What are we celebrating today?

On the day that fireworks are going off and everything looks like the American flag threw up on it, a little introspection is nice amidst a family cookout. We’re celebrating something today. If we’re all celebrating being Americans, what is it we’re actually celebrating?

After you ask that, you also have to ask yourself: What is America? What about it is even worth celebrating?

Are we celebrating the ever-present undercurrents of race war?

Are we celebrating the higher-than-ever deficit?

Even if we’re counting positives, can we define America based solely on the astounding dominance we have in military might, our economics, or the freedoms we presently hold?

I don’t think so.

No, to properly celebrate America as a whole, good and bad, from the Founding to today, we have to recognize that America itself is a grand experiment. The Founders thought so. Hamilton, in writing the first of the Federalist Papers defending the Constitution, wanted America to be the first republic founded on “reflection and choice” rather than “accident and force.”

We have, to some extent, done our best. But the government founded on the “proposition that all men are created equal” (to quote Abraham Lincoln) has not ever been anything close to perfect in its execution of that ideal.

From the often-questionable dealings with Native Americans, and the chattel slavery more or less unique to America, to the modern-day police and welfare state, America is often on the defensive for things that seem self-evidently terrible. But America should not be viewed as a perfect nation. Rather, we should continue to see the good, the principles of America, and strive to maintain those.

What principles are those? None other than the essential views of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson wasn’t a perfect President, but he got that part right.

And it is not as if, like many would claim, he was a total hypocrite. His original draft for the Declaration included a rant against slavery that was omitted for two main reasons: because it might tick off South Carolina and Georgia, whose economics relied on slavery; and secondly, because compared to the statesmanlike rest of the document it really was just a vehement rant, if a deserved one.

That spirit of freedom for all that was present in 1776 is what we should seek to create and maintain today. America was the first country dedicated to the guarding of rights, however arbitrarily it has been carried out.

And for an American Christian like myself, that is what I should be celebrating today.

Today, I can celebrate that there is a nation, however flawed, which is in principle dedicated to the political side of my leanings. A nation which has the First Amendment to ensure that I can worship the way I see fit.

The First Amendment may be the most remarkable aspect of America. Written by James Madison, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, the 1A seeks to protect both the consciences of the people and the way they politically act on those consciences. Of course, in a world where concepts like freedom of religion and speech were anathema to most societies, we were the outlier.

As an American Christian, I have the unique opportunity to not only say that the nation I live in supports my ideals, but allows me to not support the same.

It’s just like in landmark free speech cases like Texas v. Johnson, in which Mr. Johnson was charged for burning the American flag.

The flag protects those who would destroy it, and that’s beautiful. America is one of the few countries in the world – some have followed suit, especially in the West – where believing what you want to believe and saying what you want to say is institutionally protected.

That would be enough, of course, but then there’s also the rest of the Bill of Rights to deal with.

This Independence Day, I am celebrating the principles adopted on July 4, 1776. I’m also celebrating when they were put into even sharper focus by the Bill of Rights. I’m not going to pretend like my country has always lived up to its own words. In fact, we’ve usually fallen pretty short. But the liberty movement – we motley crew of crazy people that want to take over the government to leave you alone – should be reclaiming that. That’s why I’m here, anyway.

Now, excuse me. I have to go back to my hot dog.

Travel Journal – AU in Germany

Sorry it took so long to get this together. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks since getting back, so I was just now able to fully type up and have this ready to post. It’s the unabridged thoughts of a nineteen-year-old American college student.

The picture that accompanies this post is that of the Elbe River, which dominates the countryside where I primarily stayed. In particular, it’s at Dresden, where we spent one night. If you get the chance to visit the Eastern half of Germany, I highly recommend it. While I had several pictures of my own, I chose this one from Google because you can see both the river and some of the prominent buildings.

Without further ado:

 

They all said to keep a travel journal, so here you go. Apologies for artistic license or, I suppose, abbreviation of events.

5/11/17

End of the first week. It’s not too hard so far. Coursework, that is. Luther and the Reformation keeps me busy. The basic facts of Luther’s life I already knew, but I never had the opportunity to really dive into his writings before. It’s a blessing in some ways and frustrating in others (mostly in the fact that Luther isn’t the easiest to read). I’m too systematic a thinker to not admire Luther on many levels. He found basic Biblical principles – like sola fide – and holds to them. If I had the opportunity to do what he did, I hope I would stand up for the Word the way he did.

At the same time, my own beliefs lead me to disagree with him on some points, and the frustration for me is that this class is only five weeks, three credit hours. I want more on Luther. Protestant thinking in general is intriguing, and my own upbringing as a Baptist – leaning Reformed – is only scratching the surface.

Contemporary Germany, on the other hand, is more in-depth when it comes to delving directly into what Germany is like these days. While we are also only scratching the surface, it’s a great thing to have Dr. Paddags teaching it. His Continental ideas seem, at face value, to be a bit whack to an American mind. On the other hand, his experiences as an actual German can’t be underestimated to the worth of the class as a whole.

5/15/17

This first week has been interesting. No idea at all why Residence Life decided it’d be a good idea to make us stay in our own rooms for a week and then move into Jacobs. I suppose it’ll be interesting to work for them next year – this year, I guess, in just three months.

Jacobs has its pros and cons. It’s much closer to most of the academic buildings, but farther from places to eat. The rooms are larger, but I’m pretty sure the furniture is actually older than I am. One wall is just painted-over pressboard (I thought it was plywood at first, but I looked a bit closer). I can’t complain, though. I woke up this morning and heard the birds singing in the tree just outside my window. Checked my watch – 6:23 – and fell asleep again to birdsong. When I actually got up for good I went on a walk and tried to imagine what a quick walk in Germany would be like. Is Wittenberg similar to Ashland? How’s it different? I was thinking these things as I walked around. Then I realized I should probably get back to my room.

5/17/17

It’s now warm, even in the shadows of early morning. Summer’s here. Two more days.

5/19/17

Colder today, but that didn’t stop a cardinal from playing by the flagpole on the quad as I walked past it. I wonder – will Wittenberg look like the pictures? There is always something that doesn’t quite come through in a photograph, something intangible, a sense of scale and of reality. How will it feel to possibly walk in the same place that Luther walked? It seems surreal to even think about.

Tomorrow, we leave for Germany. Tomorrow, I set foot in Europe for the first time, in Germany for the first time, in Wittenberg for the first time.

5/20-21/17

Waiting for the bus. Awoke far too early; it won’t even be here for 15 minutes and I’ve been here that long already. It’s neither cold nor warm and there is a bluish-grey tint to everything on account of the cloud cover. The problem is a result of the fact I had wanted to go to Andrews and eat oatmeal so I’d have a real breakfast this morning. Of course it’s before 8 – so my card was denied. Disappointing. I suppose I’ll eat a granola bar. Should probably read the Bible, too.

In Canada, the Toronto Airport. Bus ride wasn’t anything to really write home about. Neither is Canada; what I’ve seen of it so far has hardly any distinct differences from America; culturally, it’s not more unique than Texas. There are more French speakers; that’s about it. The airport is nice. Security went smoothly – more so than I’m used to in the States. It’s a large airport, even capacious, and architecturally open so that it feels even larger. A sense of modernism pervades it, from the art style to the diverse people within. There’s a huge ad for Jack Daniels just a little ways from the gate we’re flying out on.

