PANIC!!!!!!

nancy pelosi
Photo by: Lorie Shaull

The late comedian Bill Hicks, whose stand-up routines offered fairly profane observations on life in the 1980s and early 1990s, was annoyed by the constant drumming of apocalyptic headlines by CNN.

“War, famine, death, aids, homeless, recession, depression,” Hicks chanted. “War, famine, death, aids, homeless, recession, depression. Then, you look out the window, and *crickets*.

“I want a (happy) Ted Turner newscast,” he continued. “‘Hey, everything’s great, here’s sports.”

Hick’s annoyance today could very likely expand to the Democratic Party, which has promised death and destruction with every piece of legislation, or executive action accomplished in 2017. Some of the farcical claims include:

-If the ACA is repealed, people will die in the streets.

-If net neutrality is repealed, people will die in the streets.

-If the individual mandate is repealed (the tax penalty levied on those who cannot afford insurance), people will die in the streets.

-The tax plan is the apocalypse.

-These tax cuts will have people dying in the streets.

Granted, these are hyperbole, but you get the idea. Still, I drive the streets in my neighborhood, and I haven’t seen one dead body yet. When is this mass extinction supposed to begin?

Now, I don’t mean to be partisan on this blog. In fact, I try to go out of my way to avoid beating the same political drums that form the cadence that is Talk radio and CNN.

Still, I am bothered by the fact that so much anger and fear can be galvanized so quickly by political operatives who have no real connection to the facts. Political action committees put out talking points, as do the leadership of both political parties, as do the political pundits, without really examining the details of the proposal.

The politicians need only give an 8-second soundbite to the news, and the political firestorms follows, all over issues that will have minimal impact on the daily lives of most Americans. Yet, to hear it said on TV, radio, in print, and on the street, “the end is near.”

Those at the top have no real incentive to change this dynamic. The votes of Congress are bought and sold by lobbying firms, regardless of which party is in power. As long as those lobbying firms continue to buy the elections of Congress, those elected have little reason to change, and the firms have no reason to change.

These same firms that buy the Congressional elections also invest in swaying public opinion, and they do so with much style and little substance, providing talking points to the media and members of Congress. So long as this model works, we will continue to see vitriolic political discourse and social volatility.

Therefore, it is our responsibility as individual citizens to break this cycle. It is up to us to demand more, and better information. It is up to us to demand accountability. It is up to us to research the candidates, and vote for the best candidate, not the best publicized candidate. If we continue our failure in this responsibility, then things will continue to get worse, because the current system is a multi-billion dollar industry making thousands of people rich.

Former FCC Commissioner Newton N. Minow once described television as “a vast wasteland,” saying that if you watched TV from sign-on to sign-off, a vast wasteland of sub-par programming is what you would observe. He said it was up to the public to demand better programming, adding that if the public continued to support bad programming, the vast wasteland would remain.

He said that no other bureau or agency could rectify the problem, that it was the duty of the American public to demand better. If they didn’t, then the vast wasteland would be their own fault.

The same holds true for our political system. As long as cable news ratings maintain, and lobbying firms continue to successfully purchase elections and votes, our political discourse will remain volatile, and the mass panic among the rank and file will continue. And we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

Primary election season starts now. Research the candidates, go to their public appearances, ask questions, then vote accordingly. Break the cycle, demand better.

Why we love Star Wars

Star_Wars_The_Last_JediMovies succeed at the box office due to effective marketing campaigns. Movie franchises, like Star Wars, the Hunger Games, or Jurassic Park, thrive because they either (a) mirror our lives or (b) speak into our human nature on a deep level.

Jurassic Park thrives because, in addition to capturing our imaginations through the resurrection of the dinosaurs, it poses the question as to whether man has the ability to create life, species, and whether we can overcome the natural order set forth by our Creator. Spoiler alert: We fail every single time.

The Hunger Games succeeded because it captured man’s natural desire to be free, the fact that hope never completely dies, and the lengths to which man will fight to win his freedom. All of that was embodied in the main character, Katniss Everdeen, who struggled through poverty, oppression, imprisonment, torture, and PTSD to lead a rebellion against a powerful overlord who subjugated everyone. Most who watched that series could identify with Katniss on some level, which is why the series succeeded.

