I’ve been thinking about a couple words lately: Liberty and Tolerance. My kids were completing a book to become “Junior Rangers” at a National Park, and there was a question they were supposed to ask someone: What does liberty mean to you?
My daughter asked me. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of: “The freedom to do what I think is best without the government running my life.” I would add that it’s the freedom to think however I want, and to express those thoughts as long as I’m not calling for violence toward others.
Webster’s Dictionary defines liberty as “the quality or state of being free…freedom from arbitrary or despotic control; the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges,” etc.
Thinking about this has brought to mind the word tolerance. Over two decades ago, “tolerance” emerged as a buzzword in our society. I recall numerous admonitions to tolerance when I was a public school teacher, including lesson plan suggestions, etc.
So, what does tolerance mean? Returning to my dictionary, I read, “the capacity to endure what is difficult or disagreeable without complaining.” If I’m willing to tolerate you, it connotes merely putting up with you. However, once segments of our culture started pushing “tolerance,” the meaning soon changed to not only tolerating someone/something, but approving of it/them. Once that took hold, it wasn’t long before “tolerance” morphed into celebrating and promoting the person/idea.
That’s quite a shift.
As disturbing as that is, in just the past few years, there’s been a genuinely terrifying development: Not only is everyone expected to approve of and promote certain people/ideas that the powers that be have decided need to be approved and promoted, but if they DON’T, then theyare not to be tolerated. If your viewpoint differs from what some people have decided is right, you cannot be allowed to express those ideas.
Universities, once places that thrived on debate and the open exchange of ideas, now routinely ban speakers with whom they disagree from appearing on their campuses and expressing their viewpoints. Some government officials have even called for the harassment of people who don’t fall in line. One governor recently banned official travel of state officials to another state whose policies were deemed intolerant. That isn’t just ironic—it’s scary.
Government officials are harassed in restaurants; their homes are the site of threatening protests; in Europe it’s become fashionable to throw milkshakes at public figures with whom they disagree (is it me, or does that sound like something a kid would do?).
In justifying this behavior, another word is twisted: hate. Apparently, if you disagree with the wrong viewpoint, you’re expressing hate. The official definition of hate? “Intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury; extreme dislike or antipathy.”
In the 1990s, we saw something new: “Hate crimes.” I’m sorry, but isn’t pretty much any crime a hate crime? If someone beats you up, what’s the difference between whether it’s a “hate crime” or just a garden-variety crime? The answer, of course, is what group the attacker belongs to, and what group the victim belongs to. If the groups can’t promote an agenda, it’s just a crime, but if some sort of societal change can possibly be fomented, then it’s time unfurl the “hate crime” banner.
Just today I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Reject Hate.” I couldn’t agree more. But are our worldviews and political opinions blinding us to just who the haters are?
If words like “tolerance” and “hate” can be twisted so much, what about “liberty”? Do we admit that liberty is a casualty of this disturbing trend, or do we change the meaning of that word as well?
Today I’d like to discuss what is perhaps the most common form of traveling in my culture: road trips.
I know some people who LOVE road trips. But being cramped in a vehicle all day for days on end just doesn’t appeal to me. The endless array of junk food snacks gives some pleasure, but ultimately even they end up making things worse.
Perhaps some of you don’t have much experience with road trips…perhaps you’re considering undertaking one…I’ll give you an idea of what to expect.
For starters, your trip will be best if some member of your party is really organized and plans it all out in detail. Hopefully they’ll figure out routes and distances, make camping and/or hotel reservations, and plan meals. If your wife has done this, you’re a blessed man. If she’s actually made a binder with all this information, that’s a bonus.
The locations you can choose for your trip are virtually unlimited, but for the sake of this example, let’s say you’re starting in rural Minnesota and travelling to the East Coast to tour a number of historical sites. Let’s suppose you choose two weeks as the length of your trip, and that you leave home on Labor Day weekend, hoping to avoid crowds (since most kids are in school the first two weeks after Labor Day).
