Disunited states

This long, horrible, no good election season is not over yet. Almost, but not yet. I am mildly optimistic that the current regime will be turned out of office, after all. Once again, polls are stupid. Once again, many people underestimated the depth and extent of the problem that is the people who somehow keep supporting this horrible regime.

We live in a country that makes a mockery of its name. It should instead be called the DISunited States.

I won’t claim to have foreseen this election result. Truthfully, I hoped for a landslide in favor of the other side so that the current regime would be left in no doubt about its repudiation by the vast majority of voters. Clearly, that did not happen. But in my heart, I felt it would be a close contest and am not greatly surprised by what has happened.

One bright spot is how little effect social media has had this time around — because I don’t use it. Thank the Lord for small mercies!

I keep thinking about applicable scriptures. Ever since the last election result, one Bible story that keeps coming to my mind is how the children of Israel clamored for a strong leader, and they ended up with Saul. No, the other side is not like David, but there are many other parallels in terms of the children of Israel and how things are in today’s U.S.


Absence from writing here lately does not equate to lack of eventful days. Really, it just means that my mind is preoccupied with many other things and the thought of writing a blog post is somehow far from it.

Recently, I coined a new word: obliviosity. My definition: a state of not being aware or concerned with what is going on around oneself. In my experience, this state of being is commonly associated with people in leadership roles, or at least, that is where it is commonly observed. There was one person in particular, a recent supervisor of mine, who seemed to have perfected this state to such a degree that it always felt like we were talking at cross purposes. A typical scenario was when I’d say, “There is a lot of x happening,” to which this person would reply, “I’m really concerned about y and z.”

As you can imagine, it is behavior that is both disconcerting and disheartening. In darker moments, I wonder if this is a key ingredient to longevity as a leader. I sure hope not.

Turning to more mundane but less negative reflections, autumn is one of my favorite times. The beautiful color palette engenders wonder and joy. Sometimes the light is just right so that trees and shrubs become luminous, seeming to have a special glow. As I write this, we are having a smidgen of snow, even. (I love snow.)

Some extended family members have contracted COVID, and there are other ongoing health problems among them, so I’m pretty worried about all of that.

The deed is done

Last night, my wife and I drove to a nearby ballot box to deposit our mail-in ballots for the upcoming presidential election. We were greeted by a special kind of ballot box watcher. We need more of this kind of voting observer than the kind called for by the current U.S. president.

It feels good to have voted in this most difficult election time of my life so far.

More powerful than voting is prayer, which I will continue to do, to pray for change.

Yesterday was a day of lassitude, and I didn’t get anything done. That may be because of overdoing it a bit the evening before, when I went on a three mile hike at a nearby forest preserve. That is more than twice as long of a walk than I normally take, so I was pretty tired out. The autumnal colors were beautiful to see though, and the weather was near perfect.

Cleanup on the aisle of atrocities

Never in a million years did I think I’d become a fairly regular reader of that bastion of liberals and glorifier of a city I don’t even particularly like, the New York Times. Yet, here I am, reading it, without any shame or remorse.

I also never thought I’d categorize myself politically as a liberal. Such is the dramatic impact of the bizarre state of affairs in my country, especially when it comes to politics.

Sitting next to me, waiting to be filled out soon, is a mail-in ballot for the upcoming presidential election. This is the first time I will have ever used one. It’s worth noting, also, that there have not been too many elections in which I’ve voted at all. (There is a reason for that, but it’s a long story that I won’t tell here.) At this point, I’m thinking that I’ll fill out the ballot by voting for every single Democrat I can identify, I feel so strongly opposed to the Republican Party and anyone who identifies with it. Because to be a Republican today is to be a sycophant to the biggest and most dangerous phoney of our times, whether people want to admit it or not.

This morning when reading the NYT, I was particularly glad to see an opinion piece by Marilynne Robinson on the topic of the current state of the U.S. Robinson is perhaps the greatest Midwestern writer alive today, and certainly one of the best American writers, period. I have loved reading and learning from her books, and count the time when she spoke at a conference at my college as one of the best and most interesting events I’ve ever attended. Robinson is a deeply faithful person, a Christian, and a self-professed liberal. Go read her piece, which is typically thoughtful and thought-provoking, wise, and somehow ultimately uplifting.

Another piece in the NYT also caught my eye today, written by Timothy Egan, a regular columnist and another favorite author whose books I’ve enjoyed. He discusses the dangerous enabler that is our current vice president. One of Egan’s more scathing lines is that “He’s cleanup on the aisle of atrocities at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Egan argues that this guy is arguably more dangerous even than the president because he gives a faith-based gloss to everything the president does and says. I find a lot in Egan’s piece that resonates with my own assessment.

