Jan 12 2014

Why I Like Conservatives

Before you read this post, read Why I Like Liberals.

Like I said in the previous post, I lean conservative, but I’m not an “across the board” conservative, and am by no means an ultra-right-winger. Of course, a lot depends on how you define your terms, and what you’re talking about.   “Liberal” and “conservative” are relative terms. Today’s conservative may have been yesterday’s liberals. But, for the sake of this post, I’ll refer to conservatives as those people would you think of as contemporary conservatives—you know, those people who listen to Country music, own guns, attend evangelical churches, and watch Fox News. For the most part, I’m not one of those people.

Rooted in History

One of the first things I like about conservatives—whether politically, religious, or socially—is that they are rooted in history. Where liberals tend to be free and untethered from historical attitudes (though not unaware or uninfluenced, necessarily), conservatives tend to have a greater sense of obligation to the past. This is certainly true when it comes to issues of American Government. Conservatives are typically strict constructionists when it comes to interpreting the Constitution, and liberals tend to see it as a “living document,” open to changing interpretations. If we’re talking theology, conservatives will tend to take the Bible more literally, whereas liberal Christians often tend toward metaphorical readings.

One of the problems with this is that conservatives often don’t realize that their views of history may not necessarily be historical in themselves, but may have their roots in the 1950’s, or the enlightenment, or some other point in history.  Still, it is the tension between conservative roots and liberal ideals that keep us from being stuck in a rut on one hand, or meandering about like a ship without a rudder on the other.


The song from the movie Fiddler On The Roof (and the whole play) makes this point well. Similar to being rooted in history, conservatives tend to like tradition, if for no other reason that it’s traditional. Unconventional behavior is neither understood nor appreciated. Liberals (always speaking in general terms) are more open to the unconventional, the avant garde, and often find tradition too confining. This, I think, goes along with the tendency to be more creative, as I mentioned in the last post. However, there is a lot to be said for tradition, the passing down of stories and ceremony and customs that teach us history, but also attitudes and respect for the past.

Conservatives are generous

Contrary to what many believe, studies have shown that conservatives generally donate more to charities than liberals, and are more likely to volunteer their time. That’s all.


Here, let’s just say that conservatives and liberals will tend to hold to different standards of morality, and this tension has gone on for centuries. Conservatives, generally, are like parents who say things like, “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?”  Liberals, like many children, are prone to say things like, “Why not?” A whole lot of “why not” thinking would send the world to hell in a handbasket. Conservatives act as moral brakes, or as the red warning lights on the dashboard that tell us to change the oil before we fry our engines. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they are wrong. But, like liberal challenging the conservative status quo, conservatives challenge those who would cross the line into potentially dangerous territory. Not that extremists on either side will listen, because they seldom do. But, for those of us who are not extremists (the majority in the middle of the bell curve), the questions and challenges assist us in our thinking through the issues.

Bottom Line

Conservatives tend to be hard-working, decent, salt-of-the-earth kind of people. Often their attitudes seem quaint, or even out of step with contemporary society, and they may have little or no respect for liberal ideas. But, there’s a lot of wisdom in folk tales and lessons learned through experience.  New is not necessarily better than old, we need the constant reminders of that from conservatives.





Jan 7 2014

Why I Like Liberals

I like liberals.

This is not a joke

Seriously. It’s not.

I like a lot of liberals. Not all, mind you, but I like a lot of liberals. In fact, I like all of the liberals that I know personally. I say “a lot” because a few of them—at least their public personas, which is all I have to go by—just seem really, really mean-spirited, psycho, or just generally unlikable. But perhaps I’d like them, too, in person. For example, Bill Maher and Ann Coulter are actually friends, which suggests that what we see on the air may involve some role-playing. And to be honest, there are conservatives I don’t really like, either.

Now here’s a little secret: A lot of people think that I’m really, really conservative, but actually, I’m really not. I lean to the right, but I try never to fall over. I at least make an attempt to be open-minded. There are things that I appreciate about both liberals and conservatives, and my plan is to list some of those points in this and my next post (“Why I Like Conservatives”).

So, Liberals.

One of the best things about liberals is that they aren’t afraid to think outside of the conservative box. They have their own box, granted, but it’s at least it’s a different box.  Conservatives tend to be a fearful bunch, which ends up hurting them. They’re afraid of change, they’re afraid of new information, and they’re often afraid of challenging the status quo. Liberals love to challenge the conservative status quo. They ask really tough questions like, “why?” and “why not?”  That’s not to say that the status quo is necessarily wrong, but we won’t know unless it’s questioned.

