* aside to toss in my two cents. There really is no greater contrast between our youth counterculture and the counterculture of the 60s. Hippies found their common identity in fighting injustice, protesting the war and taking political action (or exiting the political arena, which is still a political action). Today’s hipsters couldn’t be further from hippies. Their identity is founded on not what they believe in, but what they buy (or, more accurately, pirate). Be it vintage or designer clothes, obscure music, or whimsical ways of decorating, the hipster finds fulfillment in the discovery and ownership of something he or she usually didn’t even create. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not railing on consumerism in itself. I do believe well-made things deserve to be recognized, bought, collected. However, there seems to be something missing if those items form a generation’s central identity and meaning.
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The chapter on spirituality also makes Bobos worth the read. In an effort to be conscientious and resist making this blog post into an essay, I really can’t dissect that chapter now. But if you’re interested, read this and check Bobos out yourself. This is probably the richest chapter in the book.
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“The thing we are in danger of losing with our broad, diverse lives is a sense of belonging. A person who limits himself or herself to one community or one spouse is going to have deeper bonds to that community or spouse than the person who experiments throughout life. A person who surrenders to a single faith is going to have deeper commitment to that one faith than the person who zigzags through a state of curious agnosticism. The monk at the monastery does not ead an experimental life, but perhaps he is able to lead a profound one… maybe in the end the problem with this attempt to reconcile freedom with commitment, virtue with affluence, autonomy with community is not that it leads to some catastrophic crack-up or some picturesque slide into immortality and decadence, but rather that it leads to too many compromises… leading a life that is moderate but flat… finding nothing heroic, nothing inspiring, nothing that brings life to a point.” 

In every area of my life, I stand on shoulders. This is no exception. Revamping the blog wasn’t my idea; Bethany actually suggested it. She has this way about her that nearly always inspires confidence and creativity.

We were in the process of rushing through as many discs of The Wire as possible before June 1st. She was on her way to Brooklyn to pursue her photography  & I was headed home to raise support for my new job at a Christian Study Center. While dissecting plot points and character development over wine and salted edamame, the idea popped up. Bethany, being the enthusiastic person she is, was all for me writing and sharing my observations about literature, film, music and photography. I was not so sure. I mean, she’s the one moving to Brooklyn, cultural hub of the universe! Who wants to read the commentary of some suburbanite grad, living life in the heart of the Midwest?

I don’t know the answer to that question. But the truth is, no matter the blog’s audience, I really want to write it. I want to be better at curating what I consume, and hope to create some nice posts along the way. Amid the whirlwind of a week’s packed schedule, and I want to create a place for rest, reflection and good thinking.

So here’s to engagement, curiosity and writing about what is good. Art needs no justification!

I’ve recently been quite interested in the intersection between Facebook, loneliness, local community and our sense of place and identity. I wanted to curate a few of the resources that have been helping me navigate this topic of utmost importance. A lot of us are allured by Facebook and, if you are anything like me, your free time has shrunk as a result. These articles suggest there is more to be wary of about Facebook beyond the privacy settings and information sharing. Our very sense of friendship and community are being re-defined as a consequence of on our use of social media.

Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? (The Atlantic)
This article surveys our national epidemic of loneliness, observing the drastic increase in counselors (“professional carers”), the average person’s surplus of “friends” but lack of confidants and categorizing this plague is a by-product of our American appetite for independence. After setting the premise that we are lonely because we, in some sense, want to be lonely, The Atlantic asks the question: Does the Internet make people lonely, or are lonely people more attracted to the internet?

The nuanced answer the reader receives is certainly welcome. Instead of reverting into sentimentality or nostalgia, the article  makes distinctions between passive and active use of these tools and investigates what the symptoms of each seem to be. Depression and the pursuit of happiness are also touched upon, as well as narcissism, exhibitionism and humility. Terrific read that also directs one to additional resources for the exploration.

