Category Archives: politics

Unified

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Tim Scott is a US senator from South Carolina. Trey Gowdy is a US congressman from South Carolina. Tim Scott is black. Trey Gowdy is white. They were both elected to Congress in 2010 (Tim Scott subsequently became the first African American elected to both the US House and US Senate since reconstruction). Their grandmothers would not have been able to be friends, in the racially divided south where they lived. When Tim Scott got news of the fatal shooting of nine blacks at a prayer meeting at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the first person he called was his white friend, Trey Gowdy.

It is sad that a friendship between a white man and a black man is rare enough that it seems unlikely, but there is still a marked racial divide in the United States. I believe it has widened, rather than narrowed, since the election of our first African American President, Barak Obama.

Sen. Scott and Rep. Gowdy assert that when meeting someone who has obvious racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, political, or religious differences, looking for something we have in common is the first step. There are certain commonalities that cross many barriers: love for family, hope for a better tomorrow, desire for our communities to be safe, etc. In the aftermath of a disaster (9-11, hurricanes, wildfires, and the like) people tend to forget their differences and go into a mode that allows our better selves to come out. We pray together, we mourn together, we rally. On 9-12-2001 there were no “us and them” — we were all Americans. Our fear, outrage, pain, and grief united us. Trey Gowdy asks, “Why must we face a calamity before we will join hands, pray, and seek healing?”

I’ve not lived life as a person of color. I haven’t experienced the prejudices that come from having brown or black skin. I’ve never been viewed suspiciously for “driving while black” (getting pulled over because you’re a black person in a predominately white area). I don’t experience fear when I’m glanced at by a person in law enforcement. Still, prejudices are widespread and they aren’t exclusively against people of color.  Prejudice can be about whites from people of color. It can be about religion, sexual orientation, perceived education (or lack thereof), or socioeconomic status. Tim Scott says, “Our perception of people is too often colored by preconceived notions and expectations, whether those are based on past experience or shaped by cultural norms and attitudes.” Trey is quoted as saying, “…the only two divisions there ought to be in the nation are “people of good conscience and people who are not of good conscience — not racial, not gender, not ideological.””

Tim and Trey have forged a solid, valuable friendship by capitalizing on their similarities, rather than their differences. Trey says, “We can build real trust with others by stepping into their story, by committing our time and attention to what matters to them…As you seek to build rapport and trust with someone, you must be willing to see the world from a perspective that is not your own…The 24/7 news cycle we have today so often seems to focus on differences and divisions within our nation…But as I talk to people one-on-one, I find a universal hope and desire for unity.” (emphasis mine).

Trey states, “People look to Washington for solutions to our nation’s problems, but Congress is often where anger and frustration come home to roost. Although Tim and I are both currently in politics — or perhaps because we’re in politics — we see the limitations and shortcomings of legislative remedies. We believe the firmest foundation for positive change is found with individuals in relationship with one another. Laws are external. Relationships are internal. Policies make you have to. Relationships make you want to. Relationships contain the power necessary to change the course of history, and the delicate, personal touch needed to change the trajectory of a single life.” Isn’t that beautiful, and oh, so true?!

One of the most powerful stories in Unified is a story of a blog post that slammed Senator Tim Scott. Trey read it first and rushed to Tim’s office to see if he had seen it. Indignant, Trey says, “I’m sick of this…something must be done.” Tim’s answer was a simple “You’re right. Please close the door and have a seat.” Trey thinks they’re finally getting somewhere…he’s finally gotten his friend fired up enough to respond (Tim was evidently notoriously calm). Instead, Senator Scott says, “We’re going to pray for [the author].” Tim Scott proceeds to pray for someone who was intentionally hurtful to him. Trey says, “Tim simply modeled what Jesus teaches: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you.’…I was not the victim, but I was angry. Tim was the victim, but he forgave and prayed for the person who wronged him.”

I was simply amazed by the wisdom and truth in this book! If you want a different world, one where people love and respect one another in spite of their differences, this book is a great source of advice on how to start down that road. Christians, especially, need the words written here. Some of the most judgemental and hateful people I’ve ever encountered were Christians who, mistakenly, thought that by pointing out the speck in their brother’s eye they were doing him/her a big favor, all the while ignoring the beam in their own (Matthew 7:1-5).

Read this book, then go find someone “different” than you and try to make a friend. We can change the world, one heart at a time.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review*

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Filed under Christian, Non-Fiction, politics, Self-help

The Hidden Enemy

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The Hidden Enemy: Aggressive Secularism, Radical Islam, and the Fight for Our Future by Michael Youssef addresses such questions as “Why are suicide bombers attacking our cities?” and “Why are shooters invading our workplaces?” Michael Youssef is uniquely qualified, as an Egyptian Christian, to address the former question. He has known both moderate and extremist Muslims throughout his life. He takes issue with extremist, radical proponents of Islam who are attacking all who do not agree with them (even more moderate Muslims).

There are many, many solid points made in The Hidden Enemy, and Dr. Youssef wanders through discussions of many of the things that are contributing to the downfall of western civilization. He points to some mindset differences between Muslim fundamentalists and the western politicians who are trying to negotiate with them — the result of widely divergent world-views.

Dr. Youssef has a great guide, smack in the middle of the book, to make sure we’re not taken in by biased reporting, Internet rumors, and “fake news”. Here are his suggestions:

  1. Don’t automatically believe early reports.
  2. Don’t believe information from anonymous sources.
  3. Don’t believe stories that simply cite other news outlets.
  4. Watch and read multiple news outlets, and compare their coverage.
  5. Pay attention to the language and tone of your news sources.
  6. Be sure your news sources correct their mistakes promptly and fully.
  7. Don’t let the news media manipulate your emotions, your behavior, or your outlook on life.