So, I like and appreciate that there are those who question whether or not the Constitution is outdated, or whether the Bible is true, or ask why gays can’t be married. I like that liberals are so fearless, willing to “go where no man has gone before.” Again, this doesn’t mean that all of their theories are correct, but at least they ask questions and at least think they are willing to accept the outcome. And, sometimes they’re simply right. Just in the last 50 years, liberals have caused significant change in areas of women’s rights, racial equality, environmental issues, and so on. And, there’s more to be done, and we need to hear what they have to say.  Unfortunately, there are some liberals who are idealogs on one issue or another, which has negatively impacted the dialogs that could happen. The liberal box can be just as rigid as the conservative box, and sometimes “open minded” is just a term for having found a new box. I also think there’s a tendency with some liberals to fear not changing.  But, I never said liberals are perfect.

Liberals care

Another reason I like liberals is that they care, and they tend to be passionate about the things they care about. Liberals (speaking generally, of course) care about minorities, the disenfranchised, and the down-trodden. They tend to be more world-focused than conservatives. They care about the environment and about animals. And, they care about beauty—I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most artists, musicians, actors, and other creative people would consider themselves liberals. However, they often care to a fault, and can sometimes lose sight of larger issues. But, perhaps that’s important, too. I don’t know if it’s a right-brain/left-brain issue, or a heart vs. head issue, but in general liberals tend to see things differently than conservatives, and that brings beauty to the world.

And they act

I also like liberals because they do stuff to impact the world. At least in America, conservatives tend to be the “boot-straps” people, and there’s much to be said about the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” way of thinking. However, that often results in lack of action. Note that it is the more liberal churches who tend to be the most socially active, taking Jesus’ words to heart about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc. I admire that, and to be honest, I tend to really suck at those things, being somewhat anti-social.

Liberals are human people

There’s a tendency for many hard right-wingers to classify “libs” as the enemy, or evil. And, of course, liberals do the same thing to conservatives, but that’s not my focus here. But, as with any other labeled sub-set of people, liberals are individuals who think, and feel, and who want to be loved and accepted, just like the rest of us. We may dislike some of their ideas, but like Maher and Coulter, we should look to find areas of commonality. It’s easy to be an arm-chair politician and start seeing the work as black and white, never realizing that many of the folks we see arguing in Congress are having a beer together afterwards. People are people, as the song goes.

We Need Liberals

A world where everyone is conservative would be boring, and almost unbearable. It would be like the 50’s all over again, only worse. We need people to question and say things like “this isn’t right” and then try to do something about it. If liberals didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them (if only so we’d have someone to argue with).

So, yes, I like liberals.  Quite a bit, actually.

Mar 15 2013

My Top 12 Classic Albums

Just for fun, here is my list of the best albums of the last 50 years. My criteria are:

  • The album must first be excellent (more than just good) from 1st song to the last, with no “throw-away” tracks (which disqualifies classics such as Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and the Beatles’ Let It Be and Abbey Road (which rocks on side one, but falls apart on side 2).
  • They are albums that I will listen to in their entirety, to the extent that even the order of the songs is important.
  • I will have owned the album on more than one medium, including vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD and mp3.
  • I am listing only one album per artist.
  • I must have first owned it over 10 years ago
  • Finally, I still like these albums just as much today as when they were first released.

The list is not necessarily ranked. Many of my favorite CDs didn’t make this list for one reason or another, even though overall they were great albums. But, I tried to keep this list to the truly outstanding.

