jasonbwatson

January 29, 2015

The State of the Union

In my last post I explained the very serious problem that is the United States’ position on abortion. Unfortunately, there were a few other problems with Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address, too.

Just a few minutes into the address the President said, “It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.” I see two issues there. One, it really is not up to us. It is actually up to Someone much bigger than “us”, whether you mean any of “us” individually or the collective “us”. Mr. Obama’s comment reminds of something we have probably all heard in commencement addresses, when the speaker tells the graduates, “You can be anything you want to be. Whatever you put your mind to, you can do.” Well, not really. We hear it all the time, but deep down we all know it is just not true. There are some things that, no matter how much we might want to, just will never be. It is at our own peril that we ignore the fact that God is big and we are small, that He is omnipotent and we most definitely are not, that He knows tomorrow and we usually have a hard time figuring out today.

The other problem I see with the “up to us” statement is that we do not know who “us” is. “Us” usually refers to the collective “we.” But “we” have made it clear time after time that we do not want homosexual marriage and we want very strict limitation on abortion. The courts, however, have not seemed to care in the least what matters to “us” in those instances. If by “us” President Obama means the elected officials who were sitting in the House chamber when he delivered that speech, we should all be very afraid.

I confess I do not know what he may have been referring to, but Mr. Obama also said that “we’ve seen…our deficits cut by two-thirds.” Really? What deficits might those be, pray tell? According to the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. national debt was $10 trillion at the end of the George W. Bush administration. It is now over $17 trillion. How might we have added $7 trillion dollars to the debt during Obama’s administration while simultaneously reducing the deficit? According to the Congressional Budget Office numbers, 2013 was the first year of the Obama administration in which the annual national debt increase was not higher than it had been in any previous administration. Even the 2013 increase was lower only than the last year of the Bush administration; it was still higher than the other seven Bush years. And while the total budget deficit did go down for three consecutive years from 2011 to 2013, the 2013 numbers were about half of the 2009 numbers, not one-third. These numbers are not difficult to find, Mr. President; why not just tell us the truth?

Mr. Obama played the clanging cymbal of the minimum wage increase during his address, too. He challenged the members of Congress to support a family on less than $15,000 a year if they are unwilling to raise the minimum wage. I have explained at length in this space before why a minimum wage increase is not the panacea those who support it seem to think it is, so I will not go into that here. Suffice it to say that the minimum wage is supposed to be exactly that–the minimum. No one should stay there indefinitely. Neither was it ever intended to provide for the support of a family.

Mr. Obama also commented that “we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.” With all due respect, Mr. President, sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Paris with James Taylor to sing “You’ve Got a Friend” is probably not what the French people have in mind when they hear us say we “stand united” with them.

Despite all of the above, the most troubling thing about Barack Obama’s address other than his silence on the right to life was this gem: “And no challenge, no challenge, poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.” Really? The National Climactic Data Center does claim that 2014 was the warmest year across global land and ocean surfaces since anyone started keeping records in 1880, but there are so many ways to spin this information it is not even funny. Ignore the fact that I do not think climate change is much of a problem at all; even if it is, is it really the greatest threat to future generations? I doubt it, though I suspect ISIS appreciates being overlooked.

It’s important to know what the President has to say. It is equally important, though, to check your facts. All may not be as it seems.

January 22, 2015

The Weakest Link

On Tuesday, President Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. As presidents (almost always) do, Obama proclaimed the state of our union to be strong. However, his address, regardless of whatever else you may think of it, also proved a prime example of the proverb about the weakest link: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, it says. If that is true–and I think we have all seen ample evidence in our lives that it is–then the state of our union is actually quite fragile. Let me tell you why.

President Obama, as he has done repeatedly throughout his administration, championed the rights of all “people groups” in his SOTU address. The “last pillar of our leadership,” Obama said, is “the example of our values.” What do those values include, according to Mr. Obama? Respecting human dignity, speaking out against “deplporable anti-Semitism,” “rejecting offensive stereotypes of Muslims,” defending free speech and advocating for political prisoners. It also includes “comdemn[ing] the persecution of women or religious minorities or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.” And why do we do these things? “We do these things not only because they are the right thing to do but because, ultimately, they make us safer.”

