There is a story making its rounds on the Internet these days about someone claiming to be a pastor using a “theological argument” to protest paying an automatic 18% gratuity. If you haven’t seen the story, you can Google it; it won’t be hard to find. But here is the bottom line: a customer at a restaurant in the St. Louis area write a note on his receipt, that included the 18% automatic gratuity, “I give God 10% why do you get 18” and then signed his name “Pastor [redacted].”

Not that it necessarily matters, but when I first saw the receipt (yep, the stories include pictures of it) I wondered why there was an automatic gratuity since the total was only $34.93–not exactly a huge bill, and not a total that would usually trigger the automatic gratuity policy. Upon reading the story, though, I learned that the pastor was a part of a large group that accumulated a bill exceeding $200. Apparently the pastor asked to have the charges broken down in order to avoid paying the automatic gratuity.

I have several problems with this incident, if it did happen. (After all, as Becket Adams points out on The Blaze, it could be a hoax “designed to stoke some sort of anti-Christian sentiment.”

First of all, as Adams also correctly points out, the automatic gratuity policy is not the decision of or the fault of the waitress who served the party in question. Not only is it pretty standard for restaurants to charge an automatic gratuity for large parties, the menu at the restaurant where this incident occurred clearly states that gratuities of 18% are automatically added for parties of eight or more. So either the pastor read it and figured he could get around it after enjoying his meal (shameful) or did not read it and did not like it when he found out (lazy). Furthermore, the automatic gratuity for large parties is, as I said, pretty standard, so I cannot believe this individual was truly surprised even if he did not read it.

Second, the argument scrawled by this pastor does not hold water. Many people–quite possibly this pastor included–spend more than 10% of their income on a variety of things, most notably car payments and mortgage payments. Too, the idea of a 10% tithe applies to one’s entire income, not to percentages on any given purchase. The restaurant did ask the man to pay 18% of his monthly paycheck as a tip.

Third, the argument is not even biblical. In Luke 10:7 Jesus Himself tells His disciples, “the laborer deserves his wages.” In I Timothy 5:18b Paul quotes Jesus, writing, “The laborer deserves his wages.” The waitress in the incident in question deserves her wages, too. And let us not forget that gratuities are part of those wages. Restaurant wait staff are exempted from minimum wage laws; the per-hour pay they receive from restaurants is quite low. But they compensate for that through providing good service and earning tips. So this alleged pastor is not only using Scripture out of context in his note, he is ignoring Scripture that speaks very clearly to the issue at hand.

Unfortunately, this idea is not new and is not rare. Whether this incident really happened or not, I have heard for years–and you probably have too–that wait staff will consistently say that Sunday afternoons is when they get the worse tips. And who is often eating at restaurants on Sunday afternoons? The folks who just left church. (Even worse, the professing Christians are not only among the worst tippers, they also tend to be among the most rude). What kind of testimony is that? According to the server at the restaurant in the story that prompted this post, “They had no problem with my service, and told me I was great. They just didn’t want to pay when the time came.” Shameful…and damaging to the cause of Christ. If we’re going to bring God into an argument, as this individual clearly did when he included “Pastor” with his signature, it better be to bring praise and honor to Him, not to misquote Him for our own ends and bring scorn and mocking on Him.

When the server shared this story originally on Reddit she included this caption with the photo: “My mistake sir, I’m sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries.” Yes, her irritation is evident in her statement, but she is also right. If I am going to avail myself of the service provided at a restaurant where someone serves me, I ought to compensate the wait staff appropriately. Not only is it polite, it is literally the server pays his or her bills. If I don’t like it, I can always eat at home or go to any fast food restaurant where I pick up my meal at the counter.

Over the years my wife has developed a fondness of sorts for watching my tipping habits. She can tell if I am unhappy with some part of the service, and she will sometimes even say, “the tip just went down, didn’t it?” Usually she’s right on, too! But there is also another truth in that statement–notice she says, “it went down.” That implies that it had already been “up.” Fifteen percent is a standard rule-of-thumb for a gratuity for restaurant servers, and that should be what we expect to add to the bill when we have finished dining. I do not think lowering that is wrong if the service is lousy; after all, a grumpy or incompetent server is not “worthy of his wage.” But there is also nothing that says fifteen percent cannot be increased. The other part of the guess-the-tip game my wife likes to play stems from the fact that she sometimes thinks I tip too much. I’ve never given anyone a life-changing tip, but I have been known to tip well above fifteen percent when the service is outstanding. Nothing wrong with that, either.