Feeling Lonely in an Age of Constant Connection (Veritas Mizzou)
This post points us to a TED talk given by Susan Turkle called “Connected, but alone?” I really like Patrick’s highlight at the end of this short post:

 As Christians this TED talk should point us to several timeless truths of our faith. 1) We must disconnect and meditate on God’s word regularly – that is the self-knowledge the Bible calls us to. 2) The human longing for continual connection can only be met by God’s Spirit, not Facebook. 3) As Christians we must offer people true friendships – not shallow, digital, disconnected disfigurations of friendship.

Technology Eroding Our Sense of Community (The Birmingham News)
This op-ed piece based on an interview with Wendell Berry, sheds light on his take on technology and how it erodes our sense of place. The reporter, Martin Swant, speaks out of his own experiences and ponders how best to remain intentional and present in an age that is firmly entrenched in technology.

The section I had the opportunity to attend in this lecture series was Covering the GOP Primary: Has fixing the economy been in focus? I was particularly interested in this talk because of my dual degree in Political Science.

This discussion was made up of a panel of leading journalists,  including Major Carrett (National Journal), Jake Wagman (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Darrel Rowland (The Columbus Dispatch) and Rochelle Riley (Detroit Free Press). Together, these panelists were from 4 swing states and brought a national perspective, a local outlet focus, and hyper local focus. I wanted to highlight a few of the questions Mark Russell asked these panelists.

To what extent did debates drive further coverage in the election? 

Garrett believed that the debates really did drive and shape further coverage. A few examples he drew on was Romney’s comment on nuclear bombs and how that ultimate promise will come back to haunt him if he is elected. He also mentioned that Herman Cain’s “I check with my advisors” answer to nearly all the foreign policy questions sensitized voters to his ignorance. Then, when he was asked the Libya question, he was crushed, thanks to the build-up from the debate.

Wagman said that it is a struggle to find substance at all in the everyday grind of the newsroom. He said it is so difficult to actually find something to write that is organic. Most things are just passed along from one news source to another.

Riley mentioned that what she realizes in Detroit is that people really want to see who they are. People are frustrated when the debates became more entertainment than information.

Is it true that there is too much coverage on horse race issues? Has this year’s coverage raised or lowered the bar? How about your publication specifically? 

Riley admitted that her paper is part of the reason why it’s hard to cover something that is substantive, beyond the auto industry. that kind of myopic vision can be dangerous.

Rowland said that instead of going to the candidates first, journalists need to go to the people first and understand what their needs are. Like any other story, you must go out into the community and tell people’s stories.

Wagman pointed out that politicians and advisors are generally so scared of going out on a limb that there is no distance between their positions. Often, the horse race becomes the most interesting part. If you try to talk policy, politicians will just give you their talking points. And with limited resources and time, there is hardly any way to dig deeper and go beyond the nuts and the bolts.

How do you provide that dig deep coverage?

According to Rowland, The Columbus Dispatch uses a few staff for those “think pieces”.

Riley argued that the press honestly hasn’t provided that kind of “dig deep” coverage for decades. She held that pack journalism killed in-depth political coverage. Instead of hardworking people, journalism is becoming filled with people who want to make money and become a star. Overall, local papers don’t have the time. And they are not getting the honest, candid questions that are needed in the debate. Instead, the political process is analogous to a soap opera and it becomes mainly about personalities.

Garrett added that the only way to continue to have the resources to cover issue-driven stories is to persuade people to pay for content. One must build a subscriber base. The National Journal‘s subscription fee is $4000/year. 65% of their content is behind a pay wall.

This post is my attempt to retain and respond to C.S. Lewis’ chapter Friendship in his book The Four Loves

Friendship, that mysteriously unnecessary love, bears great resemblance to art or literature, according to Lewis, in that it is not necessary to our survival but it makes surviving worthwhile.