It’s dry here, too. Both my hands sand face are flaky. Quite glad I picked up that Working Hands. Classic lotion works better to moisturize but this is better for healing. I’m alternating between writing and reading the Luther biography by Bainton, which is interesting both historically and for its straightforward exposition of the man’s ideas. I’m no Lutheran, but there is something to learn from him with regards to faith-based courage. There are no specially favored saints, but there are certainly examples of virtue. He is one.

On the airplane now. In front of me is a small woman fixing her rosary, which got tangled. She is probably 5’2, Hispanic. Looks more nervous than I feel. Actually, I’m not too nervous at all. I guess I got that out of the way earlier. Now I’m doing this and it doesn’t help to be scared of it. First time on my way to Europe. A flight attendant is talking to an older man in rapid-fire German. They seem friendly. She has her fingers laced together, even to scratch the side of her nose, and if it weren’t for her job I’d say she’s flirting. Her hair is blonde, probably dyed, and short; she looks about 40-45. He’s at least 50 and probably older.

About to land in Frankfurt. Got some sleep on the plane. The brandy helped. Taxi Driver, which I watched on the flight, is really a fantastic film. One of the flight attendants has a funny affect: when offering drinks, he says something to the effect of “Wine, please?” as if imploring you to take this wine off his hands.

I’m in Europe. Weird to think about.

Now on a place from Frankfurt to Berlin. The FRA airport is much like CLE. Got a window seat this time. I’ll be taking lots of pictures. There was a nice German guy in the line for the ATM earlier, talking to Cameron mostly, who didn’t get the concept of a gift card.

All of the public bathrooms so far have automatic faucets and manual soap dispensers. This seems odd.

Now on the way to Wittenberg. Many sights: eclectic cottages, a shirtless German man sitting in the sun, the old Avus racetrack stands which are old enough they can’t be legally removed. While there is no smoking inside the airport, it is prolific inside. A morbidly obese woman in a wheelchair smoked outside with two hipsters and a guard, speaking German in the universal “complaining” tone.

5/22/17

Ran into some German missionaries who made small talk like normal pedestrians and then asked if Doug and I had any faith. Their names are Damien and Olaf. The first is from Australia but has lived in Germany most of his life; he has better English and does most of the talking. Olaf is shorter, German, with small glasses and a backpack. I’ll email Damien and let them know if I can meet with them – Only publicly, though. They are certainly zealous, which is admirable. Their zeal highlights the lack of dedication in the modern church compared with the early Christians.

5/23/17

Got to hear a presentation by a very German man who reminded me somewhat of Peter Schramm in some respects. His name was Hans Kasch which, he said, made him in English Johnny Cash. We all had a good laugh out of that one. He had a portly stomach and must have been nearly blind given how much his glasses enlarged his eyes. He was raised in former East Germany, the GDR, and told us a little bit about his childhood as a Christian among Communists. While he faced some hardships (and had spies in his church!) he did not experience nearly the persecution of some, he told us. Fear was the way the Communists kept the Germans in line, fear of this battlestation. But eventually, he said, the people rose up and were done with being oppressed. His presentation on Phillip Melanchthon was informative and entertaining; though I knew most of the direct information previously, he presented it in a way that made it more memorable than otherwise.

5/24/17

Now at three days here, and I have had the veneer of newness shorn off. It does not lose its impressiveness for the history or the architecture, but Germany itself has lost something of the allure and had it replaced with something merely foreign. The place is dusty and the culture is odd. That is not to indicate that I am somehow homesick or tired of this place. I know that I have only a few weeks here and they will go by very quickly.

Some things I had known only in the abstract are very real. The higher incidence of smokers, for example. Sometimes it isn’t possible to walk down a street without getting doused in the stuff. Too often, the realities of another nation with another language are apparent. If only I spoke German, this would feel like any other historically significant small town. As it is, even ordering currywurst from a street vendor feels like a guessing game. Of course there is something to be said for having this experience, but it would be better if I simply knew what people were saying. No, not better – easier.

My allergies are bad, and I’m not sure exactly what is triggering it. Of course I left my allergy meds at home. Stupid. Good lesson for the future, though: always take allergy meds with you when you travel. And I knew that, too.

Speaking previously of currywurst, the stuff is fantastic. It’s just bratwurst with curry sauce over top of it, but it’s surprisingly good. The food here is, over all, not bad at all. Nothing too fancy, but nothing that will leave you feeling disappointed in its blandness. As Dr. Paddags said, German food is meat, potatoes, and everything is some variation of that. Even when I got a somewhat more fancy meal at the Kartoffelhaus (Potato House) here in Wittenberg, it was still most fundamentally that same formula – the meat was just salmon instead of beef, pork, or chicken.

When we tried to ride our bikes we got from the Colleg, I discovered that I’d gotten a bad egg. It was generally okay at first, but the handlebar was loose. After a quarter mile or so, when I went to dismount and walk the bike across an intersection, they just twisted and I fell. Even though it was a touch disorienting, mostly because of how surprising it was, it wasn’t a bad fall at all. My left hand (the side I fell on) hurt on the outside edge, but I didn’t lock my arm when I dropped, so nothing major, and my wrist isn’t even too bad.

Being wise with what I consume here is more difficult for several reasons. I am aided in part by the gluten thing, but unfortunately beer is by far one of the less alcoholic easy-to-get drinks. Moderation in all things.

5/25/17

Went this morning to the Lutheran Bible Study led by Bishop Eaton. Interestingly, the German term for a Bible study literally translates to “Bible Work.” My notes for that:

  • References the story of Hagar for the “Du siehst mich” [You see me] theme of the Reformation celebration.
  • Hagar was invisible until this story and it would have probably been terrifying for her.
  • Hannah also had been unable to have a child and like Hagar was an outcast.
  • The Samaritan Woman, Mary Magdalene – throughout the Bible there are women without hope until God intercedes and shows Himself to them.
  • “When we have been seen, we are able to see others, Christ in them.”
  • Hannah’s song is echoed in Mary’s song to Elizabeth when the latter became pregnant with John the Baptist.
  • It wasn’t Mary’s holiness that led to being chosen as mother of God, but her faith. She was not an especially virtuous person; rather, she was a humble witness to the work of God.

5/26/17

Dresden is a beautiful city. I don’t think I can come close to doing it justice. Just go there and you’ll understand. The architecture is fantastic. Our tour guide had a slightly different German accent than most and when I asked Dr. Paddags I discovered that in addition to being more conservative than most, the area around Dresden has a distinctive accent. They’re the South, apparently.

An interesting learning experience: When standing in front of the Frauenkirche, the tour guide was explaining something about the buildings all around – all essentially new, though in an older style – and she broke off, looking suspiciously at something over my right shoulder. I followed the gaze. The object of suspicion was a woman, at least 40, with a hijab and a crutch on one arm. The guide waited until the woman was out of earshot and said “Watch your bags. This was a very safe place, but there have been many gypsies moving in. They will take your money, yes?”

Casual racial stereotypes: Also the South.

I found out later that it’s not always actually the beggars who take your money, but people who – with the beggars’ knowledge or not – will take advantage of the opportunity to see where your money is, then steal it from you then or later.