So, remember…when you dine out someplace where someone serves you, expect to compensate them accordingly. And please, do me a favor…if you just can’t do that, and you happen to be a Christian, please keep it to yourself.

Free Speech

I was amused as I read through the January 12 issue of WORLD Magazine to find that two of the magazine’s articles–located just three pages apart–were completely contradictory. I was further amused to discover that I thought both articles were wrong. Here’s the situation…

On page 59, Daniel James Devine wrote a piece entitled, “Speech impediments.” In it, he argued that Facebook, YouTube and Apple are guilty of online censorship and that everyone (but Christians in particular) should be concerned about the decisions being made by these companies. He cites examples such as Facebook’s deletion of a photo showing “an unveiled Arab woman in a sleeveless top, holding, in a call for liberation, a passport photo of herself wearing the hijab“, and Facebook’s temporary censorship of Mike Huckabee’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” held last year in support of Dan Cathy. According to Devine, Facebook apologized for both instances and “claimed the content had been removed by mistake.” Devine also cites Apple’s permanent removal of applications from Exodus International and Manhattan Declaration on its AppStore, and YouTube’s removal of Pastor Ryan Faust’s video warning against gay marriage, since YouTube considered the video to be hate speech.

Three pages later Mark Bergin wrote a piece entitled “Switch hitters” in which he took to task sports journalists for straying from reporting and commenting on sports to commenting on social issues and politics. He cited Bob Costas’ arguments for tighter gun control laws during a halftime show on Sunday Night Football following the murder/suicide by Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Jovan Belcher and sportswriter Jason Whitlock’s comments on the same incident. Bergin also mentioned ESPN’s reprimand of golf analyst Paul Azinger criticizing President Barack Obama for playing too much golf while devoting so little attention to job creation. Bergin cited ESPN’s policy that its reporters and personalities are to “avoid being publicly identified with various sides of political issues.” Bergin concludes the column by pointing out that sports journalists have a responsibility to provide “relief from greater concerns” and that “when the sports pages carry reports of murder and suicide, all notions of fantasy and escape are lost….” In other words, Bergin wants sports journalists to stick to talking sports and avoid discussing their opinions on anything else.

So the irony comes from Devine lamenting censorship from social media companies while Bergin is asking for censorship of sports journalists. Here’s why both are wrong…

First, the social media platforms that Devine is concerned about are the creations of companies that have chosen to provide a service. But Apple, Google (which owns YouTube) and Facebook are not public utilities (which, by the way, Devine does acknowledge). His suggestion that “users should be free to publish whatever they choose, like newspaper editors” is foolish and naive. Newspapers are protected against censorship from the government, but not from their own editors or owners. A newspaper editor can exclude anything he or she wants from a newspaper. Who in the world would suggest that newspapers should print everything that is submitted to them, whether by reporters or by the public? Devine says that “platform providers…should serve all customers even if they disagree with the content provided.” That’s just silly. WORLD has a web site, and it is free for anyone to access. But I guarantee you it would not allow or leave up comments that it deemed inappropriate or offensive. It’s not as if Google, Apple and Facebook are the only ways in the world for people to get out their messages. If they choose to censor content, so what? Let them. If it troubles you, find another outlet to make your voice heard. if it troubles you enough, stop using their services. If it troubles you to the point that you just cannot sleep at night, and you have the wherewithal to do so, start your own platform and let people post, publish and share anything they want without guidelines or censorship of any kind.

Devine quotes Craig Parshall, the director of the John Milton Project for Free Speech at National Religious Broadcasters, expressing concern that these companies, because of company policies, can remove user-generated content they find offensive, “even if it would otherwise be lawful.” Of course they can; they created and/or own the platform, so they can create any policies they want. We, the users, volunteer to abide by them when we choose to use the services they provide. The fact that the speech may “otherwise be lawful” does not mean any company must allow it to be disseminated through its service(s). I am sure Parshall would not suggest that Christian radio stations should be required to air radio content its owners found offensive, so why should Facebook or YouTube be required to leave up content their owners find offensive? Our country is full of places that have established their own censorship rules, and many of them are religious–schools, camps, colleges, etc. There are some things students at the school where I serve cannot say or where or advertise without having consequences–possibly as severe as expulsion–even if their speech would “otherwise be lawful.”