The success of both of those franchises, however, pales in comparison to the success of the Star Wars franchise, which has become the definitive movie franchise for three generations due to the fact that it speaks into virtually every aspect of our lives, from our family life, to our professional life, to our philosophical life. Star Wars touches on family drama and pain, captures the plight of characters who are trying to overcome their station in life, and poses the bigger questions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On this level, Star Wars speaks to our entire persona. We are all trying to make our way in this world, battling the elements of opposition as we try to climb the corporate ladder, move into the next tax bracket, or obtain the next level of education. While we fight those battles, we deal with issues at home. We struggle to repair or maintain relationships with our parents, to make our marriages work, to give our kids positive direction, and to keep from losing touch with those closest to us.

This multi-generational family story is laid against a back-drop of intergalactic battles, space ships, and planetary conquests.

In an interview after he sold the franchise to Disney, George Lucas said, “Star Wars isn’t about space ships and aliens, it’s about family.”

Those who understand that statement will understand Star Wars that much better. The franchise follows the plight of a single family, the children of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, as they learn their family history and fight to keep the galaxy free. Skywalker was overcome with rage and a desire to rule the galaxy, so Amidala took her two twins and hid them in separate places with friends and family.

Their circumstantial reunification and new-found purpose became the first Star Wars Trilogy, Episodes 4-6. In order to explain that trilogy, Episodes 1-3 were later released (for better or worse) in the 1990s. Now, we’re working on the third trilogy, which will follow the plight of the third generation of Skywalkers.

You see the family drama at work when Darth Vader is reunited with his son, Luke Skywalker, as well as when Hans Solo and Leia pine for their wayward son, Kylo Ren. Rey is trying to solve the mystery of who her family is, and why they left her on a desert planet, and Finn is the orphaned former Stormtrooper who’s searching for belonging.

You see the quest for betterment as Hans Solo continues his career as a smuggler, as inn-keepers and bar owners struggle to stay in business, or when Rey seeks Jedi training.

And then there’s the forbidden love between Anakin and Padme. Those two had to defy all customs and protocol in order to be together.

The issues that these characters deal with are issues we can all relate to. We’ve had family struggles. We’ve experienced lost love. Our kids have turned on us. We struggle to overcome, and we often feel like we get caught up in world affairs beyond our control.

And that’s why we love Star Wars. We see a little bit of ourselves in those characters, and so we root for them. We rejoice with them, we cry with them, and we die (figuratively speaking) with them.

Right now, critics and fans are debating whether “The Last Jedi” lives up to the hype. If it turns my life into another sci-fi thriller, it most certainly will.

In the year 2000…

When I was a kid growing up in the 1980s, we often talked about what life would be like in the future. A common expression to introduce such daydreams was, “In the year 2000….”

That phrase and concept became the basis for a bit on Late Night with Conan O’Brien on NBC. Conan satirized futuristic thinking with such quips as, “In the year 2000, Coke and Pepsi will merge, and successfully market a product called, ‘You Will Drink This Crap and Like It.'” and “Golfer Casey Martin will win the right to drive his golf cart, at the Indianapolis 500.”

Late night comedy aside, there was a time in the mid-20th Century that Americans genuinely had a sense of optimism. And why not? We had won World War II, new technologies were emerging daily, medical advancements were curing once-fatal diseases, and America enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity.

This optimism was captured by the above-posted Walter Cronkite special. All the way back in 1967, he predicted multiple channels and digital TV listings, large screen TVs, the internet, the home office, homeschooling, and online recipes. The technology we have today isn’t as clunky as demonstrated by Cronkite, but it accomplishes the same thing.

“By 2001, home computers will be just as common as telephones,” Cronkite predicted. That was a huge prediction, considering that most computers in 1967 took up entire rooms, and the home computer hadn’t been invented yet.

He also predicted 6-hour workdays and month-long vacations. Those didn’t quite pan out.

The optimism of the 1960s didn’t just provide a wishful look at the future, it inspired greatness. We founded companies, invented products, built schools and bought homes knowing that life in the future was going to be better. By the time the 1980s rolled around, we were dreaming of flying cars, holograms, teleportation, and world peace.

The assumption in town was that the town would grow, and the business community wanted to grow with it. The bowling alley bought the land next door to build a putt-putt course. The skating rink expanded to add an arcade. The mall installed an ice rink in the center of all the action. Remember when the mall was the place to be?

The optimism that spurred the joy and growth of the late 20th Century is gone. No longer do we hold the assumption that technology will improve, that the economy will grow, and the town will get bigger. We no longer assume that the next generation will enjoy a better standard of living than our own. In fact, many believe it will be worse.

