Thankful in all things

November 5, 2008

I am finding that our English language is full of words that start with D that are hard to be thankful for. Even aside from all the words that start with dis- or de- (disease, disaster, depression), there are dirt, darkness, dread, and death. For some people, the list of unpleasant words might include dandruff, diet, draft, or even dentist. Many of us struggle with debt, and some of my (now former) co-workers are dealing with the effects of downsizing. And it’s not easy for any of us to be thankful for difficulty, disappointment, danger, or doubt.

Yet 1 Thessalonians 5:18 instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When I was a young Christian, I thought this meant I was supposed to be thankful for all things – I don’t know if this was what pastors and teachers had actually said or just the impression I got. It was somewhat of a relief to learn later that I can be thankful in all circumstances without being thankful for all the bad things that happen.

Not that that makes it easy. There are a lot of people who are very disappointed with the defeat of their candidate in yesterday’s election. My husband predicts “four years of hell that will take us a generation to recover from.” One commenter at WorldMagBlog expects homeschooling to be outlawed, and she and others expect restrictions on speech to whittle away our First Amendment rights.

I hope they are overreacting, but whether they are or not, we are still called to be thankful in our current circumstances. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24). Ah, there’s a good D word – day! Every day is a new day, full of new opportunities and new blessings. My mother used to have a small placard that said “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” Our worship leader at church often reminds us that “today is a day that’s never been used before.”

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I don’t want to live in a fishbowl

September 2, 2008

A google search on the word “privacy” produces approximately 1,540,000,000 hits. Among the top ten listed, most deal with privacy policies of various organizations. It would seem that the matter of privacy matters a great deal to people – but that it is an increasing elusive aspect of modern life.

A recent column in the Wall Street Journal illustrates the changing attitudes of Americans towards privacy. I have realized for years that my use of debit or credit cards, frequent buyers cards at various businesses, and other programs that record my purchases make it possible for someone to draw fairly accurate conclusions about my interests and preferences. It doesn’t bother me to think that someone could find out what books I read or what movies I watch. (After all, if they want to know they can read my blog!)

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What is the “emerging church”?

August 21, 2008

If I didn’t hang around at WorldontheWeb, I probably wouldn’t even have heard of it, at least not until now. The subject has come up a few times there, sometimes in the context of discussing “church” (such as worship style), but more often in the context of social issues.

I kept thinking, I ought to find out more about that. But I think that about a lot of topics, and find time only to explore a few. (A few months ago it was Islam. Right now I’m reading a book on Eastern Orthodoxy.) From what little I did find out about the emerging church, it because clear that even among those who consider themselves part of the movement (though I read that they prefer to call it a “conversation” rather than a movement), there was not a consensus on what it meant.

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Dueling headlines

July 12, 2008

After reading an article in the Wall Street Journal with the surprising news of environmentalists supporting offshore drilling, I decided to explore the topic further. After all, that would be pretty big news, especially in this season of $4/gallon gasoline. (Though I was one of the fortunate ones who got gas for $2.99/gal yesterday during a 4-hour special sale at the gas station across the street from my workplace.)

What conclusion you draw will probably depend on which headline you read. There is Santa Barbara learns to live with offshore drilling in MarketWatch – which is part of the Wall Street Digital  Network and could be expected to have a pro-business approach. It reports mixed feelings among the residents: “All are wary of spills, but some say it could prove to be a positive in the long run.” The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, reports that Santa Barbara fumes over McCain drilling plan. Like the WSJ article, it acknowledges (briefly) that recent poll results show support for offshore drilling, but focuses primarily on opposition to it.

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Red, white, blue, and green

June 25, 2008

I don’t generally pay much attention to the election year political conventions, especially as the outcome seems to be a foregone conclusion these days. I don’t know yet whom I will vote for (though yuesterday’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal about Obama’s plans for Social Security makes me think perhaps I should vote for McCain just to keep Obama out of the White House), but I doubt either major party’s convention will do much of anything to influence my vote.

I did find yesterday’s article about the Democrats’ plans for “the most sustainable political convention in modern American history” very interesting, however. Sustainable, according to Merriam-Webster, means “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Living in Iowa I have learned something about the measures farmers take to keep from depleting their land. But the sustainability desired by the planners in Denver is much broader, encompassing so many goals that they are finding it difficult to locate products meeting their requirements.