Mr. Bergin, on the other hand, is suggesting that sports journalists should be prevented from sharing opinions that are not within the narrow parameters of “sports journalism.” First of all, if the on-air commentators of sporting events stuck to talking solely about the games being broadcast, there would be a lot more silence during the games. That would probably not be a bad thing, actually, but my point is that they stray often from “the subject at hand.” Should they be censored for doing so only when what the talk about is potentially offensive to someone? Second, sports journalists work for companies or at least have to sell their work to companies; shouldn’t the companies have the say in whether or not to censor them? If I don’t like what Bob Costs or Jason Whitlock or Paul Azinger has to say, I do not have to listen to read them. But am I really sure I want to suggest that they should not be allowed to say those things?

As I said, it was incredibly ironic to find these two articles just pages apart, since one argues that companies providing public platforms should not censor the content contributed by the public, while the other suggests that companies providing platforms for information to be disseminated to the public should censor the opinions being disseminated. And, as I said at the outset, I think Messrs. Devine and Bergin are both wrong. I guarantee you I want the right to censor or regulate that which I have created and/or own. Why? Because that in and of itself is free speech!

Worse than murder?

A judge in Bucks County, Pennsylvania has sentenced a man to 494 to 982 years in prison for molesting children between the ages of 4 and 17 over a thirteen year period. Apparently he was initially arrested for tattooing a 15-year-old girl in exchange for sex, and the subsequent investigation led authorities to other victims. In all, he was convicted of 170 counts.

Now, I want to say right off that I find child molestation and abuse to be reprehensible, and I am absolutely in favor of severe punishments for such crimes. There is simply no excuse for adults preying on defenseless children.

At the same time, I cannot help but wonder what the point is in sentencing someone to hundreds of years–potentially almost a thousand years–in prison. Unless this individual is going to be the next Methuselah, he obviously is not going to serve even a small portion of that sentence.

I remember a similar situation years ago…probably almost twenty years ago…when a ridiculously long sentence was handed down in a similar conviction. I remember commenting on it to someone, who responded, “He would have been better off killing her.” Now, that sounds harsh, but it’s true. There are murder convictions every day that result in sentences that will allow the guilty to leave prison with years left to live. Sure, there are life sentences and even death sentences, but they are the exception, not the rule.

That leads to a question that I am not sure I know the answer to: is there such thing as a crime worse than murder? Is it possible to do something to someone that is worse than killing them? Can some offenses more seriously damage someone, physically or emotionally, than taking their life? As I said, I just do not know.

Scripture talks about “an eye for an eye.” And while some have taken that as a excuse for retribution, and some have even twisted its meaning by employing the line “an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.” That is not the intention of that Old Testament teaching, however. “An eye for an eye” was intended to prevent retaliation and excessive punishment, not to encourage or sanction it. Tribes in the Old Testament would usually take the same attitude toward wrongs done to one of their own as gangs do today–which is generally summed up in this statement: “if you put one of ours in the hospital, we will put one of yours in the morgue.” In order to prevent that kind of vigilante justice, the Old Testament provided guidelines to ensure that the punishment would fit the crime. Thus, “an eye for an eye,” not “an eye for a tooth.”

There is considerable debate about what the purpose of incarceration is, and that is beyond the scope, really, of what I wanted to think about here today. (Perhaps I will explore that another time). And I am not wondering about the legitimacy of a 450-950 year sentence; I think it is absurd. I see no point in handing down a sentence that cannot possibly be served; why not just sentence him to the rest of his natural life in prison? Delivering a sentence that cannot possibly be served as given makes about as much sense as a teacher threatening a student with a consequence he or she cannot possibly carry out. What I just do not know is whether some crimes may be “worse” than murder and therefore justify a sentence equal to or harsher than those handed down for murder.

“What difference…does it make?”

Earlier this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before Congress on the September 11 attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. Her testimony is late in coming as a result of health issues she had at the end of the 2012 calendar year, but the delay as served only to make it that much more anticipated. Finally, just two days after Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term, and with it already common knowledge that she will leave her post as SecState just as soon as Senator John Kerry is confirmed as her successor, Mrs. Clinton provided her testimony. It is easy to find transcripts of her testimony on line, or videos of the testimony, as well as, I am sure, countless commentaries and editorials on what she had to say. And while I have not read any of those, I am going to add one more of my own.