In a world where America won the Cold War, and rapid advancements are being made in technology and medicine, we no longer look to better times in the future. Instead of preparing to grow, we assume that tough times are ahead, and we fortify ourselves for the downturn.

So, what happened? What changed?

Is it the vitriolic nature of the political discourse of the day? Is it the ongoing threat of lawsuits? Is it the declining manufacturing sector due to increased overseas competition?

I can’t place my finger on it. If you can, let me know.

Meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy the times we have now. If life has taught me anything, it’s that I will one day look back on today, in spite of its difficulties, and say, “those were the days.” Who knows, maybe I’ll catch a daydream of how great tomorrow can be.

The Lost Art of Leisure

16708472_10211627013496723_1898660107827657514_n“The world went and got itself into a big ole hurry,” wrote Brooks Hatlin to his former cellmates at Shawshank prison in the movie, The Shawshank Redemption. Brooks had served a 50 year sentence in Shawshank before being paroled in 1954.

While the pace of life in 1954 seems like a leisurely dream today, it moved at a breakneck speed for those accustomed to the pace of life in 1904, like Brooks.

The more time passes, the faster the pace of life. It’s not your imagination, and it’s not the effect of age. Life is really more hectic today than it was in 1954, or 1984, heck, even 2004.

The fast pace of life today would surprise futurists of the 1960s, who predicted that computer technology and automation systems would reduce Americans’ workloads, resulting in more time for leisure. Instead, computer technology and automation systems led to large scale layoffs. While those laid-off workers ultimately found new work in a growing economy, the fact remains that automation didn’t cut down on workload, but rather increased the demands that employers placed on workers.

It’s a far-cry from the world envisioned by Walter Cronkite on his 1967 CBS News special which looked forward to life in 2001. Instead of a life of leisure, Americans are spending one of the most prosperous and technologically advanced periods in world history trying to keep up with rising demands.

Lost in all this is the art of leisure. In time past, workers had weekends off. Fathers took their kids fishing, or to their Little League baseball games. Extended families gathered for cookouts in the back yard, weekend trips were taken, and nobody batted an eye when you took your annual two-week road-trip vacation.

Offices observed all the national holidays, and life really slowed down around Christmas, with many companies offering paid time off between Christmas and New Year’s.

All of that has gone by the wayside. Vacations are now four-day adventures in resorts, hotels, cruises, or the ever-so-popular “stay-cation,” where you take time off, but never leave the house.

At one time stores were closed on Sundays. Today, they remain open. Retailers open on Thanksgiving to get an early start to the Christmas shopping season.

All of this has built into a perfect storm where Americans not only face ridiculous expectations at work, but also live their off-time in a frenzy, trying to accomplish as much as possible in as little time as possible, all while neglecting to rest.

During a recent interview with Michael P. Foley, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Christianity, I asked what we could do as Americans to defend and preserve Christmas traditions. Foley said that we can preserve and defend Christmas simply by taking the time off and enjoying the holiday. He noted that we used to take Christmas off, as well as every Sunday, for leisure, adding that God gave us one day of rest per week.

He said if we truly want to preserve Christmas, we should observe it by taking the time off and enjoying that time with our families. Obviously, if you are in the military or are a first responder, this may not be an option. For those of us who have this option, however, we should take it.

It’s time that we all stop and take a look at what’s important in life. Look at your commitments, prioritize what’s most important to you, then budget your time and money accordingly. As you do this, set aside time for leisure. Take a day a week where you have no commitments, where you take a day to do nothing. Go fishing. Play a board game with the kids. Go to the local park. Take leisure.

Doing so doesn’t make you lazy. It brings you into harmony with God’s plan, which offers a day of rest every week, and periodic rest throughout the year. As Psalm 127:2 says, “He giveth his beloved sleep.”

Follow this rule, and you’ll never face sexual harassment charges

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Rep. Trent Franks

Salem radio talker Mike Gallagher opened the second hour of his radio show today by asking what the rules were regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. The question was posed in response to a breaking story about Congressman Trent Franks resigning after asking female staffers to be surrogate mothers so that he and his wife can have a baby.

National Public Radio reports that Rep. Franks (R-Arizona) gave the following statement regarding his resignation:

“Given the nature of numerous allegations and reports across America in recent weeks, I want to first make one thing completely clear. I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff,” Franks said in a statement. “However, I do want to take full and personal responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable. And so, I want to shed light on how those conversations came about.”

