Why the Government Shutdown Makes Me So Mad

1_photoI think about health care a lot. We are blessed with three healthy children – but not so healthy that there haven’t been scares and emergencies. We’ve been to the hospital at least once with each child in the last five years, not to mention the hospital visits to actually give birth.

So I think about health care a lot. Because many families are not as lucky as we have been. Their children need many more hospital visits, or round-the-clock care, or expensive medication taken every day. And that’s expensive, more than they can afford.

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A Letter to Three Daughters

you_cant_scare_me_i_have_three_daughters_card-p137304788121685777envwi_400Last year for International Women’s Day, I wrote a letter to my three daughters. International Women’s Day was last week, so here is a slightly edited version of that letter.

Dear J, G and H,

This world will tell you lies. It will lie to you about your value, about your appearance, about your place. It is filled with people who will see you as weak, who see you as less valuable – to them and to God – and who see you as an object, all because you are female.

I pray you keep this letter in mind when you hear those things. I am afraid that, though the world is changing, it will not do so fast enough to spare you from the warped wisdom and twisted value system that prioritizes, above all things, the gender of a person.

Because you are more than women, as I am more than a man. We are children of God, three daughters and a son. We are loved, valued, respected, prized by the one who made us – the parent of the entire world, the one who is big enough to breathe life into existence, small enough to weep with us when that life goes awry.

But you are, in fact, women. And you should be proud of that. I pray you never accept the attempts of men to make your gender a cause for shame, embarrassment or pity. You are women. Congratulations!

This is my prayer for you:

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Is Football Immoral?

Normal-v-CTE-brain-courtesy-Ann-McKeeWord came this week that Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, a star in the National Football League for 20 years who committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest several months ago, did indeed have CTE, the degenerative brain disease that leads to significant neurological problems for its victims.

Seau is the highest-profile NFL player to have had the disease, but by no means has he been the only one. In fact, of 19 brains donated by the families of former NFL players to be studied, 18 have shown evidence of CTE. Seau’s case is also troubling in another aspect: He never once was diagnosed with a concussion, implying that the routine, subconcussive hits that take place in a football game are no less damaging when compiled over years of play.

This increasing knowledge of football’s detrimental, even deadly effects for its players could have profound consequences for the sport, even leading to its demise – either in a natural way as proposed in this Grantland piece, or because the game is forced to change its rules to such an extent that it simply isn’t the same game that has become the runaway favorite for Americans.

Frankly, this wouldn’t trouble me in the least. There is little doubt in my mind that the net effects of football in our society are negative – whether that’s the perverse incentives that lead coaches to be paid more than high school superintendents and college presidents or the glorification of aggression and violence for which millions tune in every Sunday. When history and science classes are routinely given to coaches who care nothing for the subject but need to teach so as to justify their salaries, something is decidedly wrong with the way we prioritize athletics – football, in particular – versus academics.

But the latest revelations lead me to a new question: Is football immoral? More practical for us, is supporting football immoral?

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Best Reads of 2012

51BCeNuiSkL._SS500_I wound up reading 38 books in 2012, not all of them incredibly germane to this blog (ahem, Hunger Games), but I wanted to take a brief glimpse at the ones that affected me most, regardless of whether I’ve mentioned them here already. These aren’t necessarily the best books written in 2012, though a couple do qualify in that regard; rather, these are simply the best books I managed to read last year, in the order in which I read them:

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The Trouble with Literalism

250px-Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_ChampaigneThe problem with a strictly literal approach to the Bible, as people from Christian Smith to Rachel Held Evans have argued, is that it sets up a false dichotomy in which the literalist gets to decide what is worth taking literally and what is not. It allows the literalist to set the rules of a complex game in which she can only win and anyone else must surely lose. By ignoring the assumptions implicit in all of our approaches to the ancient texts of the Bible, the literalist can claim superiority through a “truer” reading of the Bible than those who take more critical approaches.