What the U.S. knew and did not know prior to and during the attacks, and how the U.S. did or did not respond to the situation in Benghazi, has been debated and analyzed and dissected and regurgitated repeatedly since the attacks, and I am not going to weigh in on that specifically. Rather, I am going to address a specific comment made by the Secretary in response to questions from the members of the Senate committee.

Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, asked Mrs. Clinton about the motivations of the attack–about why the attack had occurred. Her response? “With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk who decided they’d go kill Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened.” While I do not completely disagree with the last part of that statement, what happened is largely already know. Sure, there may be some details and specifics that have not yet been finalized, but we know at least the broad strokes of what happened. What we do not know, what the Senate committee wanted to know, and, I suggest, what the American people want to know, is why did it happen, and could it have been prevented?

What really strikes me, though, is the absurdity of Mrs. Clinton’s question, “What difference at this point does it make?” I wonder if she really believes that? I cannot imagine the families of the victims believe it. I cannot imagine that Mrs. Clinton, or President Obama, or anyone else, really believes that either. It simply makes a smartalecky way to deflect answering the question.

Imagine applying that approach in other scenarios…

When a reckless driver hits a car and kills everyone in it, why not take the approach, “They’re all dead. What difference does it make why the accident happened?”

When a student who has shown an inability or unwillingness to apply himself to his studies suddenly aces an exam or writes the best essay the teacher has ever written, why not say, “He got every question right! What difference does it make how he did it?”

When someone with no job is suddenly driving a luxury SUV, who cares how it happened, let’s just appreciate and congratulate them on the new wheels.

Why investigate athletes who do the seemingly inhuman? Were they doping? Were there performance-enhancing drugs involved? “What difference does it make?”

I could surely provide more examples, and I am sure you can think of plenty of your own. The point is, the why is always important. It matters if the driver was drunk or high. It matters if the student cheated. It matters if someone stole money or a vehicle. It matters if athletes alter the playing field and have an unfair advantage. And in regard to Benghazi, it matters why the U.S. was blaming the snippet of a video on YouTube for the attacks. It matters why the requests for support were unanswered. It matters why the U.S. did not inspect the scene promptly.

So, contrary to what you might want to believe, or might want us to believe, Madame Secretary, it makes all the difference in the world. And if they have enough backbone to do their jobs, our elected officials will not stop asking the question until it has been answered.

Which one doesn’t belong?

Do you remember those puzzles you would do as a child, where there was a sequence of pictures and you were supposed to determine which one did not belong? There might be a glove, a baseball, a hockey stick and a bat, for example; clearly the hockey stick does not belong because it is not related to baseball. Well, I felt a bit like I was doing one of those puzzles as I listened to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. In it, he said this:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

The president’s alliterated reference to defining moments in the fight for equality likely went either unnoticed or not understood by many who heard it–especially those of younger generations. As a student and teacher of history, though, it did not escape me.

Seneca Falls is where the first convention focused on women’s rights was held in 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were the most notable names involved probably, but the Declaration of Sentiments that emerged from the convention made it abundantly clear that women wanted the right to vote. Years later, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified these women were up in arms since, for the first time, the Constitution now included the word male when addressing voting rights.

Selma, of course, is the town in Alabama that is usually considered to be the launching pad of the civil rights movement.

But what about Stonewall? Most of us thinking of Confederate general T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson when we think of any historical significance to that term, but the is certainly not what the president had in mind on Monday. Instead, he was referring to the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City where a riot occurred in 1969. The riot was sparked by a police raid on the bar, apparently one of the few bars in the city where homosexuals could gather. Not only were gays openly discriminated against at the time, but it was a crime to serve alcohol to homosexuals. Police were there with a search warrant to investigate reports on the illegal sale of liquor. The result was a riot in which the bar’s patrons began throwing just about anything they could find at the police officers, four of which were injured in the melee. Rioting continued for the better part of a week.