Valid racial stereotypes: Less the South.

I hung out with Ellyn, Logan, and Katie and went to the Zwinger, to the Old Masters museum. Nothing quite like that. Logan and Ellyn and I all went to a local restaurant for dinner. Nice bratwurst, but the service was mediocre. Everything took forever to come out, and an apple strudel Ellyn ordered literally never came. At least they didn’t charge her for it.

5/27/17

This morning I missed breakfast because I was checking what the weather was in Ashland and forgot to switch my app back to roaming. At least the sun woke me up in time to not be late to meeting in the lobby, so that’s a plus.

Leipzig has a nice train station – “Hauptbahnhof” – and is obsessed over their connection to Bach, even more so than Dresden focused on August the Strong.

Even though as a whole the city was less impressive than Dresden, it was pretty fantastic. Logan, Ellyn, Dr. Aune, his wife, and Dr. Paddags with his daughter all joined me in attending a Motet for the St. Thomas Church boys’ choir. It was incredible.

5/28/17

About to leave for the big worship service. There were about a quarter million projected to attend but I’m doubtful. The actual numbers are more like 150-200k according to a local German. It smells of sunscreen on the stairs.

The roads to the event were mostly hard-packed dirt. It is very sunny. Huge crowd. Sure, it may not be as big as projected, but still – wow. There’s very tight security, with police and military everywhere. Cameron somehow was late again, but he luckily caught up with us. It’s hot, but breezy.

We bought some of the souvenir scarves and I didn’t have anything smaller than a 20, so Natalie got it for me. She said I owe her a shot. Sure, why not.

There’s even one woman in a swimsuit top. Diverse crowd for sure – people clearly from all over, and one speaker is from South Africa. I’m glad his speech was in English or I wouldn’t have caught anything. Speaking on Luther more generally, his speech also touched on the Hagar story and the theme. Some of the songs are also in English, but most of it is obviously in German. All around, a great experience.

Katie, Doug, Logan, and Cameron stayed longer than everyone else. Cameron had sunscreen, but everyone else was the approximate shade of a tomato.

5/29/17

Pretty much just a standard day in Wittenberg. It’s weird to say that, as if being in Wittenberg was somehow just the bare minimum of mind-boggling that my experience can be.

5/30/17

We had a speaker on the 1989 “Peaceful Revolution.” Notes:

  • He was a pastor in Leipzig.
  • To understand the role of the church in the overthrow of the GDR we have to study the way the occupation zones developed.
  • East Germans saw themselves as the underprivileged, who were handed to the USSR as a vassal state. As a result of Communist rule, East Germans had a much lower quality of life than the West Germans.
  • Some churches claimed that resistance was sinful and would not permit their buildings to be used to speak against the state, but still, the atheism of the regime was so against Christianity that some sort of compromise was necessary, especially peaceful resistance.
  • Communists insisted on a youth dedication to the state taking the place of confirmation, which by its nature violated the First Commandment and reduced church attendance; this is why East Germany is still less religious after integration, even though they aren’t separate any more.
  • It was only political posturing that allowed churches to remain somewhat free in the GDR. Russia didn’t want the GDR to look worse than the West to outsiders, so that it would seem like a moderate compromise to allow churches to persist in some relative freedom. However, they planted spies in churches, to make sure no one was really using that freedom in any political sense.
  • Christians tended to only stay in the GDR to maintain their former ministry. “Not for socialism but within it.” The church was the “only free space in society.” No surprise then that they were the source of a good deal of anti-Communist feeling.
  • Compared with other Eastern bloc countries, East Germany had the best basic quality of life, but it was by no means free. They had nothing in the way of human rights for movement, no consistent justice system; therefore, the church sought to help those who the state had mistreated. Seeing the likelihood of catastrophic nuclear war, the Peaceful Revolution began in churches as pro-peace prayer meetings. Even non-Christians attended church as the only way to organize in any real sense.
  • Rather than typical services, the church held peace services, read modern hymns, and read the Beatitudes. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence was influential, as the church tried not to provoke the state. Finally, the state tried to put political pressure on Leipzig. But 70,000 peaceful demonstrators came out of their churches at once and, surprised, police were not able to handle them. The chief of police couldn’t get ahold of Berlin, and therefore couldn’t give the order to fire on civilians. They chanted “We are the people, join us, no violence.”

5/31/17

Having now seen three speakers from the GDR, I think it’s almost incredible that the East has come along as far as it has. It seems as if the people of East Germany were on the borderline of being incapable of self-governing, and they wax nostalgic about things being “easier” back then. This is the great allure of socialism. It is secure, it is comfortable, and it feels safe. You don’t have to worry about having a job, because you’re guaranteed – forced – to have one. Sure, you don’t get a car, but at least you have free healthcare. Not that the mediocre jobs they give would let you pay for it yourself.

6/1/17

We went to the Lutherhaus today. It’s incredible to stand in roughly the same space he did. That said, the museum itself surrounding the original house is less than impressive. Large parts of it are just straight-up concrete modernist nonsense. I suppose that’s a very East German style, though. I also went to the Wittenberg 360 picture set in 1517, which was very interesting if not quite worth the price of admission.

Speaker on Wetlands and Waterways, an ornithologist:

  • Wittenberg and much of Saxony, including both Dresden and Leipzig, are greatly affected by the Elbe River (which Germans say as “the river El-buh”). Wittenberg for its part is totally dominated by it. Local geese are intelligent and avoid possible hunters. Both white-fronted and red-breasted geese are common in the area. While these used to only eat the grass, they now eat corn, both the fruit and the plant itself.
  • The Elbe is the border between the glacier in Europe about 20k years ago and the glacial valley opposite it. Wittenberg is on the other side of the valley. During the early 1900s, the fishing industry on the Elbe flagged, and the GDR effectively poisoned every fish in the Elbe by 1960.

6/2/17

We took a charter bus and got to see the local high school, which was designed by an artist and is totally unique. It’s interesting, that’s for sure, but weird.

Bikes and mopeds are everywhere in Berlin. It’s a big city and feels it. The feeling is international, with diverse shops. There were at least a half dozen Thai massage parlors just on the route we took. The West side is definitely nicer than the East, for obvious reasons.

The German history museum has some very interesting things. The Christ Crucified sculpture from the 17th century was a particularly graphic depiction of His sacrifice.

It’s surreal to stand close enough to almost touch both a hat worn by Napoleon and a German translation of the American Declaration of Independence, actually read by German-Americans in Pennsylvania.

6/3/17

Good to have a day to relax and just explore a bit of Wittenberg. Hung out with Logan a bit; that is we ate lunch and dinner together. Kind of an amusing episode when we were eating at Carpe Diem. There’s a waiter there who’s balding, tannish, with black hair. Not really sure his ethnicity but he might be Italian. Well, as with most of the restaurants here, people come and go as they please, and their floor-to-ceiling windows were open; they were on my left. Suddenly I heard a voice say something in German; it sounded like a name. I turned my head to look and a German man, very stereotypical looking with a polo shirt and jeans, was flipping off that waiter through the open window.

“Danke!” The waiter said. They exchanged a few words as if they were old friends, then the other guy left.