The power of observation

A powerful yet simple truth is that we learn quite a lot from observation. I’ve been thinking about that this morning, and recalling incidents in which I developed and changed over my lifetime as a result of watching others. I can recall, for example, the great power of observing my grandma kneeling at her bedside, praying. I didn’t see a lot of personal prayer time and Bible reading from my own parents (not that they didn’t do those things), and I’ve recently realized how much that impacted me when I became aware that I, too, have not demonstrated the value of those things to my own children. I tend to keep my prayer time and Bible reading very private, to myself. These are just a few examples that come to mind.

My immediate family was and is my most prominent subject for observation, and I suppose that is only natural. The ritual of making and drinking coffee is a good example of this. My parents were big coffee drinkers, and eventually we all as their children followed suit. I can recall my own children, even when they were little, wanting to drink coffee, and I think this was due in part to their observation of my wife and me as we drank our coffee every day. A more negative example is watching my father’s behavior when drinking alcohol and what that taught me about the horrors of alcoholism. To this day, I have a great fear that I’ll somehow turn out like my father.

Another aspect of this thought is the frequently used phrase that life is “caught rather than taught.” I noticed, especially during my growing up years, how different what is taught can be from what is actually done, what is observed, what is “caught.” The dichotomy between what is supposed to be and what actually is can make one pretty cynical. You tend then to be rather critical. You are reluctant to give in to belief in something or someone. I think this is largely why or how I lost the carefree, optimistic attitude of my youth.

Bottom line: live your life with the realization that others are watching. How you behave and what you do or don’t do may be a bigger influence than you think. This is not to make us paranoid and worried, like Wazowski in Monsters, Inc. (Remember the iconic line from that female creature in Monsters, Inc. who observed in her brazen accent that “I’m watching you Wazowski, always watching…”?) Recognize that what we believe is played out in what we do or don’t do in clearer ways than any lecture or moral stance can convey.

This in turn reminds me of Jesus’ words to his disciples:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35 (NIV)

There is hardly a more important and convicting statement than that, especially in our present times.

The unbearable whiteness of being

I thought up this post title as an attempt at a witticism, but now face the harder part of actually writing something substantial or relevant about whiteness, a serious subject. If you don’t get the humor, think of a movie with a slightly different title from the 90s starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which in turn is based on a novel, I believe.

Anyway, the thought of whiteness came to me in two very different and weird ways. First, I really like dark mode on my devices, and wished there was a way to enforce dark mode on websites I regularly use. (The worst offender? The New York Times, which is blindingly, unbearably white, always and everywhere.) Then I discovered there is a Safari extension that enforces dark mode, giving me full control, and I’ve been enjoying the change this brings about in my reading experience on the web.

Second, as much as I try to avoid any and all photos relating to the current U.S. president and his administration, it is pretty much an impossible task. So as I view them without really wanting to, all I can see are white, white, white, white, white people everywhere, at all times. White people with privilege. Angry, fearful white people who believe in something that doesn’t exist, who believe in a charlatan.

Yes, this assessment is harsh, and perhaps overly broad. And after all, I am a white person myself. However, I strongly believe in the joy and power of diversity that God Himself created and loves more than we can ever imagine. We are equal in His sight and we are to enjoy and reflect differences, not only in skin color, but in other ways as well. This truth is what makes the current, very white White House and administration unbearable to me.

Interestingly, graduate studies in theology have helped open my eyes to the problem of whiteness in new ways. As I read about black and brown theology, I see new insights into the prevalence of whiteness. This does not mean that I agree with everything expressed by black and brown theologians (just as in the same way I do not always agree with white theologians), but their writings bring much needed enrichment and dimension to understanding who God is and how He works and makes Himself known.

An autumn walk near Lake Michigan

It has been a more than usually active day for us. We started out with a morning visit to our oldest son and daughter-in-law, whom we haven’t seen in about seven months. Next, we ate lunch at Jollibee’s, the famous Filipino fast food restaurant we’ve wanted to try for a long time. The food was good although quite a bit different than expected. I tried their palabok, the fried chicken was tasty, and I especially looked forward to eating Halo halo for dessert. Some of us liked it, and some really did not like it at all. From there, we drove to Fort Sheridan Nature Preserve, a pretty impressive place that used to be an army base with beautiful hiking paths and shoreline on Lake Michigan.

Below is a group of photos taken during that visit. Beautiful fall colors were everwhere!

The last rose of summer

Yesterday evening, I went for a walk and happened upon a rose bush still in bloom. It was a cheerful sight in the midst of the usual autumnal flower colors of yellows, golds, and whites. Another flower color that I enjoy seeing in the Fall is the rich, deep purple of wild asters.