While Rep. Franks may not be guilty of sexual aggression, asking a female member of your staff to have your baby, even through surrogacy, is a really big deal. It’s not something you bring up in the break room or during a staff meeting. It’s even more inappropriate to bring it up in the office during work hours.

Rep. Franks, who has already fathered a set of twins through surrogacy may not have realized how inappropriate his discussions would feel to his staff, but had he followed a simple rule, he would still be looking forward to a long congressional career.

Do not treat any woman in any way that would offend you if committed by another man toward your wife. In other words, if you would have a problem with another man doing something to your wife, then don’t do that thing to other women. Before you make that comment, or put your arm around that co-worker, picture another man saying the same thing, or putting his arm around your wife. If that thought upsets you, then keep your comment and your hands to yourself.

So, let’s take that rule and apply it to some common situations that can happen around the office. First, the obvious. Personal contact.

How would you respond if you walked into your wife’s office to find her boss there with his arm around her? What if you walked into your wife’s office and a male co-worker was massaging her shoulders? Does that thought bother you? (It should.) Then don’t go putting your arm around your female co-workers, and for heaven’s sake, don’t give them massages.

Next, let’s look at verbal communication. Many of the sexual harassment claims made in HR departments center around verbal conduct in the presence of staff. Scripture tells us that the tongue is a fire, a serious statement when you consider the fires that burn in Southern California right now. As a fire, a misguided word can create a small problem that becomes a major tragedy before the flames can be extinguished. Therefore, we should guard our words closely, not only because they can create massive problems for us, but also because scripture commands us.

So, let’s take our rule, do not that which would offend you if another man did it to your wife, and apply it to our speech.

Would you be offended if another man commented about the size of your wife’s backside, or any other part of her anatomy? Would you be offended if another man told your wife that she looked attractive in her dress? What if he told her she had beautiful eyes? Personally, all of those scenarios would bother me. Therefore, I do not make those comments to female co-workers.

I find it interesting that so many accusations of sexual harassment could be avoided if people would just follow this simple rule, which is actually derived from the Golden Rule, which Christ stated in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

Or, as more commonly quoted, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Obey God and do as you please

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Photo by Anthony Pepitone

Pete Seeger is probably the most influential man whose name you probably have never heard. A social activist of the 1960s, he wrote songs promoting environmentalism, civil rights, the counterculture, and songs opposing the Vietnam War.

He popularized the song, “We Shall Overcome,” which became the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, and his song “Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)” became a major hit for the Byrds, and a musical standard for the 1960s.

The song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” was taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes 3 in the King James Bible. The song itself was used as an anthem to call for an end to the Vietnam War, with the final line stating, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” Those who listen to the song can find themselves transported to a peaceful state of mind, relaxing and just enjoying the moment.

The irony of “Turn, Turn, Turn” is that Seeger rejected the Bible as scripture. He did not believe the Bible is God’s word, and he thought much of the book was a collection of folk tales and poetry. In an interview with Paul Zollo, which later appeared in the book, Songwriters on Songwriting, Seeger discussed his views on the Bible:

I don’t read the Bible that often. I leaf through it occasionally and I’m amazed by the foolishness at times and the wisdom at other times. I call it the greatest book of folklore ever given. Not that there isn’t a lot of wisdom in it. You can trace the history of people poetically.

Ironically, Seeger’s biggest hit came by setting music to the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3. The idea came after Seeger’s publisher complained that he was unable to sell the protest songs which he was writing. Seeger, a social activist at heart, put the music to the scripture, hoping that the publisher would hear a Top-40 hit, and that the listeners would hear a call for peace.

Further irony is that a song that became an anthem for peace in the 1960s also proclaimed there was a time for war, a time to kill, a time to hate, and a time to cast away stones. Also, there was a time for peace, a time to heal, a time to love and a time to gather stones together.

The opening lines say it all, “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Seeger rejected the Bible as God’s word, and as such rejected the one who could put more power into those lyrics than David Crosby or Roger McGuinn ever could.

Ecclesiastes is a popular book among atheists and agnostics because of its seemingly humanistic approach to life. In many places, the book claims that life is empty, and none of man’s works will last for eternity. Therefore, one should simply enjoy the simple pleasures of life and the fruit of his labor. That approach to Ecclesiastes is extremely dangerous, because it plays right into the error that the writer was warning against.