In general, this is a good idea. However, I don’t recommend going to Niagara Falls that weekend, because it’s super busy. Even more so, I don’t recommend crossing the border back to the U.S. on Labor Day, unless you enjoy spending two hours on a bridge waiting to go through customs.
Next, you might notice that the roads of certain states—let’s say New York for example—are awful. Don’t they have high taxes in New York? I wonder what they spend all that money on…apparently not roads.
Now if you cross into Pennsylvania, you might notice that the quality of the roads improves immediately (I guess we know where their tax dollars go!). It will also become apparent (if you’re from the Midwest) that in states like Pennsylvania roads that are flat and/or straight are more rare than a Republican in New York City.
This only intensifies as one works their way farther Northeast. In a state like Massachusetts, for example, the roads appear to have been designed by a drunk British guy who threw a bunch of freshly cooked noodles on a table and then used them as a guide for laying out the roads.
There’s also a chance that there will be lots of intersections that are unlike anything you’ve seen back home (and I’m not talking about roundabouts). I don’t even know how to describe such intersections other than to say not to feel too bad if you navigate them improperly and get honked at by a local.
Adding to the stress that weird intersections can give is the fact that many street signs are obscured by foliage. I understand wanting to preserve nature, but this seems a little excessive. Will the climate be adversely affected if they trim the branches away from in front of their signs?
Speaking of environmental consciousness, you may also see some of those huge windmills that are becoming so popular these days. Chances are that any you see will be sitting motionless. Also, if you find yourself in the midst of eight straight days with no sun, you might wonder why they bother will all those solar panels as well. Maybe they should spend that money on the roads…
One important concern when planning any road trip is determining where you’re going to sleep. If you’re crazy, you might just sleep in your car, but that wouldn’t be very fun. If you’re rich, you could just stay in hotels. Or you could camp.
Maybe you’ve been camping in a tent for years and are ready for an upgrade. Let’s say you invest in a pop-up camper. Perhaps a very small pop-up camper. You might even buy one that doesn’t comfortably sleep everyone in your group, meaning someone (let’s just say your wife for the sake of this example) still sleeps in a small tent. This could elicit feelings of pity for her until you realize that she’s slyly avoiding one of your children (maybe a son?) who is a notoriously restless sleeper. That tiny camper may just sway from side to side with every shift of that kid. A pleasant night in the camper now feels like a ride in a small rowboat on the open ocean.
Adding to the aquatic feel, any rain could leak in, making your pillow and sleeping bag damp (and pretty much defeating the idea of using a camper). At this point, your wife—er, I mean the person in the tent—might have their plan backfire when the tent leaks even worse and ends up with a prodigious amount of water sloshing about.
Water is unquestionably necessary for life, but it can sure be a drag on a road trip. In addition to the aforementioned sleeping issues, it can make any lengthy walking tours less than fun, especially if you leave one of your umbrellas in your vehicle.
On the other end of the weather spectrum is heat and humidity. Most people take vacations in the summer when most of the country is ridiculously hot and humid. This can be a problem if you’re from Minnesota and have little tolerance for what you consider hot weather (anything over about 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
One of the most important things you can bring on your road trip is a map. And by map, I mean paper with ink on it indicating where stuff is. A phone is not a map. While you can’t pick up a map and say, “Siri, how do I get on I-90 West of Boston?”, you also don’t need to deal with the frustration of your map answering your request with “Searching for Azerbaijanirestaurants in your area.”
Okay, so those navigation apps on your phone are very helpful, though they’re no replacement for a good human navigator riding shotgun. This is essential for any road trip. I have to caution against switching roles, because you might get lost. Even in your home state.
I could go on and on (I guess I have…) but let me finish by saying not everyone’s cut our for road trips. However, any relationship requires compromise, and there are plenty of things that are worse than enduring lengthy road trips for the sake of relational harmony.
Have you ever seen the play and/or movie 12 Angry Men?
I’ve watched the movie several times—I used to show it to my classes back when I was a public school teacher. It’s a fascinating look at a jury deliberating the verdict in a murder trial.