According to Martin Duberman, a professor, author and gay-rights activist who founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at City University of New York, Stonewall became symbolic for the gay rights movement. In 1999, the Stonewall Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

My contention is that Stonewall doesn’t fit with Seneca Falls and Selma. I am not suggesting that discrimination against homosexuals is okay in the areas of basic rights–making it a crime to serve alcohol to them, for example–but the connection that President Obama was trying to make was that because gay marriage is still not permitted, homosexuals are still being discriminated against. Not too long after the excerpt above, Obama said,

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Notice he said nothing about housing, employment, voting, even drinking alcohol. I do not know anyone who reasonably and rationally believes that homosexuals should be denied any of those rights. Rather, the president was focused on gay marriage–“the love we commit to one another” he called it. And for it to “be equal as well” he wants marriage to be redefined to include homosexual marriage.

I have addressed this issue in this blog before; homosexuality and gay rights is not the civil rights issue of our day, as so many people like to assert that it is, and as the president seemed to be suggesting in his speech. Why not? Because gay marriage is not a civil right. Homosexuality is not the same as gender or race. Homosexuality is not an irreversible fact of life over which individuals have no control. Even if I were to grant the argument that there is such a thing as a “gay gene” and homosexuals are born homosexual (something I do not grant, by the way) engaging in homosexual behavior is still optional; being a woman or being black is not optional.

Perhaps it should not surprise me, but it does, that Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president and CEO of the NAACP, had this to say in response to Obama’s remarks:

In his speech, I think the president did ultimately what he does best, which is to really speak to the commonality across so many different groups in our society, the commonality across so many different struggles for rights, and get right down to the core that at the end of the day, what we’re all seeking to do — and what the freedom fighters at Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall are all trying to do — is just simply move our country towards the realization of its own pledge, that this be one nation, with liberty and justice for all.

We need to wake up. The “commonality across so many different struggles for rights” is no commonality at all when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. Gay marriage is not included in the founder’s embrace of “liberty and justice for all.” Gay marriage is not a right, it is not a civil rights issue, and if it ever becomes the law of the land it will result in a fundamental redefinition of the basic unit of humanity. Oh, and it will throw wide open the doorway to redefining just about anything else, too; if homosexuals are granted the right to marry, after all, how can we deny polygamists the right to marry multiple wives? That is but one example of where that doorway might lead; the others are addressed elsewhere on this site, and for the sake of time and space and climbing out of the mud I will not elaborate here.

Bottom line…Stonewall does not belong, and never will belong, with Seneca Falls and Selma.

And we wonder…

The December 15 issue of WORLD magazine included a page with short articles about education issues (page 72). Collectively, these three articles reveal quite a bit about the problems with public education in America today.

The first article is entitled “School’s Out,” and looks at the battles going on in Chicago and Washington, D.C. over school closings. Of course, Michelle Rhee faced incredible pressure over closing underperforming (a very polite way to say “failing”) schools during her tenure as chancellor of D.C. schools. But the reality is that Chicago and D.C. are losing students at a considerable rate–Chicago’s student is down 6% over the last decade, but D.C. is down around 35%. (And while the percentages are staggeringly different, the difference in number of students is small: 25,270 students lost in Chicago, 27,681 lost in D.C.).

There are, of course, many factors that may contribute to the decrease in enrollment in urban areas, including families moving into the suburbs, more families choosing nonpublic schools, and the poor quality of the public school systems.

Regardless of the reason, though, anyone with any knowledge about business operations would recognize that maintaining things “as they are” in light of a 6% or 35% decrease in consumers is a recipe for failure. What restaurant would maintain the same number of locations or the same staffing levels after a 35% decrease in customers, for example? And yet the Chicago Teachers Union is vehemently opposing the closing of any schools. Of course this should not come as a huge surprise after Chicago teachers went on strike early this school year, and had the audacity to claim that their demands were in the interests of students. CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey stated, “If you close our schools, there will be no peace in the city.” Ah…how refreshing to see such a spirit of compromise, or even a willingness to acknowledge that sometimes tough decisions have to be made in order to save a sinking ship.

In Chicago half of the students drop out; in D.C. the figure is 40%. Eighty percent of fourth graders in both cities struggle to read. And in D.C. the opposition to embracing reality is not only among the public school teachers, but among city council members, who strenuously oppose the closing of schools in their wards, despite the fact that new Chancellor Kaya Henderson says that many schools are half-empty, resulting in a considerable waste of money.