Really? In many cases, I would say that’s true, but there is a glaring exception to Mr. Obama’s position.

He went on to state that, “As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice.” For that reason, he said, it is time to shut down the terrorist prison on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Keep in mind, of course, that the detainees at Gitmo are suspected or convicted terrorists.

Several paragraphs later, President Obama stated that Americans “live the idea that we are our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper.” Then, a few lines later, “[A] better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.”

What we do not see in any of this rhetoric is any acknowledgement of the unborn. We respect human dignity, the president said, but apparently not the dignity of the unborn. We deplore anti-Semitism and reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims (as we should), but evidently we neither deplore nor reject the notion that a woman has the right to kill an unborn child in her womb. We condemn the persecution of women or religious minorities or homosexuals, but we allow and even champion the “right” of a woman to dispose of another human being if that human being’s birth or temporary occupation of a uterus is inconvenient. We are committed to justice, yet somehow that means closing a prison that houses dangerous terrorists while permitting the murder of unborn children. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters, but evidently only after they have left the womb; until then, they’re out of luck. Our “basic decency” does not include defending the right to life.

The President’s only mention of abortion was when he said this: “We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely, we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows….” Of course we can agree that is a good thing! Yet the fact that those numbers are at all-time lows (if they are; I have not checked the numbers) does not, by any means, negate or excuse the fact that we still murder a million unborn children every year. According to the Guttmacher Institute’s July 2014 fact sheet on abortion, “Half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion” and “Twenty-one percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion.” This is not okay!

Just a few paragraphs from the end of his address, President Obama said, “I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: your own life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances, as committed as we are to working on behalf of our own kids.” In fact, Mr. Obama is not committed to improving the life chances of children at all. He may be committed to improving the chances they have in life, and he may desire to see today’s children have wonderful opportunities during their lives, but his commitment does not begin until the child leaves the womb.

As long as abortion is legal in the United States–as long as we are willing to, as a nation, defend and embrace the “right” of a woman to kill her unborn child–the state of our union will never truly be strong. When we refuse to defend the sanctity of life, we undermine everything else we claim to stand for. The United States’ position on abortion is truly its weakest link.

January 15, 2015

My Year in Books – 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 11:13 pm
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Between all of the activities of the Christmas season and the busy-ness of starting the second semester, I have not posted anything in nearly a month! What better way to kick off a new year of blogging than by giving my annual overview of the books I read last year. As always, this will be a quick run-down, not an exhaustive review of any books. I was, once again, able to meet my goal of reading at least fifty books a year, finishing with fifty-seven.

The first book I finished in 2014 was Sarah Palin’s Glad Tidings and Great Joy. I was not entirely sure what to expect from this book, but I found it a pleasant read. Palin included a number of family stories, traditions and photos throughout the book (as well as a few recipes), intertwined amongst examples of the attack on Christianity in general and Christmas in particular around America. More than likely, anyone who likes Sarah Palin will like this book, and anyone who does not like Sarah Palin will not.

For the most part, I am going to break down the other books I read by genre rather than by date. R W Glenn’s Crucifying Morality was a short look at what the Beatitudes are really all about–and what they are not all about. Max Lucado’s 3:16 The Numbers of Hope and David Jeremiah’s God Loves You are both excellent looks at God’s love–and how incredible that love truly is. Lucado’s book is, of course, written in his usual style. Rebecca Friedlander’s The Potter and His Clay is a fascinating look into the biblical comparisons of God to a potter and us to the clay. Friedlander is a gifted potter and artist, and if you have the opportunity to see her live Potter’s Wheel presentation you should definitely avail yourself of the chance. Strange Fire, by John MacArthur, is a thorough examination of the charismatic movement and the many misinterpretations and outright abuses of Scripture that have characterized the movement through the years. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is Nabeel Qureshi’s autobiographical account of how a devout follower of Islam came to accept Christ. For anyone interested in knowing more about what Islam teaches and the challenges associated with leading a Muslim to Christ would do well to read this book. Anthony Carter’s Blood Work is an examination of why the blood of Christ is so incredibly important and what it accomplished. Carter interweaves stanzas of classic hymns throughout. Christena Cleveland is social psychologist and college professor who wrote a thought-provoking look at the way Christians tend to segregate themselves within the body of Christ–for all kinds of reasons. Disunity in Christ is an excellent read, but do not read it if you have sensitive toes!