I think these are awesome suggestions!

The book does have a distinctly evangelical Christian tone, but don’t let this dissuade you from reading it. Just bear that in mind and try to overlook some of the more typical evangelical verbiages and look for the other content of substance. I am a former evangelical, and I am probably more sensitive to the language that is often subtly used to pit people against others, not like themselves. That is my one problem with this book. I don’t think it goes far enough in reminding us that there are MANY good, honorable Muslims among us who DON’T want to see a global caliphate and sharia law.

We definitely need to be aware of what changes are happening in our world and the ramifications of decisions that are made by our politicians. This book can be an important tool in that regard, but we must be very careful not to lump all Muslims together with the fundamentalist radicals who do seek our destruction.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy Cover

This review contains SPOILERS:

J.D. Vance is the 3rd generation out of Appalachia. His grandparents left the holler of Jackson, Kentucky when they were teenagers, escaping the poverty and despair that surrounded them AND running away because J.D.’s then 14-year-old Mamaw was pregnant. The settled in Middletown, Ohio and J.D.’s Papaw got a job at a steel mill.

Papaw was a drinker and Mamaw was a spitfire. The two made for some interesting times! At one point before J.D. was born, Mamaw tells Papaw not to come home drunk or she’ll kill him. Always being a woman of her word, when he comes home drunk and passes out, she proceeds to pour gasoline over him and set him ablaze! Fortunately, he was not seriously injured (a miracle in itself) and, later, Papaw quits drinking, cold turkey.

Papaw and Mamaw were a huge influence on J.D. As the son of their youngest daughter, J.D. lives in a very difficult world. His mom is an addict who starts with pain pills and ends up using heroin. J.D. watched her get arrested more than once. His mom also is a serial monogamist….she has to have a boyfriend/husband. When one relationship ends, another begins immediately. She was married at least five times and lived with many men in addition. She dragged J.D. and his older sister (half-sister from a previous relationship) with her to live with these men. J.D.’s biological father surrenders him for adoption to J.D.’s second husband, who then leaves and doesn’t want J.D.

Surrounding the story of J.D.’s tumultuous life is a commentary on the plight of the white, poor, working-class and their social environment.  Middletown sounds a LOT like the city I live in (it is less than 2 hours away). They are both rust belt towns that have seen the manufacturing that once kept the city alive disappear. With that disappearance came a lack of high-quality work for the citizens. Those who were smart opted for something referred to as “brain drain”…the well-educated, well-trained, or well-connected citizens went elsewhere to work — and never came back.  The people left behind were truly disadvantaged, having no good job prospects and little social support (most had left rural communities where families were connected albeit generally dysfunctional). This dearth of opportunity created a sense of hopelessness and despair which resulted in increasing rates of substance abuse. In turn, the schools lost their best teachers and parents, with little education themselves, and less interest in their children’s education, resulted in decreasing rates of high school graduation, more drug abuse, more single parents, and (for some) jail time as a result of never having been given a moral compass.

J.D. recounts a story of a young man who quits his job because he doesn’t like getting up early and then, on Facebook, bemoans Obama’s policies as the cause of his joblessness. J.D. states that the thing he’d most like to change about the white working-class is “The feeling that our choices don’t matter.” He also says, “somehow your mind confuse(s) lack of effort for inability.” J.D. Vance had several things in his favor. One was his Mamaw. She is quoted as saying, “You can do anything; don’t be like those fu&*ers who think the deck is stacked against them.” She pushed him and believed in him. Another thing was the fact that his grandparents provided the stability that he needed to study and concentrate on his school work. Then there was the US Marine Corps. Vance enlisted and he says that the 4 years he spent in the Corps taught him many things that aren’t taught to the typical young person in Middletown: balancing a checkbook, getting up early, and “giving it your all.”

This isn’t to say that all lower-middle-class working whites have problems with drugs, alcohol abuse, violence, laziness, discouragement, or lack-of-motivation. That isn’t the case, and Vance doesn’t make that argument at all. He does, however, latch on to a pattern that I see around me every day (especially at ‘the Walmart’) where people dress and behave in ways that ought not to be seen in civil society. They aren’t bad people. They’re just living the generational life they’ve been raised to live.

I wasn’t raised in a rust belt town, but rather a large metropolitan city in Texas, yet, I see some of the traits Vance mentions in my own family. I am the adult child of a violent alcoholic who abused my mother. I’ve seen my father too drunk to get out of his car, or so drunk that he managed to get out of his car but came inside and fell over when I went to kiss him and passed out there on the floor where he fell. I have extended family with substance abuse or psychiatric issues. An aunt (by marriage) was incarcerated.

These issues aren’t unique to the white working-class, but they are more common for them than they are for upper-class families. The question J. D. Vance proposes — but does not answer — is how do we fix it?

Sadly, the answer for many of the working poor in 2016 (when this book was published) was a vote for Donald Trump. He was going to fix it all. Unfortunately, he’s not fixed much for the working-class. His tax program, while front-loaded to help the middle-class, take those advantages away quickly, and replaces them with tax policy that will hurt the middle-class (and help the top 10%). I see no more hopefulness in the people of my rust belt town now than I did in 2015.

Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating book. The portion of the book that is strict ‘memoir’ is fabulous. The memoir is sandwiched between (and sprinkled with) scholarly commentary from sociologists psychologists, political scientists, and economists. I think the book would have been better split into two books…one the memoir, and the other a commentary on the plight of the working poor.

I recommend Hillbilly Elegy. It is interesting and thought-provoking.

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Filed under Autobiography, Non-Fiction, politics, Sociology