It’s been a few years since I’ve watched it, so forgive any inaccuracies in my recollection of the plot, but here’s the gist of it. I highly recommend the film, but I also warn you there are major spoilers ahead!
It begins right after closing arguments in a trial deciding whether a young Hispanic man committed a murder. As the jurors leave the courtroom, it quickly becomes obvious that several of them have no doubt the young man is guilty, and they’re anxious to get their business over with and get on with their lives.
After quickly going over the facts, all the jurors vote, with eleven guilty votes and one not guilty. The lone juror who dissented, played by Henry Fonda, argues that “reasonable doubt” exists.
He proceeds to play devil’s advocate throughout the movie, questioning everything and challenging every assumption of the jurors. He continually reminds them that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Throughout the course of the deliberations, the prejudices of the jurors are laid bare. The accused is one of them, those minorities from the slums, and you know how they are, goes the reasoning. We must protect society from them.
As you might imagine, Fonda’s character slowly wins over the other jurors. By the end of the film, even the most hardcore holdout gives in, admitting that there isn’t enough evidence to find the accused killer guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt.
One of the other jurors asks Fonda’s character how he knew the accused might not be guilty from the beginning. He replies that he didn’t, but he just thought, “the kid deserved a chance,” so he led his fellow jurors to more carefully analyze the facts. As they did, he (and they) grew increasingly convinced that, though the accused sure seemed guilty at first look, there was indeed more than a mere “shadow of a doubt” that he actually didn’t do it.
The film dramatically illustrates the bedrock of the American legal system: The rights of the accused. I have to admit that this has frustrated me at times, when it appears that someone is guilty of something, but nailing down a conviction often proves difficult. But if I was the one being accused, I know I’d sure want a system that protects my rights!
Even so, sometimes innocent people areconvicted, and they end up serving time for crimes they didn’t commit. This is especially tragic when the death penalty claims what turned out to be an innocent life.
In recent days I've watched in horror as many of my fellow Americans have declared someone guilty in a very high profile case without a fraction of the care given to facts that Mr. Fonda’s character employed in 12 Angry Men. An accusation by itself, no matter how serious, is never enough to automatically make someone guilty.
I find it interesting, in light of current events at this writing, that Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayer decided to pursue a career in law after seeing the movie.
I challenge those of you who have decided someone is guilty based on something other than an exhaustive review of the facts to watch 12 Angry Menwith the current case in mind. Be willing to set aside your biases and look dispassionately at the evidence alone.
I pray our society isn’t coming to a place when a mere accusation is enough to find someone guilty.
I’ve made some observations lately about the society in which we live. A big one is busyness (see last two blogs—also notice how long it’s been since I’ve posted anything here). Another is prosperity. I’m actually a big fan of prosperity, but as I look around, I wonder if we’re tooprosperous today. There are three signs I’ve noticed that lead me to ask this.
Sign #1 – Storage Units
Anecdotally, I’ve observed that the number of storage unites has exploded in recent years. I don’t remember seeing them when I was growing up, but now they’re everywhere. We don’t have enough room for all our stuff in our houses, garages and backyard sheds. Now we need to rent extra spaces for our stuff.
Okay, I know a lot of these are used for seasonal stuff around here—boats in the winter, snowmobiles in the summer. But still, it seems a little weird to me.
Sign #2 – Body Fat
This one’s probably gonna get me in trouble, but here I go anyway…A recent visit to a water park put this and sign #3 at the forefront of my thinking. No offense, but Americans have a well-earned reputation in this area. Show me a guy over the age of thirty without a chubby belly, and I’ll show you a rare bird.
Okay, I realize unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food, so maybe this doesn’t fit my hypothesis after all. Or perhaps we need to spend more time climbing steps at water parks…
Sign #3 – Tattoos
The water park was a wakeup call on this one in particular. I almost wondered if tattoos were required for entry. I’m not talking about the little daisy on a girl’s toe or anchor on a sailor’s shoulder. I’m talking tattoos weaving their way from head to foot. I even saw one guy with stars on his face(and wondered, “What was he thinking?”)!