Darren Dochuk’s From the Bible Belt to Sunbelt is a study of how the evangelical movement in California was transplanted from the deep south. The book includes many names that will be familiar to believers, as well as details and contexts that likely are not so familiar. It also reveals that an incredible number of today’s hot-button issues are not new problems for the evangelical community. Douglas Bond’s The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts is a short, easy-to-read and fascinating look at the life of this prolific hymn writer. Lauren Drain’s Banished is an autobiographical account of her experiences as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. The book often left me wondering “how can anyone believe that?” It is a truly sad commentary of what some people believe the Bible teaches.

Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch is a monster of a book at 775 pages. And while there were a few times I found myself thinking she could have left out a few details without hurting the story any, I found the book a delightful read overall. As with many great works of fiction there are a few “twists of fate” that seem entirely too convenient and unlikely, but these are forgivable. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a difficult book to like yet worth reading. It is thought provoking, and in turns caused me to be angry, irritated and even sick, amidst other emotions. It is a book I would recommend, but selectively. It is certainly not for everyone. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n, is a tale any booklover will enjoy and a classic telling of doomed love. Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale is an easy like for any bibliophile, and was an intriguing look into both the transforming power of romantic love and the incredible power of bitter rivalry. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is a well-crafted story about the healing power of true love of the non-romantic variety. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, provided some of the most well-written sentences I have read in a long time. The entire book is letters written between the tale’s characters–a unique approach that worked surprisingly well.

As I usually do, I also attempted to add a few “classics” to my have-read list. Jane Eyre was recommended by a colleague and I found myself liking it much more than I anticipated I would. There was one incredibly unlikely and unbelievable twist in the book that soured me a bit, but it was well worth reading. It could generate some very interesting discussions about marriage in a discussion group setting. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye would probably be my “Banned Book” for the year. I can see why parents would object to it being in a high school reading list, but it would surely prompt fascinating conversations about racial relations, both between races and within them. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is worthy of being a classic, and the story is all the more fascinating because of when it was written. Cry, the Beloved Country is a book I have read before, and it is still a book I will recommend to anyone who asks. While it contains some of the same unlikely twists that irked me in Jane Eyre, they are not nearly so irksome in Alan Paton’s classic work set in South Africa. The novel presents perseverance and forgiveness in a way seldom seen. I finally got around to reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, too. James McBride’s The Color of Water is another very interesting look into race relations, as well as an endearing glimpse into the love of son for mother. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a creative and captivating retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel, and I would recommend it. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace was pure drudgery, and I would not recommend it.

In the contemporary fiction category I read Camron Wright’s The Rent Collector; A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash; The Absence of Mercy by John Burley; Be Careful What You Wish For–the latest installment of Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles; David Baldacci’s The Target; James Patterson’s Private: LA, Invisible and Burn; Marcia Clark’s Guilt By Association; and John Grisham’s Gray Mountain.

In history, I read Lawrence Denton’s A Southern Star for Maryland, an interesting look at what was going on Maryland during the Civil War; Edward Behr’s Prohibition, an overview of that part of U.S. history; Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, a riveting account of the Chicago World’s Fair and a murderer preying on women in the city at the same time that reads like a novel; The Black Count by Tom Reiss, an incredible true-life account of Alex Dumas; John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Scientists; and Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, an engaging look at four women who assumed roles in the Civil War far more often reserved for men.

George W. Bush’s 41 was an enjoyable read. It was not the book I had anticipated, but he politely warned me in the preface that it would not be. Captive in Iran, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh’s account of their time in Iran’s Evin Prison, is an incredible story.

There are a few I did not mention here, but I’m sure you’re ready to go do something else anyway. Check back next year to see where this year takes me!

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