  1. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd.  No explanation necessary here.
  2. Aja – Steely Dan. I own or have owned this on cassette tape, vinyl, CD and mp3; perhaps the only album I can say this about.  It is simply a top-notch album, one that Steely Dan feared they could never come close to again, and they were right.
  3. The Stranger – Billy Joel.  This is one killer album; pure genius, demonstrating that Joel really understood the types of people he sang about.
  4. Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws – Bruce Cockburn. This one always leaves me with a sense of eternity, like I’ve somehow had a glimpse of heaven.
  5. Poetic Champion Compose – Van Morrison. While I’d been a Van Morrison fan for a long time, this CD blew me away. It’s one of the few VM albums were Morrison actually sounds happy, and you just can’t help but be happy with him.
  6. Silk Degrees – Boz Scaggs. Every song a potential hit, with perfect arrangements. Great open road music.
  7. Joshua Tree – U2. Perhaps the last album I bought new on vinyl. In my opinion, U2 has never come close to topping this record.
  8. Rumors – Fleetwood Mac. Having given up on popular music in the mid-70’s, this is the album that got me back to top-40 rock. And I’ve never heard anything quite as perfect as Mick Fleetwood’s drumming on this album.
  9. So – Peter Gabriel. 1986 was a great year, partly due to this.
  10. Icarus – The Paul Winter Project. I saw Paul Winter in concert in 1973, and bought this album at the concert. It was their transition from “ordinary” world folk music to what would eventually be called new age. It needs to be listened to in one sitting, at least 2 or 3 times.
  11. Horrendous Disc – Daniel Amos.  I heard these songs in concert about 2 years before the CD was available due to legal issues with the label. DA’s transition from country-folk to rock was amazing; among other things, it served as inspiration for Collective Soul (the influences, especially on CS’s early CDs are obvious).
  12. Déjà vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. A unique collection of songs reflecting the 4 individuals that somehow all fits well together.

So, there you have it.  If I were including newer music, I would probably include albums like Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Coil, The Avett Brother’s The Carpenter or perhaps a Gillian Welch. I had initially included Seal, by Seal, but I usually skip the first cut when I listen to it; otherwise it’s stellar. Other albums I considered included NGDB’s Uncle Charlie, but “Rave On” always kind of annoyed me.  So, I held pretty closely to my criteria.

If you think I’ve erred either in commission or omission, feel free to let me know.

Mar 12 2013

The Sins of Self-Promotion

    “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.   (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)

One of the more disheartening things about Facebook, twitter, and the so-called “blogosphere,” is the realization that so much about contemporary evangelicalism is focused on marketing and self-promotion.  As a child, perhaps the most important thing I learned (aside from the incredible truth that “Jesus loves me, this I know”)  was that the Christian life was a life of humility. So much of Jesus’ teachings emphasized this point:

  • Take the lowest seat at the table.
  • Whoever leads must serve.
  • The last will be first, and the first will be last.
  • Pray in your closet, not in public.
  • Do your good deeds in secret.
  • If you do things to be noticed, you’ve received your reward.

All very unpopular teachings today.

 It’s a marketing world

The contemporary evangelical church (I’ll define “evangelical” in an upcoming post, as it really doesn’t mean what they think it means) has adapted to the contemporary culture, which is at its core a marketing culture. Everything in our culture is marketed, from products and services to politics, religion, education and truth. The new word on the street is “branding,” meaning to establish yourself as unique and identifiable. You’ve got to brand yourself because everyone is selling something, even if it’s just themselves. Everyone—whether a business, a personality, or a teenager—needs a facebook page, a blog, and a twitter account to establish yourself and claim your territory.  If you don’t have followers, you are a non-entity. I have fans, therefore I am.

A corresponding assumption in a marketing world is that there are scarce resources, both in what is being marketed as well as the audience being marketed to, giving rise to competition. Those doing the marketing present themselves as offering something that is special and scarce (more scarce than the market), something that you can’t get around the corner or get on your own. The concept is, “We have the best teaching, the best worship, the best pastors, the best Sunday School, and you need us in order to be special.”  Then there are those who offer something new, unique, and out of the ordinary, perhaps a visitation from God or an experience that no one else can offer.  Para-church ministries also market themselves as being special or doing special things that no one else will or can do, so you must support them as opposed to the ministry next door. Often the people who are the focus of the ministry are held out as quasi-hostages with the thought, “if you don’t support my ministry, these people will die or perhaps even go to hell.” Marketing is all about being special, because no one merely wants to be normal or ordinary.

The 2nd part of that assumption is that the market itself is scarce. At the essence of marketing is competition for a target market, because there aren’t enough followers/customers to go around. There are only so many “targets” out there, who have only so much money to contribute. Therefore, the competition’s on to get church members as well as contributor dollars (a church full of needy people can’t support a pastor).  Churches need to convince members to give 1st to the local church, then the crumbs can go to missions, etc. Para-church organizations, then, are left vying for the crumbs. This “scarcity” mentality, obviously, is not consistent with a belief in a God who provides, who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50). Furthermore, this thinking attempts to relocate the “faith burden” from the church/ministry leaders onto the members/contributors, who are told to trust God and give as a sign of that trust. The concept of scarcity is essentially anti-faith.