This isn’t new, nor is it groundbreaking. We all believe the way we read the Bible is the right way to read it. That’s why we read it that way! The hard part is understanding that others who read it differently may not be reading it wrongly. Although this is tough for me – it means acknowledging that, yes, no matter how unlikely I think that is, biblical literalists may be reading scripture correctly – but it seems especially difficult for the literalists, whose reading of the text essentially forces them to consider all other approaches not just misguided but influenced by Satan and potentially damnable. Kind of makes a conversation difficult.

But we do all have assumptions, and no one takes the Bible literally. Our assumptions play a foundational role in how we approach that text. I mention this because I’ve posted my paper for this semester, and it looks at the assumptions underlying one of the most transformative doctrines developed by one of history’s greatest theologians. I wanted to see where the doctrine of original sin came from, and I found that it really comes from Galen – or, more accurate, the biological-sexual assumptions propagated by ancient Greek doctors and philosophers. Augustine didn’t know that, or at least he didn’t acknowledge it. He cited passages like Romans 5 and Psalm 50:7, but more often he cited, albeit indirectly and apparently unknowingly, Aristotle and Galen.

Let me give an example.

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A Final Word (for Now) on Abortion

I just finished working on a package of stories for our school’s alumni magazine about integration – a profile of the two men who integrated our college 50 years ago, as well as a sidebar about white students who pushed for integration years before it happened and one about race relations are like on campus now. The whole time I was writing these stories, I couldn’t help but think: “Wow, I have no idea what it’s like – and never will – to be black.”

This is not a new revelation, of course, but it’s made more painfully clear when I write about people in minority groups that I am in no way a member of any minority group. I’m white, I’m straight, and I’m male. And so I try to make it clear when I interview or when I advocate for racial and sexual minorities that I have no idea what it’s like to be in their shoes, so they’re going to need to help me out.

It’s not an overwhelming feeling, just a little tug – a healthy reminder that whatever I write, I’m doing it for others, people whose experiences I can’t ever truly know.

That tug has more recently shown up when I write, as I did last week, about abortion. Because while I often call abortion a human rights issue, it is also an issue that affects women far more than men. After all, who is actually pregnant? And who is going to be caring for the child, more likely than not? The old line is that if men could get pregnant, abortion would no longer be a controversial issue.

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Why this Christian Will Vote for Barack Obama (Part 3)

In Part 1, I laid out the negative case against Mitt Romney (the one who’s been campaigning since last year, not the one who suddenly showed up in Denver on Wednesday). In Part 2, I laid out the positive case for Barack Obama. Today, I want to address probably the strongest Christian argument against voting for Obama.

There are plenty of reasons various Christians have for voting against Obama, and many of them frankly are nonsensical. I simply have nothing to say if you believe, as many conservatives do, that Obama is a Muslim, or that he’s not an American, or that he’s a socialist. All of these things are blatantly and obviously untrue, but I’m not going to waste my time and yours trying to convince you out of something you are so deeply invested in believing.

I also find critiques of Obama’s presidency from the right generally to be baseless and unsupported by evidence. The most sweeping pieces of legislation Obama signed into law were based on ideas created and originally supported by Republicans, who then disowned them once they became associated with their political opponents.

The only persuasive argument from the right is about abortion, and I’ve covered in the past that simply stamping somebody “pro-choice” or “pro-life” is unhelpful if the actions they take belie the label. In short, Obama’s support of expanding access to contraception and encouraging steps to reduce unwanted pregnancies, which account for the plurality of abortions in America, will have far more success reducing the number of abortions than the typical conservative position of teaching abstinence only, defunding women’s-health providers and – in a rather bizarre twist – treating contraception as a product to be stigmatized rather than embraced.

Not surprising, I don’t really find any argument against Obama’s reelection to be terribly convincing. But there is one exception, and that is the argument from the left eloquently expressed by the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf.

Continue reading Why this Christian Will Vote for Barack Obama (Part 3)