Moving on, beneath “School’s Out” is an article entitled “Musical chairs.” This article begins by introducing Jessica Keskitalo, a high school history teacher in Beaverton, Oregon who is teaching seventh-grade math this year, after all of a “half day of math training.” And Keskitalo is not alone as she spends the year in unfamiliar territory; according to the article, she is one of 365 teachers in the Beaverton district who were “shifted by seniority” to replace teachers who were laid off. In other words, the school district needed to make cuts, and they did. But, “Oregon requires districts to lay off teachers with the least experience first, instead of assessing expertise and classroom needs.” Oh good…another example of putting the needs of the students first! (Sorry, sarcasm seems to be dripping out of me today).

According to Beaverton officials, some 160 teachers were placed in “significantly different positions” this year. Keskitalo, for example, had never taught mathematics, and her only experience teaching middle school students came during one month of her student teaching. The article states that neither the principals in Beaverton nor the teachers had any say over the new assignments. Another example provided? Beaverton “transferred district librarian Jenny Takeda into a third-grade classroom one week before the Oregon Association of School Libraries named her the Librarian of the Year.” Takeda opted not to accept the assignment, so she is now a substitute teacher as she tries to figure out what her future holds.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, as cited in the article, reports that, “the overwhelming majority of school districts use seniority as the only determinant of teacher layoff decisions.”

Lastly, the right column of the page contains an article entitled “Fox in the Henhouse.” This one describes the fact that union official Glenda Ritz was chosen by voters to be the new state superintendent of Indiana schools, ousting Tony Bennett (not the singer, but a “nationally recognized school reformer”). Why is that a problem? Because Indiana has in place one of the “biggest statewide voucher program[s], teacher evaluations tied to student test scores, and new grade-by-grade tests and curriculum requirements shared by 46 states.” Ritz, however, “dislikes evaluating schools.” Hmmm…I wonder why? As a union official, her focus was undoubtedly on maintaining teacher jobs and increasing teacher salary and benefits, not on student achievement.

If this news is illustrative of the condition of public education in America is it any wonder that our students consistently lag behind students on other countries on tests? Should we be surprised that so many students drop out when council members and superintendents are focused more on teacher jobs than on student learning? Should we be surprised that students struggle to learn when teachers are randomly placed in classrooms because they have tenure, not because they have any training or even any clue how to teach the age and/or subject matter they have been assigned? I think there are a lot of very capable and very dedicated teachers in the nation’s public schools…but I think, for the most part, they’re swimming against the tide. They’re trying to do something that, despite the rhetoric, simply has not been made a priority–actually teaching students to learn.

My Year in Books – 2012

Last year I looked at my reading over the previous five years, since I had started to keep track. I figure it will be easier to look back annually now rather than wait another five years. So, what did I read in 2012? The total was sixty-one books (not counting all the books I read to my children!) and here is a brief overview…

I started the year with Tullian Tchividjian’s Surprised by Grace. This is a short book but provides an interesting look at the book of Jonah, and brings some perspectives I had never before considered. Tchividjian also includes a number of artistic works that have been inspired by Jonah over the years, and weaves those into the text, providing another unique perspective on its own.

Next was John Paul Stevens’ Five Chiefs, a look at the history of the Supreme Court and, in particular, the Chief Justices that Stevens served under. I found the book to a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes workings of the nation’s highest court.

Both of those books were Christmas presents, which is probably why I started with them. One thing that is a guaranteed perfect fit for me anytime is a book (or a giftcard for books).

I read my share of fiction throughout the year, as I usually do, mixing it in with my other reading. I read the latest offerings from several authors I enjoy, including David Baldacci’s Zero Day, Tom Clancy’s Locked On (written with M. Greaney), John Grisham’s Calico Joe (a departure from what Grisham most often writes, but consistent with his occasional foray into sports-themed stories, and a pleasant read for a baseball fan), Jeffrey Archer’s The Sins of the Father (part two of a series set to continue early this year), the third installment in Grisham’s detective series for teens, Theodore Boone: The Accused, and Baldacci’s The Innocent. Elizabeth George’s This Body of Death is another installment in her Inspector Lynley series, though I don’t know that it was the most recent one. James Patterson’s Private Games used the London Olympics as the setting for a private detective agency that was in charge of Olympics security dealing with the assassination of several athletes. By way of classic fiction I read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, an interesting look at the Mexican persecution of the Catholic church, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, an excellent book. A few other fiction selections were sprinkled in, as well.