The thing is, tattoos aren’t cheap. The average person at the water park had at least a couple thousand dollars worth of tattoos.
Now before anyone gets mad at me, I have many friends with tattoos—some with a lot. Most people I know could stand to lose a few pounds. And I’m sure I have friends with storage units. I’m not judging any of you, saying you’re bad, or that I’m superior to you just because I don’t have a storage unit, chubby tummy, or any tattoos.
I’m just saying it makes me wonder…what do I spend mymoney on? Do we need to re-think some things as a society?
I’ll leave you with this: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” 2 Corinthians 9:11
Tonight I watched a documentary about what happened to ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe after the end of World War II in 1945. As an American, I’ve always viewed the end of the war as a time of great happiness, when we as a people could get back to simply living life. Of course there were scars--literal and figurative--but as a nation it was a time of relief and joy.
I knew things were different in Europe, especially in the East. The German occupiers were replaced by the Soviet occupiers. I have a unique perspective from many Americans, having lived in Ukraine for a while—I saw the residue of Communism. The decades following the war were a time of oppression, but at least there was peace, right?
I knew German prisoners of war from the Eastern front didn’t fare well, but I never thought about the civilians. According to the documentary, the end of the war ushered in an era of bitter reprisals against anyone who could be construed in any way as associated with Hitler’s Germany.
Survivors told story after story of brutal atrocities against people whose only crime was that they had something in common with the hated Nazis (in some cases just being able to speak German was enough to make them guilty). The world turned a blind eye as the victims of the Nazis became the oppressors.
Their logic was simple: Do to others what they (or at least people vaguely associated with them) did to us. In the name of justice, revenge--whatever—the liberated now turned the very tactics used on them against their formers tormentors. Never mind that these were predominantly women and children.
Those innocents who witness these reprisals—survivors and bystanders alike—watched in horror as they realized the “good guys” were no better than the Nazis.
This film was really upsetting for me. There’s a depth of spiritual darkness I encounter when confronted with these things that’s palpable. I always get a yucky feeling any time I study things relating to this subject, from visits to the concentration camps at Dachau and Auschwitz, to books, documentaries, etc.
I think it’s because this is what rejecting God looks like. I wrote a book a few years ago where a character made a statement along the lines of this: Taking God (as the source of absolute Truth) out of the equation is like trying to do math without the zero. It never has worked, and it never will.
The evidence of this was on full parade in Europe during the 20th century. After a bloody “world war” in 1914-1918, the response was to punish Germany for starting it. As Germans languished in economic hardships that made the Great Depression look like a cakewalk, much of their culture turned to gratification of the peoples’ base desires. In that climate of moral relativism, the message of National Socialism sounded just fine to a lot of people.
We all know what Hitler and his followers brought about over the next decade and a half, but it was the stories of those who helped defeat him that really has me shook up. They were our allies—and they really did suffer at the hands of the Nazis. But did that make it okay to do what they did once they were in power?
I couldn’t stop thinking about how different things would’ve looked had the Truth of the Gospel and God’s way of doing and being right (righteousness) prevailed among the people of Western Europe.
It’s true that by and large the Americans (and our British allies) treated the Germans much better than the Soviets did. But it’s not because we’re somehow inherently superior. The only difference is that the influence of Christianity has shaped this nation. I don’t care if you disagree—that’s the truth. Apart from the influence of Jesus, we’re all lost and prone to revenge and hate.
In “Fiddler on the Roof,” the character Tevye says if the policy of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” is followed, the whole world would be blind and toothless. There’s a beautiful truth in Ephesians 4:32: when we are in Christ, God forgives us completely. But it doesn’t stop there. We’re told to do the same thing: forgive each other.
There are no exceptions, either. There isn’t a certain line of offense that’s just too much. God doesn’t limit His forgiveness for us, so we have no right to limit our forgiveness for each other.
Recently, I read about a murder trial close to my home. A woman was found guilty of taking part in a grisly murder. At her sentencing, the aunt of the victim spoke. She said she was a Christian, and because of that, she forgave the accused.