It’s all about me

Because I think about a lot of things and enjoy writing about them, I write this blog, as well as one business-related blog (which I have more or less suspended), and one related to my book (which is, yes, an attempt at cheap marketing). Because I blog, I have read a lot of articles on “how to blog,” etc.  All such articles focus on how to be special, and how to keep readers coming back and remaining involved. The same kind of thinking appears in any article about being involved in social media. Again, it’s all about branding (establishing yourself as “special”).  I tend to break all of those rules (because I’m simply not good enough to keep them), so I’ll never become rich by selling ad space or selling millions of copies of my book.

The more I read about what I should be doing in order to grow my blog and develop my personal brand, I began to see a trend: most of the folks writing this stuff are mainly writing to promote themselves. They really have nothing new to offer, and so far no one has been able to tell me exactly why I need to “tweet” in the first place. Twitter is mainly about self-promotion, and so is LinkedIn.  Twitter does not exist for you, it exists for Twitter. Every week I get emails from Twitter telling me I haven’t tweeted lately, or here’s someone new I should follow.  Seriously, why should they care?  Besides, most of what is being tweeted is not geared toward helping you, the reader.  It’s all self-promotion, about not forgetting that the tweeter still exists.

And as a target/consumer, I find myself thinking, why should I help you? Why should invest my time to read your crap?  If you’re really going to share something with me, fine. But don’t waste my time with self-promotion.

“Christian” self-promotion

One of the most famous moments of Christian self-promotion is told in Mark:

    And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:35-45 ESV)

The story is also told in Matthew 20, but with Mrs. Zebedee leading the way.  Either way, the boys were participating in this attempt at self-promotion, and the other 10 disciples were “indignant.”  My guess is that they were upset they hadn’t asked first.  Here is perhaps the first instance of Christian self-promotion, asking Jesus to be great in the Kingdom. Jesus’ comments are quite direct, yet still, how many of us still ask Jesus to be promoted, to the exclusion of others?  I have to give them credit for one thing, however: Rather than trying to pass themselves off as something special, they were at least honest about their desire, and went straight to Jesus with their request. For many of us (I include myself, not being immune to temptation), this would be a positive step.

 The “Self” in self-promotion

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the focus in self-promotion is “self.” That’s the point. It’s about promoting my church, my ministry, my needs, me.

What’s wrong with this picture?

From a marketing standpoint, nothing. From a Christian standpoint (“Christian” meaning that which is a Biblical, New Testament teaching), there’s not much right about it. Consider Paul’s comments to the Philippians:

    Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.    (Philippians 2:3-8 ESV)

But how can you become an in-demand conference speaker if you don’t promote yourself?  How can you become a worship star, or have a successful TV ministry? How can you attract thousands of people to your church, or become a best-selling author?

How, indeed.

Is all self-promotion bad?

By now, you’re probably asking, “Is all self-promotion bad?”  The answer, of course, is “no.” For example, I follow several folk musicians on Facebook just so they can tell me when they have new music coming out or when they may be playing near me. If they didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t know. I also “like” a few Christian ministries because I like and care about what they are doing. Their “promotion” is focused on what they like to give away, not to build themselves up. Generally speaking, this type of self-promotion is done from a place of humility; as such, these folks present themselves, rather than attempt to raise themselves up.  In a world dominated by self-aggrandizing, it’s often humility that stands out.

Sometimes I think I’m not as successful as I could be because I am really bad at self-promotion. While a part of me would really like to be well-known and respected, I believe this is contrary to the ideal life of the Christian as taught in the New Testament, as well as contrary to my personality.Whenever I’ve tried self-promotion, I think I come across as a jerk. So for me, humility is not so much spiritual as it is safe.

It’s quite easy to adopt the marketing mentality of the culture and want to start competing for market share and notoriety. It’s natural to want to see your name in lights or your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone (to quote an old song).

It’s something else entirely to occupy the lowest seat and be asked by your host to move up to a place of higher honor.

 Seek Ye First

Matthew chapter 6 is a killer chapter. In a good way, that is. It starts out with Jesus saying, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people…” He teaches the Lord’s Prayer, talks about laying up treasure in Heaven, he considers the lilies of the field, and in v. 33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  When I was a teenager, this was one verse that we all knew, and we sang that little chorus over, and over, and over…  But we knew that verse.

It seems to me (and I’m talking to myself here) that if we took this seriously, we could avoid all of that striving and self-aggrandizing self-promotion. Maybe we’re so preoccupied with trying to figure out complicated theologies and business plans that we have forgotten to simply believe the simple truths.

We need to forget about seeking followers and fans, and just focus on learning how to be followers ourselves. And no, I’m not going to tweet that. #notweets