Taken in its context, words of wisdom from a King who wanted his people to live with the enlightenment of the Lord’s wisdom, Ecclesiastes teaches that life outside of God’s presence is empty. It’s pointless. It is temporary and the struggles of life are futile.

The lesson in all this is that God is in control, and there is nothing we can do to add to, or to take away from, the plan that He is working on this Earth. Therefore, we should be content to live with the blessings God has given us, to learn the purpose of the seasons of life we endure, and to obey and reverence God.

Furthermore, we should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all our labor, for it is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 3:13). While we do that, we should give thanksgiving to God for that gift.

Or as one theologian put it, “Obey God and do as you please.”

Had Seeger understood this concept, he would not only have seen that the wars, conflicts, and times of peace and prosperity served God’s purpose, but he still would have been free to pursue his social agenda of equal rights and preserving God’s creation. Instead, he will be mildly remembered as the man behind a happy little ditty from the 1960s.

God created you with a purpose. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God before ordained that we should walk in them. In giving us that purpose, he gave us passion for that purpose and the talent to pursue it. Do not separate your spiritual/church life from your daily life. The whole of your persona was built in when God formed you in the womb.

‘Time’ gets it right

24785167_922801561217477_4010651896843101497_oJanet reports to her evening shift at a fast food franchise where she has worked as an assistant manager for the past six months. Her assignment tonight is the same as every night, organize her crew of teenagers and college students into a well-oiled machine that serves up burgers within 90-seconds of being ordered, all while minimizing food and labor costs.

It’s a good job that pays well above the median household income for the local area, but keeping a crew of 12 teenagers in line can be a headache sometimes. She is flanked by two shift leads, who manage the grill and front counter operations.

Tonight is a wild night. It’s the local high school’s homecoming, business is heavy, and crowds will soon let out from the homecoming football game to swarm the establishment for the post-game meal.

As the crew ramps up for the Friday night rush, Jimmy, an 18-year old cook who has been on the crew for two years, grabs Tommy, another 18 year old cook, and twists his nipple. Both boys laugh, as does much of the crew. Tommy then looks at Janet and says, “Did you see what Jimmy did? Can I do that to you?”

Janet brushes off the statement, but Tommy persists, even advancing toward her. She orders Tommy back on the job, which he ultimately does after cornering her near the office door.

Janet calls the store’s general manager. Tommy is fired. Jimmy is suspended. A memo is posted concerning appropriate conduct in the workplace, the company’s policy is restated, and the crew is reminded that sexual harassment is not tolerated at this establishment.

However, the damage has been done. The crew turns on Janet, many of whom were friends to Tommy and Jimmy. The two shift leads mock Janet by re-enacting the scene to the amusement of the crew.

The company handled the situation properly, but the crew and middle-managers continued the behavior. Thinking that the company could not fire the entire crew and both shift leads, Janet resigns herself to the situation. Her two options were to quit, or continue working and hope the company joke would soon fade. She chose the latter, and eventually things returned to normal.

Time Magazine honored women like Janet when they named “The Silence Breakers” as Person of the Year this year. All who spoke out against sexual harassment and sexual assault under the #MeToo movement on social media are counted as “Silence Breakers.”

The #MeToo movement gained steam nationally in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and continued to build with each new set of allegations leveled at Hollywood elites, politicians and business moguls. Sexual harassment and assault victims, mostly women, posted the hashtag on social media, with some telling their stories.

The #MeToo movement has its share of critics. Some blast the movement as a cheap political stunt, while others make jokes about celebrities like Monica Lewinsky joining the movement.

But to politicize the movement, or turn it into a punchline is to spit in the face of the millions of women who post their #MeToo stories on social media, and the millions more who remain silent.

You see, the #MeToo movement is not about disarming a political party, taking out political opponents, or even “taking it to the man.” It’s about giving people like Janet a voice, raising awareness of an issue that many didn’t know was so widespread, comforting the victims by showing they are not alone, all while sending a message that sexually aggressive behavior will no longer be tolerated.

Without regard to the political affiliations of those who started and promoted the movement, #MeToo is the right choice for Person of the Year. It brought to light a rampant sin that needed to be stopped, and it shaped not only the news cycle, but our cultural perceptions of this issue over the past year.

May we repent of our sexual immorality that has allowed this problem to persist unchecked for so long.