Not stopping there, the victim’s aunt went on to say that she will be communicating with the murderer. She stated that she spent time in prison and knows how lonely it is. I couldn’t help thinking that she’s probably going to save that woman’s life—both here and for eternity.
How different would this world look if each of us acted like her?
This is hardly the first time anyone has addressed this issue, but it’s so prevalent that I can’t shake it—I feel like I need to say something.
So, what is the curse of our age? There are many, actually. A glance at the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy will clue you into some things that can be considered curses: disease, sickness, a broken heart, weakness, lack, fear, and so on. But what I have in mind as the Curse of Our Age is also found in that same chapter. Words that relate are “confusion,” “frustration,” “panic,” “no peace,” and a lack of “rest.” The word I use is busyness.
We live in a time when technology is exploding at an exponential rate. My dad was born in a farmhouse without electricity or running water in the spring of 1925. He worked harder than I can fathom on the farm, including hand-milking cows and plowing with horses. In fact, my parents spent about a year living in a farmhouse without electricity when my oldest sister was a toddler. That’s not so long ago. It’s understandable that my dad marvels at the changes he’s seen.
My life is so much easier, and yet, for all the time-saving devices and inventions…I just don’t have time. There’s SO much to do!
How often do you say, “I’m sorry—I just don’t have time”? How many more times do you hear it from others? Has it always been like this? How did this happen?
Could it be that sayings like “Carpe Diem!” and “Live life to the fullest” are having the opposite effect? I remember hearing of a seminar once entitled, “Why settle for more and miss the best?” I prefer that slogan to the former ones.
Or maybe “seizing the day” could mean spending a day relaxing at home. Or maybe a full life doesn’t mean packing in so many activities that your full schedule is bursting at the seams…
There does appear to be some push-back to this busyness problem as revealed by the “minimalist” movement (which is probably what you think it is) and a general attitude among increasing numbers of people taking tangible steps to slow down and simplify their lives.
I make no bones about the fact that I’m still largely in a hurry, going for quantity over quality. Impatience, even when held at bay, often lurks just below the surface.
So…what’s the answer? Another slogan comes to mind: “Be still and know that I am God.”
I was going to write a blog about how busy life is, but I didn't have the time to do it. Sorry.
A couple blogs back I tortured you with a detailed version of the birth of my “illustrious” drumming career. This time I’d like to discuss some random observations I’ve made over the years.
I was twelve years old when my big brother graciously gave me his drum set. Actually, I think he initially let me "borrow" it, but I kept it and eventually sold it. Thanks, Bro! Anyway, it was a junker kit with cymbals that cracked easily and drumheads that were slightly better than notebook paper. But it was something to hit. Even more important than the drums was the advice that came with them: “Don’t just mess around; work at it!” I took those words to heart, and I’m glad I did. Thanks again, Bro!
Over the years, I’ve been blessed to play in a wide variety of musical situations (from pit bands to wind ensembles to chamber orchestras to bands ranging from country to rock, blues, and jazz) with a broad range of people (beginners to internationally-acclaimed artists).
Here are some observations I have from my experiences:
NOTE: Before you read this, I have to confess that I wore out not one, but TWO devil costumes as a kid. I can’t believe my mom bought those…
Today is one of my least favorite days. My family and I have chosen not to celebrate Halloween. If you want to know why, the short answer is that we are Christians, not Wiccans, Pagans, or devil worshippers. Obviously most people who celebrate Halloween aren’t those things, either, but like I said, that’s my short answer.
If you want a longer answer, I encourage you to do some research. Here are some links to get you started:
My purpose in this blog isn’t to discuss the history of the holiday or reasons for either celebrating or boycotting it. Instead, I’d just like to write about the experience of living outside the norm.
The fact that that my wife and I didn’t celebrate Halloween wasn’t a big deal before we had kids. Back when I was a classroom teacher, kids would sometimes ask what I was gonna dress up as for Halloween. I just said “myself.” Well, sometimes I said, “as a totally cool guy” or something and then clarify that I was only dressing up as myself. This was good for eliciting eye rolls from my teenage students.