I guess male friendships stay pretty consistent from country to country.

6/4/17

Not feeling great, since I’m almost due for an infusion. My jaw hurts. The worst part of getting closer to time is the anxiety. I don’t know exactly what it is – the pain, possibly – but every little thing is suddenly daunting. I need someone else with me when I’m like this and have to do anything. That sort of emotional crutch, being able to say “Someone is here with me, doing these things, I’m not totally by myself here” is all I need to go from anxious to totally chill.

I went to a service at the Castle Church that was luckily partially in English, and they handed out an English translation of the pastor’s sermon. Taking communion with them was fantastic. Dr. Aune, Ramona (his wife), and Logan all went as well; Dr. Aune was actually the one who told me about it.

It’s early afternoon now and the rain has mostly subsided, but the walk to and from the church was quite damp.

I’ve been having some sharp pangs every now and then. I don’t know if it will be wise to go to Berlin tomorrow by myself. Is that just the anxiety? Who knows? Either way, I’m going to let Ellyn, Kelly, and Cameron, who I was going to join there when they got back from London, know if I can’t make it by tonight. It’s endlessly disappointing to miss out on, but it’ll be okay. It’ll be good to have another day to relax and do my final paper. I don’t know – I guess I’ll see.

6/5/17

Good to have a day to relax. I’m tired, for sure, and even though it sucks to miss out on the Berlin art galleries and such, I made the right decision by staying in Wittenberg.

6/6/17

We took a bus to Weimar this morning. It was annoying to have to move our stuff out of the Old Latin school [Alte Latein Schule] where we were staying and into the Colleg. I woke up early and just slept extra on the bus. There are a lot of things in English, and it’s overall a great city. We ate lunch at a restaurant where there was a waitress actually from Alabama. She had a standard American accent until the eight of us started asking her about where she was from. Then, as with most Southerners, she got quite a bit of a Southern accent. It was very interesting to hear about Germany from an American who lives here.

Then we went to Buchenwald. It was surreal. I hadn’t known what to expect, so it was intense and a bit nerve-wracking. In a historical site, I always try to imagine myself as the people who once walked where I do. It was hard enough imagining myself as a victim in Buchenwald, let alone as an SS officer and guard there. When they were in charge of killing eight thousand Soviet soldiers, they put together an elaborate ruse to make the Soviets think they were all getting a doctor’s check-up. Some SS guard, probably not much older than I am if at all, would have sat in a small cramped room and waited until the Soviets walked over to a ruler on the wall, ostensibly to be measured, and then he would have to shoot them in the head through a crack in the wall. Just thinking about that whole scenario made me feel sick. I couldn’t put myself in the place of a prisoner who worked in the crematorium. It just… I couldn’t.

We took a bus to Erfurt, to the Radisson Hotel, and hung out around the town. Erfurt is a pretty nice place. I can’t decide if I like it or Weimar better yet. Our dinner was pretty nice, but the star of that show was the Riesling I ordered. Probably the best wine I’ve ever had.

6/7/17

Good night last night. Slept well. The shower here is weird and finicky. They had a traditional German breakfast, which was nice, but I miss American breakfasts. Not too many good gluten-free options here other than hard-boiled eggs, sausage, and deli meats.

Erfurt Cathedral is gorgeous, as are all of the many churches in the city. A Christian in Erfurt isn’t hurting for options. I think there are more churches here per square mile than anywhere I’ve seen except for one spot in Murfreesboro.

The styles all differ marginally, but they have many similarities. Our guide likes the Preacher’s Church best, and I tend to agree. It’s beautiful, but not excessive like the Cathedral. We got caught in the rain on the way back from our first visit to the Cathedral, but luckily we were fine coming back from the tour. I ate three bratwursts today – one on the way to the Cathedral, which was the best one; one after the tour, which was only 1,50 and you got what you paid for; and one for dinner, which was pretty nice and paired well with their Riesling, though the restaurant Riesling was mediocre by itself.

We got ice cream on the bridge, which was fantastic. The guy there apparently wins awards; I can see why.

After dinner and everything, I wound up hanging out with Cameron and walking around Erfurt a bit. It’s a beautiful city by day, but it gets even better by night.

 

6/8/17

Went to the Bach Haus in Eisenach first today. Bach really was a musical genius. I picked up a little bust of him, only 6 cm, because 1) I thought it looked awesome and 2) I want more busts of famous people.

After the Bach Haus we went to Wartburg Castle, which is magnificent. I don’t know why, but no pictures were allowed inside the castle. I saw some people taking them anyway. It was beautiful. By no means was it as surreal as many of the other experiences I’ve had here in Germany, but it was fantastic. Small, easily defensible from the ground, and it has a great view. I’d love to have a castle much like it, though with a decidedly different interior. Because it was renovated several times by 1800 alone, its interior design is all over the place and poorly laid-out for living. It probably would be easier to defend, however.

I slept most of the way back to Wittenberg, but one of the girls talks loudly and woke me up. Ach. Oh well. Good to be back here.

 

6/9/17

Reflective notes on how this trip has affected me personally:

It would be deceptive to say I don’t identify, at least broadly speaking, with Luther. To some degree I view myself as a middle ground of his combativeness and cutting ideological writings and Melanchthon’s personality in most other matters. When first reading Luther’s “On the Jews and their Lies” the question pressed on my mind: is it inevitable for someone with such a combative mind to fail so blatantly or not? If it is, then I will somehow; if not, then I have a chance. For myself and, apparently, Luther, the default position on those who reject your ideas is to reject them. However, I was lucky that my mother caught this early and reprimanded me with Scripture that I referenced in my workbook for Luther’s “On the Jews and their Lies.” The Germans are constantly reminded of Luther’s mistake. This, I was reminded, is what happens when knowledge and ideology becomes more important than Christian love.

The above might be the most enduring lesson from this trip for me, though it is not the only one. Seeing the historical significance of even the smaller cities here has been mind-boggling. Sitting by the eponymous ford in Erfurt with Cameron Taylor and recognizing the historical significance of what is, in American terms, a tiny ford, was an astounding experience. This is a world created by the bravery – some might say brashness – of one man, supported by countless others. Europe truly is the Old World. Solely on the drive from Erfurt to Eisenach, we passed a half-dozen buildings that would qualify as castles in America. None of them are considered particularly fascinating here. And since Luther’s actions took place in the midst of a half-dozen smaller attempts at reforming both the church specifically and society in general, this countryside was shaped by Luther and people like him. The language the people speak is almost identical to how Luther spoke.

After a little while here it can seem overwhelming. It certainly was to me. Toward the end of the first week, I experienced some travel fatigue. Between allergies and accidentally eating some gluten, Germany seemed like a vaguely unfriendly country. It certainly isn’t. Remembering that I was here to study is what helped to pull me through the most. I said to myself that I am here to learn. Looking at the German society as it stands today as the byproduct of the writings of Luther was the best thing I could have done. Luther’s impact on the modern world cannot be easily measured. In fact, the simple claim that every Christian could interpret the Bible for himself was the most formative act for the modern world. Without that, none of the modern conception of freedom of conscience would likely exist in its current form.