In the area of history, several excellent books made my list in 2012. Laurence Bergreen’s Columbus provides a thorough yet entirely readable look at the life of Christopher Columbus, from his early years to his efforts to find backing for his voyage heading west from Europe, to his resulting multiple voyages made under the Spanish flag. Robert Seager II’s And Tyler Too is a nice biography of president John Tyler–the vice president who became president just one month into his term after William Henry Harrison got sick on inauguration day and never recovered. Black Hills Believables by John Hafnor is a short book, easy to read, and full of fun and interesting facts about South Dakota’s Black Hills. I had no idea that the Black Hills has been considered as the site for UN headquarters. Michael Lind’s What Lincoln Believed is a book that I found to be not only not well written, but difficult to accept as accurate. Lind introduces many things about Lincoln’s faith and attitude toward religion that I have never read anywhere else or ever heard, and given the overwhelming number of books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln it just seems to stretch plausibility that Lind has access to materials, or some profound insights, that no one else has. Edward Larson’s A Magnificent Catastrophe is a fascinating look at the election of 1800, the first presidential “campaign” in American history. William Hallahan’s The Day The American Revolution Began provides a unique perspective of the events leading up to the Revolutionary War from various angles and in various geographic locations. Thomas Fleming’s The Perils of Peace makes clear that life in America was not all fine and dandy after the Revolutionary War ended. In fact, there were major struggles that the young nation faced, sometimes threatening its survival. Jeffrey St. John’s Forge of Union, Anvil of Liberty is the last in his three-volume work on early American history. Written in a journalistic style, the book is full of short “reports” from the perspective of live reporting. And Robert Merry’s A Country of Vast Designs is an extensive but very good look at the presidency of James K. Polk, the process of American annexation of Texas, the war with Mexico, and the expansion of the U.S. to include not only Texas, but most of the southwest and northwest.

In biography and autobiography my reading included William Hague’s William Wilberforce, an exhaustive look at the life of Britain’s strongest opponent of slavery; David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies (I think I come down somewhere in the middle on the controversy surrounding this book; I don’t think Barton made up some of the “facts” in his book, as has been suggested by some, but I think he may have taken unjustifiable liberty with his interpretation of some of them); Ira Stoll’s Samuel Adams: A Life, a good biography of one of the more important yet often overlooked founders of the country; and the autobiographies of two Olympic gymnasts, Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu and Winning Balance by Shawn Johnson. The difference in experiences presented in these two books is incredible. Johnson grew up doing gymnastics for fun, with parents who were supportive but not focused on world-level success and a coach who was understanding, caring and recognized that Shawn was a teenage girl, not a machine. Moceanu, on the other hand, grew up with a domineering father focused almost exclusively on seeing her become an Olympic gymnast. She loved gymnastics, but it is nothing short of incredible that she did–and still does–after what she went through because of it. Her book also provides a very different perspective of Bela and Marta Karolyi than comes through in the NBC vignettes during the summer Olympics and reveals serious flaws in the selection process for Olympic gymnasts in the U.S.

I read a variety of books in the area of spiritual and personal growth, too. Erwin Raphael McManus’s Soul Cravings is a collection of essays that read like journal entries and focuses on the fact that only God’s love can fulfill the cravings of our souls; Bob Lepine’s The Christian Husband is a good overview and reminder of what it means to be a Christian husband; A.W. Tozer’s classic The Knowledge of the Holy is a classic for a reason; John MacArthur’s Worship: The Ultimate Priority is a good reminder of some things that seem to get lost at times in the world of PowerPoint slides and praise teams; Louie Giglio’s i am not, but i know I AM is a short and easy to read yet profound book that very powerfully points out how little we are, how awesome God is, and yet the relationship that is still available between Him and us; Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness is another classic book for good reason, and is, like most of Bridges’ writing, short while packing a theological punch; John Piper’s Think is an excellent reminder of why intellectual strength is so important for believers; Joshua Harris’s book Dug Down Deep is a good reminder of the importance of really knowing what we believe and why, even though Harris and I do not agree on every detail; James Dobson’s Bringing Up Girls was a helpful reminder for me as the father of a daughter, though I do not remember anything earth shattering in the book and, overall, I thought it was an unimpressive product for something that he claims to have spent five years working on; John MacArthur’s Twelve Unlikely Heroes provides interesting looks into some of the less-well-known heroes of the Bible; and Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel was a good reminder of the fact that we often fail to grasp how awesome God’s grace and mercy are and to remember that there is truly nothing we can do to merit it.