Friendship differs from companionship. Companionship arises from being thrown together in a workplace, family or in our studies. In our hunter-gatherer days, companionship was necessary to band together as a pack and get things accomplished. This is still the case today. We must be, at some level, of the same mind as the people we are working with, working towards a common goal on a team to meet the bottom line or get a project finished. However, companionship is brought to the level of friendship, when, according to Lewis,

two or more of the companions discover that they have some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’

Lewis talks about the benefits of friendship. A friendship doesn’t form based upon common race or family situation or profession. These things fall into place as friends get to know each other. However, friends are on a common quest for truth and they get to know each other through these interests that they share.

There can also be a great amount of humility that comes out of a friendship. Lewis says, “In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters.” In addition to this, a true group of friends all bring out the best in each other when they are all there. Sometimes friends are not complete in just a group of two, they need others to bring each others’ best qualities fully out. This symbiotic relationship between friends is breathtaking and humbling. What a blessing to have friends like these! We can never deserve a gift like this!

Lewis also warns about the darker sides of friendships. Just as friendships can be based upon something positive or productive, so can they be based on a mutual hatred or grievance. Even in good friendships, writes Lewis, “the transition from individual humility to corporate pride is very easy.” It is short jump to go from feeling honored to being a part of a group full of funny, intelligent, loving friends to feeling as though you all are superior and delighting in being known by the “best” of people. While friendship must exclude in some sense (you cannot have an intimate relationship with someone if you are always forced to meet with them with 30 other people), friendships based upon exclusivity are shallow because there is nothing deeper shared but the form of the friendship itself. It defines itself in a negative space, who cannot be let in, and therefore limits itself greatly.

Lastly, Lewis highlights the Christian perspective on friendship as he closes the chapter, pointing out:

The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.

With graduation and my job next year drawing nearer and nearer, I thought it would be helpful to reflect upon some of the best books I have read this semester and what I have learned from them. Reading is one of the best way for me to learn, and whether it’s a biography, piece of literature or non-fiction work of theology or apologetics, it is always helpful for me to discuss what I am reading with others and write about it.

 Fabric of Faithfulness by Steven Garber
Whether your a college graduate, college student, professor or college minister (or even a parent!), this book is super helpful in identifying the core ingredients that people need to connect the dots between what they believe and how they behave everyday. The book explains in detail how students a mentor, community and set of tested convictions to be able to live out their faith. A mentor is someone who can show them that this relationship with Christ is feasible and lasting and demonstrates how it can play out in their workplaces. A community is a group of peers who they can live life with, learning from each other and challenging each other. A set of tested convictions means beliefs that can be interrogated and seen through the lens of culture and the college lifestyle.
This book was very helpful to me because it articulated the purpose and goals for campus ministry so well. It gave me priorities to focus on when equipping students to be salt and light in their university and in their future careers as well.
Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden
I love reading biographies! The best ones are extremely compelling and narrative and allow me to step inside some real person’s shoes for a bit. Biographies also allow me to survey someone’s life and learn lessons that took them their whole 70 or 80 or 90 year lifespan to discover. How spectacular this is!
This is the first Jonathan Edwards biography I’ve read. Published by Yale University Press and written by Marsden, it is a thoughtful, labor-intensive project. Extremely well-written, it encapsulates America at that time period and illustrates Edwards’ life and the Second Great Awakening without any superfluous sentimentality. The reader is able to see this great “hero” of the faith as not a hero at all– but rather a man leaning his whole weight on God’s grace and sometimes so plagued by doubt and fear that he struggled with accepting that he truly was saved. Not only do Edwards’ heart issues parallel those in my own heart and in those of my friends. The struggles that the Calvinists were going through at that time, including church schisms, raising up the next generation, etc., are remarkably similar to issues that the American church is wrestling with today. This book gave me both historical perspective and encouragement.
Friend Raising by Betty Barnett
As I raise support for my position next year, it is both helpful and heartening to be walked through the process by a seasoned veteran. Barnett has been raising support throughout her whole career, and  offers sound strategies as well as the Biblical perspective that one must maintain when support-raising. Also, putting support-raising in the framework of friendship is very helpful. Her book is filled with Scripture and the last 20 pages are helpful resources on how to organize and keep track of your support team.