This incredible reminder of the power of words, of conviction, and of true faith will likely follow and shape me for the rest of my life. I have long seen myself as “becoming.” The choices I make in this stage of life do not only affect short-term goals or even long-term career options. Instead, I see my experiences as a series of events which can form and build character.

This trip will certainly accomplish that goal.

Also 6/9/17

Last few days! Today is the first day of the Luther Wedding Celebration. It feels mostly like a Renaissance festival back home, but much more authentic in the Wittenberg city center. There are awesome costumes/swords/etc. There’s also the typical array of vendors with varying levels of relevance to Luther’s Wedding. One guy sells, exclusively, small glass angel figures. Another sells varying kinds of German liquor. I was briefly tempted to see what he had then I saw his price tags. Wow. So far there have almost always been bands, usually with unusual instruments, playing in the central courtyard.

6/10/17

Lazy day. It was Cameron’s birthday yesterday. The Wedding Parade was pretty cool, and a lot longer than I would have expected. Had dinner with several of the others at the Brau Haus. We went to get gelato and then shopped, and I was finally able to find Madeline a necklace I think she’ll like. Gotta get to sleep now since we’re leaving tomorrow. Going to be bittersweet but I’ll be glad to be home.

6/11/17

We took a bus to Berlin and I slept most of the drive. Our flight from Berlin to Frankfurt was fine but I accidentally left my belt with security. Dangit. Didn’t notice till I was already here in Frankfurt. I’m writing this standing in line. Now on the flight from FRA-YYZ Toronto.

I sat next to two Chaldean Christians and we had some good conversation about current issue in the Middle East. It was a mother/daughter pair who had gone to Sweden for a cousins’ wedding. The mother of the pair spoke less English and is actually originally from Iraq, but the daughter (about my age; about to go to med school) was born in Canada. She speaks four languages: English, French, Arabic, and Chaldean. Chaldean, I learned, is one of the closer languages to Aramaic, which Christ actually spoke.

I meant to read on the flight but I never got around to it. I also didn’t sleep. The bus ride was long on the way back, but at least I slept there. Cameron had helped me pay for something when I had left some of my euros behind, earlier in the week, and I forgot to pay him back. Oh well, I’ll see him next semester anyway.

Now back in Ohio. It’s odd to be back and not hear German everywhere.

 

How the Left can come back from the dead

It’s been really intriguing to see not only the rise of Trump but the reaction to him – from all sides. Though this may be oversimplifying a bit much, it’s safe to say that in broad strokes the right has accepted the rise of Trump and alt-right populism. That’s probably not a good thing, not least because it erodes the very things conservatism stands for. They did it for a variety of reasons, most of them relating to self-preservation and a lesser-of-two-evils calculation. But that’s a subject for another article.

What has been far more interesting than the mainstream right’s shift from rejecting to largely accepting Trump is the way the left has absolutely lost its mind in rejecting him. Don’t get me wrong – I am no fan of Trump. Despite my misgivings on the man and some of his policies, not to mention his character, it’s been both amusing and horrifying to see the left self-destruct over him. I don’t need to elaborate too much. The recent controversy in Berkeley is the greatest example. In response to some admittedly concerning right-wing speakers, the left has decided to throw “protests” that sometimes turn into flat-out riots. Some were as early as three days after the results.

This alienates the average voter and, in fact, makes Trump and the alt-right look pretty okay by comparison. At least the right isn’t actively breaking windows. In fact, if anything, the left is securing Trump’s re-election.

The part of me that’s probably a little sadistic is okay with this.

The part of me that likes limited governments that exist to protect human rights is freaking out. There are a few reasons why, but the most important is this:

The Left keeps the Right accountable

It does. The right keeps the left accountable, too. The fundamental problem of democracy is that majorities tend to be loud, against their own actual interest, and they get in the way of legitimate progress. Not to mention they also tend to step on a lot of rights of minorities in the process. James Madison argued, way, way back in the 1700’s, that the best way to solve that problem is to extend the republic. By making a republic larger, it’s much harder to form a majority faction, and by extension harder to tread on the rights of minorities.

The left and the right are essentially two sides of the political society vying for the spot as a majority faction. Having to fight for that spot drives them both to the center to pick up the stragglers who either don’t know much about policy (a lot of people) or who don’t easily fit the standard molds of left and right.

By destroying its credibility with average Americans, the left has made itself a laughingstock, not to mention dangerous to the entirety of American free society. This will let the right make a clean sweep for a long time coming. While the left has some hope, much of the things which should be letting them mop the floor with the right in general and Republicans in particular are completely negated by their own actions. It’s not like Trump won by being the best candidate ever. He probably won at least partly because his followers threw less fits.

The left needs to survive. But how? Well…

To survive, the Left must move toward liberty in general (but especially in economics), and should ease up on abortion.

I’m going to take these backwards, with the second point first: Abortion.

This is a huge compromise for many on the left. For the last several decades of American politics, abortion has been a litmus test. Pro-life? Right-wing. Pro-choice? Left-wing. This may sound totally crazy, to suggest that the left would let go of a principle many of them hold strongly. But it’s not that they have to stop caring about ‘reproductive rights’ as they term it. Rather, they should just stop making it the litmus test for being on the left.

The fact of the matter is that most Americans think Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, and that’s not likely to happen any time soon if ever. Fear-mongering by the left and the vilification of pro-lifers alienate a large part of the population. Even though they think that Roe v. Wade shouldn’t be overturned, many Americans still think that abortion is morally wrong. To constantly challenge that drives them to the right in a way that nothing else could. To sum all that up:

Easing up on abortion would be a quick way to win over those voters who are already inclined toward the left without compromising that pro-choice principle.

To move on to the second point, it’s easy to see that a large part of the left’s self-destruction is rooted in the ideology of Marx and others. Most Americans are smart enough to see that both communism and socialism will inevitably end in tyranny. And peddling the lie that ‘democratic socialism’ had any difference from other socialist regimes is simply false. Most socialist dictators came to power through democratic means. It’s also absurd to claim that socialism is fundamentally different and less dangerous than communism (the Leninist sort, not the Rousseau-esque anarcho-communism you see these days).

Ayn Rand, who was often wrong but had lived under a communist regime and knew about how that tended to go, once said it this way:

There is no difference between communism and socialism, except in the means of achieving the same ultimate end: communism proposes to enslave men by force, socialism—by vote. It is merely the difference between murder and suicide.

The move by the left toward socialism, in an era when the average person is well aware of the evils of communist and socialist regimes abroad, is political suicide. All regimes move inexorably toward state control, and I’m sure one day America will too. However, I sincerely doubt that it will happen any time soon. I certainly hope not. The American people simply won’t let it.

If the left wants to have any chance at 2024, it needs to get its act together by 2020. That means moving away from socialism and easing up on abortion. 

 

The fact of the matter is that the left had a real chance to buckle down and look like the professional in the room. It has not. The left’s total demise would be a disaster for America. I sincerely hope that they start moving toward liberty – for everyone’s sake.

Why Easter Matters

For most people in the world, even most Christians, Easter goes as far as pastel colors and hunting for plastic candy-filled eggs. But Easter is more than that – it is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We need to know why that matters.

See, the hard truth to swallow is that Christ died as a sacrifice, to appease the wrath of God. Everyone has sinned, everyone has fallen short, and we are measured compared to perfection. Holding anything above Him is sin – video games, pornography, football, or even simply ourselves.