There were a few books that did not fall easily into any of the above categories: Lighthouse Families was written by a husband and wife team and contains fascinating looks back at the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families; Ronald Davis’s The Gift of Dyslexia and Brock and Fernette Eide’s The Dyslexic Advantage both provided unique and interesting insights into what it means to have dyslexia and why that is not necessarily a disability; Gerald Twombley’s Funding Your Vision is an easy-to-read primer for anyone involved in fund raising and development; Larry Sabato’s A More Perfect Constitution offers a stimulating look at the Constitution and possibilities for improvement–I did not agree with all of them, but the book is very thought-provoking; Oliver Van DeMille’s A Thomas Jefferson Education provides a fascinating look at what education could be like if approached completely differently than it usually is (though I found it interesting to learn after reading it that DeMille is no longer with the school he founded and the school denies any remaining connection with him); Peter Schweitzer’s Throw Them All Out provides a startling overview of how our elected officials (in Washington) leave office much more wealthy than they enter it; Rick Santorum’s American Patriots offers a brief look at some of the influential but lesser-known figures in America’s founding era; and Marita Littauer’s Wired That Way offers insight into how the personality types impact our behavior, our interactions with each other, and even our spiritual development–though little in the book will be new to anyone who has read other books analyzing the personality types.

This list doesn’t name all sixty-one books (though it comes close) but it gives a good idea of what interest me and what I thought of the books I read. Probably the only one I would not recommend (or, more accurately, would recommend not reading) is Lind’s look at Lincoln. Happy reading!


I’m back! It has been a hiatus of nearly a month since I posted last, which is hard for me to believe. I took some time off and did some traveling around Christmas, and though I thought perhaps I would blog some during that time I never did. And even though I have intended to do so several times since, it seems as though something else always came up. But, I am back, determined I was definitely going to post today, and hopefully I will get back into a routine of posting a few times a week.

While I was traveling my wife and I took our children into Washington, D.C. I grew up just a few miles outside the city, and as someone who loves politics and U.S. history I have always loved much of what Washington, D.C. has to over. My children enjoyed it too, for the most part, though they did grow tired of all the walking as we tried to cram as much as we could into the few hours we were there.

While we did spend some time in three of the museums that are part of the Smithsonian Institution, we also saw several of the most recognizable monuments in the city: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the World War II Memorial. Visiting these monuments provided me with an opportunity to tell my children about why the monuments had been erected, and about the people and events they were there to remember and honor. That, of course, is exactly why the monuments are there.

Of course, monuments are not unique to Washington, D.C. or even to America. In fact, monuments are described in the Bible. Numerous times the Scriptures record God instructing the nation of Israel to erect monuments–usually in the form of piles of stones–to commemorate a specific event, a specific way in which God had intervened and met the needs of the nation in a supernatural way. One of the best examples is contained in Joshua 4:1-3, which reads:

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”

However, God’s instructions included more than the erection of the monument. He went on, explaining that the purpose of the stones was this:

“[T]hat this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (vv 6-7)

Joshua elaborated on this instruction. When the Israelites had crossed over the Jordan River and the stones had been erected, Joshua said to the people:

“When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (vv 21-24)

So, just like I can take my children to look at the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial and use those to teach my children about the lives of those great men and the impact that they had on the shaping and survival of our country, or we can look at the World war II Memorial and I can talk to them about my grandfather’s service in the U.S. Army during that war, or the many men and women who served to defend our country and to defeat the Axis powers, so too the Israelites could show their children the pile of stones near the Jordan River and tell them about the miracle that God had done of stopping the waters to allow them to pass over on dry ground.

Looking at the monuments in Washington reminded me of the biblical instructions, and also reminded me of a song written several years ago by Bev Lowry (perhaps most well-known as the mother of Christian comedian Mark Lowry). Her song, entitled “Monuments,” includes this chorus:

Where are the monuments we should be leaving
so our children can find the way to get home?
We should be laying stones so they can follow
the pathway that leads to God’s throne.

That’s a powerful and thought-provoking question and reminder. While it is true that I have never seen God part the waters or seen manna provided from heaven, I have seen and experienced God do amazing things in my life and in the lives of the members of our family. Am I taking care to teach God’s provision to my children? Am I reminding them of all that God has done for me? For them? Probably not nearly as well as I should be. I think it may be time to build some monuments….