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Democracy, American style

June 16, 2008

Natan Sharansky has written a thought-provoking column about identity and democracy. If he is correct in his observations about different attitudes in Europe compared to the U.S. – especially in regard to Muslims assimilating better here – here is one more reason I am grateful to live in this country. I hope he is also correct that Americans will continue to see democracy and a strong sense of identity as complementary, rather than pitted against each other – regardless of who wins the election in November.

Old America vs New America

June 14, 2008

Peggy Noonan writes an interesting analysis of this year’s presidential campaign. The first several paragraphs are just about difficulties Barack Obama and John McCain have had this week. But then she describes this year’s campaign as a contest between the Old America, represented by McCain, and the New America, represented by Obama.

“In the Old America, love of country was natural. You breathed it in. You either loved it or knew you should.

In the New America, love of country is a decision. It’s one you make after weighing the pros and cons. What you breathe in is skepticism and a heightened appreciation of the global view.

Old America: Tradition is a guide in human affairs. New America: Tradition is a challenge, a barrier, or a lovely antique.”

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Two lefties running for president

June 6, 2008

Two southpaws, that is. I dislike using the term lefty as a political label, partly because I have most often heard it used in a derogatory sense (e.g. “loony lefty”), and also because the label – like any label – assumes that people fit in neat pigeonholes such as left and right.

It’s much easier to pigeonhole people by their “handedness,” of course. Most people are unabashedly and unalterably right-handed. Very few are truly ambidextrous. (There also are “mixed-handed” people who use one hand for some activities and the other hand for others, but as they are generally categorized by which hand they write with, there are no clear statistics as to how prevalent they are.)

Then there are us lefties – depending on whose statistics you go by, somewhere between 8% and 15% of the population. They make up a much higher percentage of recent presidents however – at least three of the last six, four if you count Reagan (some claim that he switched from left- to right-handed when he was young).

And as it seems highly unlikely that our 44th president will be anyone other than John McCain or Barack Obama, that will be one more lefty to add to the growing list. Naturally this is fueling renewed speculation as to why more lefties are ending up in the Oval Office.

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The limitations of hatred

May 2, 2008

I haven’t been following the news regarding Rev. Jeremiah Wright all that closely (though I could hardly be unaware of it, especially as it keeps coming up in the blogs I read every day, Significant Pursuit and World on the Web). Partly this is because I was not interested in voting for Barack Obama to begin with, and also because – as with most big news stories – we’ll continue to learn more about it and be better able to evaluate it as the picture becomes more clear. Breaking news stories hardly ever give as good a perspective as the analysis that follows weeks or months later.

I also feel somewhat inadequate to have an informed opinion on the whole matter, as I am not African American, nor do I know anyone well who is. (The town we live in attracts lots of Mexican immigrants, but the African Americans gravitate to the Quad Cities half an hour away, where there is a larger black population.) We have a number of Africans at our church (though in a congregation of over 1000, fifty Africans are still a small minority), and while many of them may well be descendents of American slaves (see the history of Liberia), their experiences are vastly different from most African Americans in this country.

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Caucusing in Iowa

January 3, 2008

When we moved from Illinois to Iowa in the summer of 2005, Iowa’s role in the presidential election process was far from my mind. It was only in the last few months that I realized that those Iowa caucuses I had heard about in past election years – and thought “How quaint” as you do when you read of some odd custom of people in a far-off place – were going to take place in my own community.

I have rarely taken much interest in the election process until the election itself approaches. I think 2000 was probably the first primary I voted in (I voted for McCain), back when we lived in Michigan. I always vote when I have the opportunity, so I assume that where I had lived previously there was no opportunity to vote in the primary, or it came late enough in the season that casting the ballot seemed to be a mere formality.

In any case, I was eager for the opportunity tonight to take part in an important process – as well as see what all the fuss in Iowa was about, that the rest of the nation would be taking such an interest in. I arrived at the high school a few minutes past the official 6:30 pm start time, but I walked in with a few dozen other latecomers, and there were more cars still arriving.