But I can hear you asking, “How could a loving God send anyone to Hell?”

God loves the world, and God is love, but He must have justice. The love of God does not cancel out his justice. Here’s a little easy argument for you:

If God did not confront the sin of every man, then He would be a moral coward. He is not a moral coward – and so He must confront sin. Justice must take place.

A crime against a man is nothing; a crime against God is absolute. The penalty for crime against the ultimate authority is ultimate damnation. Someone had to pay the cost that sin is, to fill the gap. Someone has to pay for the absoluteness of our idolatry.

If that’s where the story ended, then we would all be doomed. But God sent Christ, to substitute for our penalty, and he took our sin upon his shoulders. He endured the cost. He was the perfect sacrifice for sin.

Paul wrote that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (NIV, 2 Corinthians 5:21)

We can’t save ourselves. We are separated from him in every way.

But Christ was sacrificed for us, and to prove that He was God, He came back from the dead.

That’s the evidence of our faith. It’s what we rest on. And it’s what Paul rested on as well. Paul was brilliant, and he had every reason to remain a Jewish Pharisee. In his own words:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:4-7)

Paul gave up everything to follow the ministry of someone who had publicly died. If he didn’t genuinely believe, that was nuts. It was literally suicidal. But he had seen Christ:

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:6-8)

 

He is risen. Through His sacrifice, sin has been defeated.

It’s what we live for.

Power doesn’t corrupt – you’re corrupt already

It’s so common a phrase as to be received wisdom:

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

You’ve probably heard this phrase bandied about in political conversations since you knew what politics was. In fact, you’ve probably said it yourself, especially if you’re in the small-government circle. It has the power of a proverb. But it’s not true.

I know, I know. But as James Madison once pointed out when talking about the Constitution and term lengths, proverbs are not always true. In his case, he was contending with the claim that any term over a year long would invite tyranny. In my case, I contend with the popular misquote of Lord Acton.

Lord Acton, who was a 19th-century British Catholic historian and author, was a famous classical liberal whose name has been given to a modern think-tank. He spoke out strongly against the doctrine of papal infallibility during his time, though without effect. It was during his arguments on whether or not historical figures should be held accountable that he wrote this letter. The full quote is actually this:

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. People in power tend to be corrupt. But there’s a cause/effect problem here. Lord Acton is certainly more correct than the misquote, but he makes the same cause/effect mistake. Power, by itself, possesses no moral qualities. It is a tool to be used or not used; the blame is in the user. Therefore, the fact that those in power tend toward corruption so much as to make that trait ubiquitous says more about human nature than it does power itself.

Essentially, I’m saying that power does not corrupt. It reveals corruption.

The fact of the matter is that we can’t necessarily gain, in a single blog post, enough of a true historical account to paint the picture necessary. However, three very different men come to mind when examining this problem: David, King of Israel; Caligula, Emperor of Rome; and George Washington, President of the United States.

David

David’s example is necessary because he is shown blatantly to be a man of integrity. On several occasions, he is the only Israelite with the faith necessary to do what is right. For this he is called a man after God’s own heart. However, in one of the more famous stories of his life (2 Samuel 11-12), he committed adultery with Bathsheba, murdered one of his own men to cover it up, and then did not repent until God sent a prophet to convict him. That is a next-level failure of moral quality, and he could not have possibly gotten away with it if not for his position as absolute ruler of Israel.

However, it is clear from a simple reading of 2 Samuel 11 that David did not commit this sin because he was King, but rather was capable of doing so because of his position. This is a necessary distinction. David would not have been capable of this sort of conspiracy if he had wished to, had he remained a shepherd. But, given the absolute power of Kingship, he got away with it – until God stepped in.

The example of David demonstrates how power enables corruption.

Caligula

Of the horrifying Roman emperors, Nero tends to get all the credit. Sure, he was even worse than Caligula was. The difference is that while Nero was clearly insane, I’m not certain Caligula was. According to the account of Roman historian Suetonius, Caligula would often quote the line “Let them hate, provided that they fear!” His terrors were deliberate, intended to corral the Senate to support him despite their reservations, out of fear of retribution. He was, of course, assassinated.

However, something interesting is contained in Suetonius’ ancient account of the despot. Rather than blame the position for Caligula’s behavior, Suetonius repeatedly calls Caligula a monster, and implies it is his nature that is corrupt, not the office of Emperor. In fact, he gives examples from Caligula’s childhood to demonstrate how terrible he was, even as a youth.

Caligula’s example demonstrates how corruption is intrinsic. Not once in Suetonius’ work is the power of the Emperor blamed. It is always Caligula himself.

Washington

Unlike the previous two rulers, Washington never had absolute power – but he probably could have, if he had wanted it. In 1783, several of the soldiers under his command, frustrated and mistreated by Congress, decided they would take action. This was called the Newburgh Conspiracy, and it’s possible that even Alexander Hamilton was sympathetic to them. After all, the soldiers had not been properly paid as they were promised, Congress had largely ignored their plight, and in their estimation, Washington would get things done much more efficiently than the slow-moving, often parvenu Congress.

Washington had none of it. As soon as he heard of the conspiracy, he attended the meeting of it. Though many officers were, in essence, calling for a military dictatorship, he gave a short speech calling for patience. It wasn’t so much the speech that moved the officers to back down from their plans for a coup. It was that, to read a letter from Congress afterward, he had to use glasses, saying “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” This reminder of Washington’s dedication to the country they were essentially seeking to overthrow stopped the conspiracy in its tracks.

Washington demonstrates that a principled person rejects absolute power for himself.

What does this all mean?

What we can learn from these examples, though admittedly incomplete, is that while power does not corrupt, anyone aware of their own intrinsic corruption will reject absolute power. The only way to avoid abusing power is to restrict its access to yourself, because any time one gives in to their own corruption, the severity of the consequences – and how far those desires will go – is determined by how much power they have. Power does not make one evil, but it greatly increases one’s capacity for it.

Even though it is incredibly common to hear, the proverb that power corrupts is empirically untrue. This does not, in any sense, mean we should limit political power any less. We should just understand why that is necessary.

Our responsibility is to use the tool of power wisely. 

Like this? You might also like:

Why he died – Alexander Hamilton

No, that’s not how men should talk

An Open Letter to White People

#Calexit is NOT Libertarian

It’s not often that I wake up, check the news, and feel surprise anymore. I got over that during the Presidential campaign. Now, when President Donald Trump is following through with the things he said he’d do, I’m just trying not to throw things. 

You know what’s worse than Trump himself, though? The reaction of many of his detractors. I’m a fairly vocal critic of some of Trump’s actions. I think what he’s doing is risky, but even so, the reaction of many has been infinitely more dangerous

I’m not kidding. 

You may have heard – if you follow the news, you did hear – about the idea of a “Calexit”, which would mean California’s secession from the United States. There’s a petition going around. According to the LA Times:

“If the measure gets on the ballot and gains approval by a majority of voters, it would repeal clauses in the California Constitution stating that the state is an “inseparable part of the United States” and that the U.S. Constitution is the “supreme law of the land,” according to the title and summary prepared by the state attorney general’s office.”

This is actually the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long time

I’m not kidding. 