The whole issue was slightly more problematic for my wife when she taught general music classes. She chose not to do Halloween songs in class, unless it was something particularly benign that the kids really wanted to sing. She simply chose not to sing songs glorifying the creepy spiritual aspects of the holiday.
It’s been trickier (no pun intended) since we had kids. We’ve often been asked what our kids are dressing up as, or if they’re excited for the Big Day. People have asked them the same questions. We just politely reply that we don’t do Halloween.
We’ve been chastised by other adults who have accused us of robbing our children of a treasured holiday institution (same thing with telling them the truth about Santa. We explain that we celebrate the Jewish holiday Purim instead (yeah, I know that’s kind of weird, but it’s actually less weird than Halloween if you think about it). Part of celebrating Purim is dressing up in costumes and eating yummy treats. Also, our kids continually have a couple buckets full of candy from non-Halloween occasions, so what are they really missing out on? Going to strangers’ houses and asking for candy?
Thankfully, our kids are almost beyond the trick-or-treating age, so we can avoid some of those awkward conversations.
Halloween makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like it. However, I’m not offended by those who celebrate it. If someone says “Happy Halloween” to me, I’m not offended. I realize they’re just being nice, and I appreciate it. If people put up Halloween decorations on their property, their business’ property, or even--gasp--public property, I don’t really care. I don’t like it, but I’m not traumatized by it, either.
I don’t think people are going to hell if they celebrate Halloween. I don’t think Christians who let their kids dress up and go trick-or-treating are bad parents. I don’t judge them, but I just choose not to participate.
Frankly, it would be easier to just go with the flow and celebrate like everyone else, but my conscience won’t let me. If you want to celebrate Halloween, that’s fine. Two things I ask: don’t come down on me for not celebrating, and don’t come down on me for saying “Merry Christmas.”
NOTE: I was planning on writing a blog full of "brilliant" observations about music, but I ended up writing about how I started playing drums. Oh well, I hope you'll enjoy it anyway!
One of my greatest joys in life is music—both listening to and playing it. I owe this in large part to my mom. She loved music and passed that love along to my siblings and me.
The summer before I turned eleven, I started school band, following the example set by my aforementioned siblings. The previous spring, the band director at my school held listening tests to help gauge musical aptitude in the kids my age. This helped him determine who got to play which instruments.
I REALLY wanted to play percussion, just like my big brother. I remember taking the rhythm portion of the listening tests with a great deal of anxiety. I kept second-guessing myself and checking with my classmates to see how they answered each question.
When the results came back, I did quite well on all the tests…with one exception (I’ll let you guess which). I was distraught. The band director recommended I play trombone, but my parents went to bat for me, advocating that I get to try percussion, and he reluctantly gave in. I was relieved more than anything.
On the first day of summer band, the new percussion recruits gathered in the band room at Lincoln Elementary school. I don’t know how many of us there were, but my memory suggests there must have been upwards of twenty eager wanna-be drummers.
We took our places in a large circle, with each of us positioned behind a metal music stand. The director used masking tape to mark a square target area on the stands, which were tilted flat as makeshift playing surfaces.
I clung carefully to my new pair of size 2B drumsticks. My brother had previously taught me how to play using the “rudimental grip,” where the left hand holds the stick at an angle, different from the right hand. I was mildly dismayed when the band director instructed us to use “match grip,” in which the grip is the same in both hands. I thought rudimental grip was way cooler.
The clamor that erupted when we played our first exercise caught me off-guard. I can only imagine what it was like for the director, standing in the middle of the ring of cacophony.
Over the course of the coming days, the group was whittled down, and we were able to enjoy more personalized instruction.
I can vividly recall my pride at receiving the director’s evaluation at the end of lessons: “Watch out—gonna be good!” I was happy not only to avoid playing trombone, but to know my parents’ efforts were not in vain.
I was on my way.
I've included some old blogs along with the new. Should you ever find yourself suffering from insomnia, this is the place for you! That's as poetic as I get...