I hadn’t known what to expect, but I had more or less imagined fairly small groups in a number of different rooms. I followed the crowd into the cafeteria, which was standing room only, in time to hear someone ask if there was anyone to speak for John McCain, and only silence in reply. Another candidate was mentioned (Giuliani, perhaps?) and again no one spoke up. But there was someone to speak for Ron Paul, and I listened as I tried to edge my way further into the room, both to get a better view of what was going on and to make room for more people still coming in behind me.

As the Ron Paul supporter finished his speech and someone got up to speak for Mitt Romney, I heard people behind me asking where to sign in, and they were directed to continue across the room to a door opposite where we had entered. I managed to join the slow flow in that direction, and did not hear the rest of the speeches.

Out in the hallway, there were tables set up for people to sign in according to their precinct. But apparently whoever planned the event had seriously underestimated either the number of people who would show up, or how long it would take them to sign in. There were about six tables lined up down the hallway, and a dense crowd of people all trying to make their way to the appropriate table. Those who had made it successfully through the gauntlet, meanwhile, were trying to make their way back out, and the subsequent congestion was the pedestrian equivalent of rush-hour gridlock in our biggest cities.

I managed to get into the crowd without too much trouble, but directing my steps from there was mostly a matter of luck, as well as being willing to gain a few inches in the right direction when the opportunity allowed, even though it meant that someone else trying to move those same few inches in a different direction was not able to. People were for the most part pleasant and polite, unhappy at the circumstances but willing to put up with them for the sake of supporting their favored candidate. I can’t say there was no pushing, as we were constantly being pressed on all sides by the surrounding crowd, but I was aware of no intentional shoving, nor any efforts to cut ahead of anyone else. We were all eager to get signed up so we could get out of there and let others get in.

Finally I made it to the table for Precinct #1. There was someone for Precinct #2 on my left, someone for Precinct #7 behind me, who needed to get to my left, and someone in front of me for Precinct #2, but whose name turned out to be missing from the list of registered Republicans. (I read later on our local newspaper’s website that this was a problem for many people, and that this slowed down the process of signing in considerably.) But finally I managed to thrust my drivers license through to catch the eye of the woman with the list containing my name, and shortly I sported a green “1” on the back of my left hand. Then I just had to do the entire process in reverse to get back out of the crowd, which had grown larger in the last twenty minutes…

Finally I made it to room AA28, where Precinct #1 was caucusing. I arrived in time to hear a man (who spoke with a foreign accent that sounded vaguely Eastern European, though I could be way off on that assessment) explaining that our precinct is the largest in our county, and that we need to send 27 delegates to Des Moines in March – to which end he passed around a sign-up sheet for volunteers. And following that, a sign-up sheet for alternates, and another for youth delegates. As I haven’t lived in Iowa long enough to have a good idea where or how far away Des Moines is, I decided to leave that privilege to 27 other people.

Finally he handed out yellow pieces of paper and a few pens, and listed the names of the Republican candidates to choose among. The man next to me had his own pen, and promptly wrote out “Ron Paul” on his paper. Another man nearby was asking how to spell “Huckabee.” The room started clearing out fairly quickly, as people deposited their papers in a large envelope. I finally found a pen and recorded my choice (for Fred Thompson, whom I have widely heard is not electable, but who – along with John McCain – seems to come closest to my own views on various issues, and who would have been my husband’s choice had he not been home trying to get some sleep prior to heading off to his third-shift job).

As I left, I heard a woman talking on her cell phone, telling someone there were about three thousand people there. (No wonder it was so crowded! I couldn’t help wondering by how much we had exceeded fire code limits on number of people in a classroom.) When I got home, I mentioned the number to my son, who is a sophomore and might have some idea how many people would fill the cafeteria. He guessed a couple hundred. So I figured the woman had been exaggerating.

But I read online, along with the unsurprising news that Huckabee had handily taken a leading position as the Republican choice statewide, that there had also been a wrestling competition at the high school, and that between that and the caucus there had indeed been thousands of people at the high school. [Note: I have since found out that the number of Republican votes cast was 1,226.]

Now I can sit back and wait to see how the various state primaries go, and who the eventual Republican candidate will be, and whether I want to support him or consider a third party. But in the meantime, I’ve had my first taste of Iowa caucusing. And I certainly hope that in four or eight years or whenever the next time comes that the field is so wide open, someone plans things a little better to accommodate the crowds of Iowans eager to make their collective will known.