The fact that there is actually a movement, with fairly high numbers, that supports this is mind-boggling. I consider myself fairly libertarian in ideology. In general, that means that I favor decentralized power. What that translates to for a lot of people is that libertarians necessarily support secession. That couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Some of us know our history

Those of us who do have read about the Civil War and seen what that actually meant. Most people get the crappy, public-school textbook version, where they might read a couple of primary documents, but not many. One document absolutely essential to understanding the Civil War and why Lincoln did what he did is his Fragment on the Constitution and Union

That document isn’t a speech. It wasn’t polished or practiced, but it wasn’t meant to be. In fact, it was actually more like his own personal notes to himself. It probably wouldn’t be wrong to say he didn’t really mean anyone to ever see it. The Fragment was written before he had even actually taken the Presidency and started to do things. 

In those personal notes, Lincoln used a metaphor for what he thought about the cause of the secession of several states. To Lincoln, the principle of “Liberty to all” is a golden apple, and the Constitution and the Union are a silver picture frame. In other words, the principle of America is the thing of value, and the Constitution and Union draw attention to it and protect that principle. 

To quote him directly:

The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple — not the apple for the picture.

For Lincoln, who quite literally went to war over secession, the Union isn’t the most valuable thing – but it is valuable. It protects and draws attention to the principle of Liberty. 

Destroying that frame will leave the principle more vulnerable

The principle of Liberty will always exist, regardless of how many people recognize it. The fact that Calexit exists is a problem. This sort of populism leads to mob rule and, somewhat needless to say, mob rule isn’t good for anyone not in the mob. 

Don’t see Calexit as a serious idea or a Libertarian one. 

That sort of secession is un-American and anti-Liberty

An Open Letter to White People

Hey, guys. It’s me, also a white person. How’s it going?

It’s MLK day, which we all love to celebrate, and all get frustrated if someone claims we don’t like it.

On this day, though, I thought I’d get your attention and explain something my friends of color already know: his work isn’t done.

I know this is true not because of crime rates, murder rates, or the disparity of earning for the races. Even the fact that we know descendants of people with a traumatic experience often have some symptoms of PTSD themselves isn’t the real base of the issue. Those things aren’t good, but they’re a symptom of the problem.

We can talk about those things, but if we don’t understand the root of the problem, we won’t ever fix it. I’ve got an incurable disease, so I know better than most how little good curing symptoms does when there is deep, internal pain. Martin Luther King understood the root of the problem, but since his death, that understanding seems to have been lost.

White Americans need to realize what the real problem is.

The root of the problem is one that goes back and back and back, not even to slavery, but to the idea that allowed slavery. America was founded on freedom and equality, and before the ink of the Declaration was dry, Americans were already rejecting those principles. Chattel slavery, the specific name for the type of slavery common in early America, takes a man and makes him into a beast, lower than a dog, and it elevates the master to absurd degrees of false virtue.

While some Americans understood and acted on the principles of America, of equality, liberty, and of Natural Rights, some were whipping their equals and claiming that it was good for them.

While some Americans were trying their best to abolish slavery, others were claiming a black man could not even be a citizen of the United States by twisting the words of the Declaration to not include them.

While some Americans were ready to fight for the freedom of their black brothers and sisters, others were proudly proclaiming that their Confederacy was founded on slavery.

And even today, while most Americans have never materially felt any sort of ‘white privilege,’ there are still some who disagree with the Founders of our country. There are still some who feel as though people of color are lesser than them. Thankfully, those people are few and far between, but they exist, and they are loud. Their ideas seep into everything, transforming the alt-right into another word for white nationalists.

This is the root of the issue. And if you don’t think Dr. King agreed with me – if you think the Declaration was racist and America was founded on racism – read it from his own most famous speech:

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

What is immediately clear from reading his own words is that Dr. King did not think America was founded on racism. He was not trying to change the American idea. He was challenging Americans to finally live up to it.

I think we still have some work to do.

So, fellow white Americans, how can you actually do something about the way that our friends and neighbors still feel marginalized? It feels impossible, doesn’t it? It feels like we’re already doing everything we can by not being racist in the first place.

The first step is education about America. Teach yourself, teach your kids, how to understand what the Declaration means, and what it means to be an American. Learn about American history and how we’ve always, always failed to live up to our own ideas. Then don’t be discouraged because we’ll probably always fail. The important thing is that we keep trying.

The next step is to actually be a good citizen. This means more than just voting. It means being a real part of the community you’re in. It means if you have a reason to complain about the local government you go do something about it. It means being a help to those less fortunate. This one isn’t racial at all, but once you start becoming a servant leader in your community and become a good citizen, your perspective changes.

The last and hardest step is to treat people as people. This is a dangerous balance. What this doesn’t mean is that you just simply “don’t see color.” The ability to not see color is quite literally what white privilege is. For us, the fact that we aren’t defined by our skin tone internally or externally – people of color in general face both – is our privilege. So recognize the different experiences everyone has, and then treat them respectfully. Don’t pretend you don’t see color, don’t kowtow and act way too nice to your black friends, just be yourself and let them be themselves. 

I’ll be working on these things just as hard as you will be.

I’m going to end with some of Dr. King’s words to think about:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I hope we can make that happen for the next generation, and the next, and the next. It’s what America is about.

Yours truly,

Jacob Nestle

Passion 2016, an existential crisis, and divine intervention

It’s been a year since I went to Passion 2016 and over a year since I found out that I have Crohn’s disease. I was officially diagnosed December 23rd. I don’t remember that Christmas. I do remember posting this on my personal Facebook page (scroll past if you’d rather have no idea what Crohn’s does:

“Well, the doctor is 100% sure, so I’m making an official post about it: I have Crohn’s disease. For those that don’t know and only want the short version, it’s a disease that causes ulcers in the intestines. That means I’m pretty constantly sick.
I’m not going to change any of my plans due to this but I may be a little more slow than I have been (not on here, though; rest assured you’ll see my opinion in your newsfeed as much as ever).
I thought I’d let everybody know on here. There shouldn’t be much change but, for those of you who see me often in person: if I have a pained look on my face it’s probably not your jokes (or it might be, for some of you…)
I figured you guys, especially those of you who tend to read, like, and comment on my stuff more often, deserved to know. Thanks.”

Everything was a blur of pain. Thinking was like trying to walk in a dense forest at midnight wearing sunglasses. That is, I would hit things occasionally, but it was usually the wrong thing. I remember being profoundly angry.

I had already chosen to sign up for the Passion 2016 conference that would fall from the second to the fourth. It’s strange that it was a year ago – it feels like a lifetime, but also yesterday. Despite feeling absolutely horrible I went ahead and made the trip.

In retrospect it seems like an incredibly odd decision. I certainly shouldn’t have been up to it.

At any rate I got there and discovered to my intense frustration that not only could I not even stand up the entire time for worship, I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes at a time. Adding that to my confusion and anger at the situation of having Crohn’s in the first place only made things worse. I was angry, and in my anger, I actually demanded that God show himself and explain why he’d done this to me.