On my walk, it was also hard to miss the heightened police presence everywhere. Not a cheerful sight.

Autumn is in full swing where I live, even if it only officially began on Tuesday of this week. The days have generally been mild and the nights have been quite cool. The hours of daylight are noticeably less. I love everything about this time of year except for the reduced daylight and the obnoxious use of pumpkin spice flavoring in everything. I don’t even really like pumpkin pie, to be honest — I never have. Oh yeah, and I also don’t like the ugly, creepy, horror side of Halloween that pops up everywhere.

At work, we were recently informed that the mode adopted for the Fall semester will continue through Spring as well, with a few tweaks. The Spring semester will start later and Spring Break will not happen. It means that I will continue to work fully remotely for several more months, which is a relief. Also, recent mandatory testing of the entire undergraduate student body turned up only one positive COVID case, which is encouraging. However, I also found out that an employee had recently tested positive. Fortunately, the person’s symptoms are mild, although it’s ironic that the affected individual happens to be opposed to use of masks, social distancing, and following lockdown procedures in general.

On a more somber note, we are also in the midst of working through responses to a survey that will be used to assess where, how, and when our organization can be reshaped or changed to achieve necessary cost savings. Notice I didn’t use the word “if.”

Hope flickers

Change, including positive change, is rarely easy and quick. Yesterday, I happened to look back on all of the previous posts I’ve written and I found it encouraging and helpful to see the variety of emotions and circumstances documented in them. In particular, I sensed a pattern of ongoing change in them. Writing things down is, of course, a well known way to process what we go through. Reviewing the past several months of blog posts showed me that hope flickers here and there. I saw signs of good things gradually happening over time.

I’ve reflected before on the realization that once hope is dimmed or expires altogether, it is very difficult to regain it, for it to burn strongly again. I write that hope flickers because that is how it seems to me — not a strong, steady flame, but at least it is igniting into flame here and there.

A favorite Bible verse talks about this imagery when Jesus appears to two of his disciples and walks with them on their way to Emmaus. After they finally recognize their traveling companion for who he is, they say:

Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

Luke 24:32 (KJV)

That is somewhat like what I’m talking about in my own life. Before, everything seemed too much, impossible, and I felt daily despair. Now, not a whole lot has changed for the better in my circumstances, but I somehow feel more hope, that possibly, good things will come. It’s a wonderful thing to realize and to recognize.

Of course, many good things developed over the past several months. I don’t deny that, and I am able to see and I am reminded of the goodness and faithfulness of God through many unexpected acts of kindness and mercy. But in general, most circumstances are not substantially different. What has changed, or is in the process of changing, is my perspective.

With apologies for the navel gazing…


Equilibrium — a word that sounds vaguely, and indeed is rooted in, Latin. Kind of like Londinium (Roman name for the city of London) or palladium. Anyway, it occurred to me today that this is what I have frequently lacked. Here is a complete definition:

e·qui·lib·ri·um| ˌēkwəˈlibrēəm, ˌekwəˈlibrēəm | noun (plural equilibria | -ˈlibrēə | ) a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced: the maintenance of social equilibrium.
• a state of physical balance: I stumbled over a rock and recovered my equilibrium.
• a calm state of mind: his intensity could unsettle his equilibrium.
• Chemistry a state in which a process and its reverse are occurring at equal rates so that no overall change is taking place: ice is in equilibrium with water.
• Economics a situation in which supply and demand are matched and prices stable: the market is in equilibrium | [as modifier] :  the equilibrium level of income.

New Oxford American Dictionary

Please do not conclude that I am slipping into something New Age-y, and that I’m sitting cross-legged now, uttering weird noises with my hands raised and thumb and middle fingers touching. No, that’s too much effort, anyway 😉

I think the issue of balance, life balance, is very Biblical and consistent with Christianity. One example I can think of off the top of my head is Jesus going away from his disciples and crowds, up into the mountains to pray (Luke 6).

My ability to juggle things has been severely diminished over the last year or so, much more than before, and the pandemic situation has played a big part. I especially grieve the mess I made of teaching a new graduate class this Spring and wonder if students in that class will ever get over it. My second graduate degree progress has crashed to a halt. There is lack of progress in many other work, home, and professional areas of responsibility as well.

Equilibrium helps when going through rough times, and it requires significant work over a significant period of time to work up to. I’m not there yet but I’m working on it and the good news is, I think it’s doable and I’m already able to feel a bit calmer about things than several months ago. Exercise helps, as does many other things but above all else, what helps is trusting and learning to trust more in how much God is in control of all things. There are many things that are mysterious and unknown, things that seem impossible and unfair, which only in retrospect, and only sometimes, can I see and understand that the Lord’s hand was in them.