If I’m being honest I was hoping for Morgan Freeman to mysteriously appear, give me a quick object lesson, and then cure me.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

What happened instead was that each of the speakers on the third, a year ago today, all spoke about suffering and how it brings us closer to God. That wasn’t the main focus of any of the first speakers, but it kept coming up, and finally I was sitting there as everyone else was worshiping, angry tears on my face, and I said fine. I realized in that moment that I had always been running from God, ignoring what was right in my face.

Anyone who knows me personally would tell you I can come across as supremely self-confident. The ones who don’t like me very much would probably use the word arrogant. Pride has always been my downfall, and my pride made me incapable of having anything approaching a relationship with Christ. I called him Lord but internally I held onto numerous things which kept me from Him.

So, a year after I angrily demanded that God explain himself, I’m actually glad that I have an incurable disease. It’s a constant check on my pride. I didn’t give myself Crohn’s. There’s no way I could cure myself of pride. It was God’s power and strength in my life that called me to something better than physical health. Calling is the right word, but it’s not complete. God didn’t just let me wallow in my own nonsense, He forcefully pulled me out of it, and I am grateful for that. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, I was struck by the power of the Lord.

I can’t do anything but praise Him. Thankfully, I can actually stand up for longer than one song these days.

My journey to where I am today hasn’t been an easy one, but as I start 2017 and look back on 2016’s beginning, I am thankful for the support of friends and family. My parents, especially, were incredible, taking care of me when I was useless, putting up with my angst. Their help was irreplaceable.

 

Have a good 2017, everybody!

There’s no place like home – Back in TN

I’m home again.

I’m typing this at the dented and scratched wooden table that I used to eat at almost every morning, noon, and evening. There are a few new scratches on it thanks to my two year old brother, but when I walked in everything looked about the same.

Everything was the same, but the Nashville airport has new ads, there are new signs for 840 off of I-24, and my little brother is now speaking in short and babbled sentence.

My brothers still argue, but not quite as vociferously as they did when I left. The couches were set up just slightly differently than they were when I left. Anakin, my old mutt, still has as many grey hairs on his snout, but he’s walking ever so much more slowly. Cocoa, the bulldog, still snores. If anything, it’s cleaner.

Walking in the door (on crutches, no less) felt like it had every day before. Everyone still plays card games like they did before, with the same inside jokes.

My brother, who had been before I left talking about starting a small custom pen business, has actually done so. He’s not living off of it, but he’s actually starting to have some real spending cash. He’s going to graduate high school a year early to focus on his business.

Despite the fact that last year it was at a different location and a few less relatives were able to make it, in tone and in fact Thanksgiving was very nearly the same it had been in 2015. What talk of politics there was consisted, primarily, of jokes. Several members of the family could be called conservative, others almost far right, but none are really left. We avoided talk of President-elect Trump. I leaned over to my cousin Kennedy when everyone had gotten their food and I said, softly, “So, who’d everyone vote for?”

She gave me a half-joking death glare. “Don’t you dare.”

After the meal everyone was tired and rather than sleeping the older members of the family coerced and cajoled my cousins into putting on something of a musical show, since they both and my brother are musically inclined. Their voices and the sound of a guitar were more mature than before but the scene could have been set at any point in the last four years or so.

Carpe Cafe has the same atmosphere, the same young musicians, but the art on the walls has changed. Heck, one of my friends grew a beard when I was gone. (In case you’re curious: Yes, it looks awesome. Huge fan of beards.)

It’s been three months since I’ve been home. I’ve changed, and it has too, almost imperceptibly.

One thing stays the same, though:

There’s no place like home.

Why this election actually doesn’t scare me

It’s the Sunday before Election Day.

Barring some freak occurrence – for example, Johnson winning New Mexico and McMullin winning Utah, blocking either main party candidate from winning the Electoral College – either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the President-elect of the United States this Wednesday morning.

This election has cost billions of dollars. That’s crazy by itself. The mudslinging on both sides has gotten ridiculous. I won’t lie to you – this hysteria has gotten to me too at times. Blame it on my age, but that’s not a suitable excuse. I’ve been doing some navel-gazing over the last day or so, and I can’t say my own conduct in this election has always been polite or respectful of everyone. I’ve stooped to the level of people I am disgusted by. I can’t stand that this is where we are as a country. I’m appalled that’s where I’ve been as an individual.

While the Electoral College is tightening up, it still favors Hillary. I don’t know whether to be relieved or bothered by that. I agree with the Electoral College in principle; I’m very glad that the President isn’t actually chosen by everybody. That would be unequivocally a horrible idea. Literally everything I’ve learned here at Ashland has, more and more convincingly, drawn me to the conclusion that (plot twist!) people aren’t generally good decision-makers in large groups.

Be that as it may, the EC could go either way, just because traditional battleground states – like Florida and Ohio, for example – tend to be more in the Donald’s corner. So be it.

It really doesn’t matter who wins, because I’m not really scared either way. Here’s why:

We still have checks and balances.

The more crazy stuff happens here the more grateful I am for the Constitution. Luckily, it shouldn’t matter who wins, because either way Congress and the Supreme Court will seek to block any intrusion on their own power. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

That’s how it will work, at least mostly. The President has a lot of power, but he’s not a dictator. No matter who comes out on top Tuesday, there’ll be a lot of different politicians vying for their own influence. Believe it or not, Congress still has the most direct power of all the branches, because it still makes the laws. I can’t imagine Congress going all the way Democrat, which Hillary would need to gain total control, and even a majority-Republican Congress may have a hard time dealing with a Trump administration, given how many bridges he’s burned with their leadership.

The Supreme Court, too, is unlikely to roll over for either of the two main-party candidates. FDR had to wage a small war on the Supreme Court to get his way back in the 1940s, and either Trump or Hillary will require the same extensive influence to do anything that gets us in too much trouble. More importantly, neither will probably have the influence in Congress to shoot through a Constitutional Amendment over the heads of the Court, anyway. Besides,

The People won’t put up with any shenanigans

I’m not one of those people who feels like we should all buy an AR-15. What I am, though, is one of those people who feels like there enough of the other set to put a stop to either main-party candidate doing anything too crazy.

Either Trump or Hillary would have to perform miracles to win re-election against a serious, articulate contender. Unless the economy is amazing and civil unrest ends in four years (which I doubt would happen even under an excellent President), it won’t happen on their own merits. Even most of the people voting for one of the main-party candidates are only doing so because they think their choice is the only way to block the other one!

Well, I’m quite certain that on the one hand there are enough ‘rednecks’ (which I don’t say in any way derogatorily) to raise a fuss over whatever Hillary might do and enough liberal activists to block Trump from anything he would do.

The American people have a knack for cancelling the crazy plans of tyrants. Go figure.

But most importantly,

God’s got this

It sounds cliche, but it’s never more important than now to remember who’s actually in control of the universe. Even if the next POTUS turns out to be even crazier than his or her detractors think they’ll be, God’s in control.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will be fine and dandy for everyone. I don’t need to go into the possible extremes Trump or Hillary might go to. If you’ve paid any attention to election news, you’ve seen fear-mongering on both sides.

I think that, at least for my fellow Christians, there shouldn’t be fear. Believe me, either one will do damage to Christianity’s status in America and, by extension, the world. It’ll happen in different ways, but still.

But it’ll be okay.

He’s got this. He’s got us. And it’s all for His glory – no matter how bad it gets.

 

I’m not worried.