06 February 2017

Capaldi Leaving Doctor Who

So this happened last week:

http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2017-01-30/peter-capaldi-confirms-hes-leaving-doctor-who-at-the-end-of-series-10: Peter Capaldi confirms he's leaving Doctor Who at the end of series 10

And I was like:

03 January 2017

2016 Book Awards and Reading List

Happy 2017 everyone! Looking through the archives, I just realized that this is the eighth year in a row that I will be continuing my tradition of doing an awards list for the books I've read in the past year. I do this partly for myself so that I can look back and remember what books especially stood out for me each year and partly for any readers as a source of book recommendations.

This was a particularly big reading year for me. I don't know how that happened, as I didn't set out to read more books than usual. I guess it was just a good year for reading. In any case, here's how the awards work. I have a set of categories, which are usually pretty standard, but fluctuate over time. For each category, I pick the book I read in the past year that I enjoyed the most. The only books in the running are books I'm reading for the first time this year, so it's possible that I may have a really good book on my reading list that doesn't get picked because I've read it before.

With all that in mind, allow me to present the awards for 2016!

Best Fiction Book I Read This Year:
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller

Best History Book I Read This Year:
Lost Worlds by Leonard Cottrell
This book is a bit on the dated side with some of its information, but it was just so much fun to read.

Best Theology Book I Read This Year:
The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Vol. 9 (J. F. Shaw and S. D. Salmond, trans.)

This volume of Augustine's writings contains four works: On Christian Doctrine and The Enchiridion, translated by J. F. Shaw, and On Catechising and On Faith and the Creed, translated by S. D. Salmond.

Best Math/Science Book I Read This Year: TIE
The Universe and Dr. Einstein by Lincoln Barnett
Fermat's Enigma by Simon Singh

Best Nonfiction Book (Other) That I Read This Year:
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

 Best Book I Read Out Loud to My Kids This Year: 
Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater

And, of course, here is the list of books I read in 2016:

·  A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas 12/16
·  The Story of Kullervo by. J. R. R. Tolkien 12/16
·  The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H. A. Rey 12/16
·  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman 12/16
·  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 12/16
·  Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones 12/16
·  Travels in Hyper Reality by Umberto Eco 12/16
·  When I Don't Desire God by John Piper 11/16
·  Christianity and Liberalism J. Gresham Machen 11/16
·  The Fall of Arthur by J. R. R. Tolkien 11/16
·  Rules for Walking in Fellowship by John Owen 11/16
·  Lost Worlds by Leonard Cottrell 11/16
·  Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller 11/16
·  Masters of Greek Thought: Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle by Robert C. Bartlett 11/16
·  A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament by Peter Leithart 10/16
·  The Inner Voice of Love by John Henri Nouwen 10/16
·  Radicalism: When Reform Becomes Revolution: The Preface to Hooker's Laws: A Modernization by Richard Hooker (Brad Littlejohn and Brian Marr, trans.) 10/16
·  Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem by Simon Singh 10/16
·  Pages of History 1: Secrets of the Ancients by Bruce Etter 10/16
·  The World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview & Hanging on Tight by Dan Phillips 10/16
·  The Anger of Achilles: Homer's Iliad (Robert Graves, trans.) 10/16
·  On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson 10/16
·  The Mold Survival Guide: For Your Home and for Your Health by Jeffrey May 9/16
·  Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody 9/16
·  Adam and His Kin: The Lost History of Their Lives and Times by Ruth Beechick 9/16
·  Declare by Tim Powers 9/16
·  How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem by Rod Dreher 9/16
·  The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, by Faith by Richard Baxter 8/16
·  Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson 8/16
·  Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury 8/16
·  Popol Vuh (Dennis Tedlock, trans.) 8/16
·  Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Margin 8/16
·  The Law by Frédéic Bastiat 8/16
·  Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati 8/16
·  Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown 8/16
·  The Galileo Connection by Charles E. Hummel 8/16
·  Asterix and the Picts by Jean-Yves Ferrid 7/16
·  Asterix Omnibus vol. 1 by René Goscinny 7/16
·  Man in White by Johnny Cash 7/16
·  Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets by Robert Alter 7/16
·  Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed by Edwin Barnhart 7/16
·  Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel 7/16
·  The Haunted Mountain: A Story of Suspense by Mollie Hunter 7/16
·  The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston 7/16
·  Ascent to Love by Peter Leithart 7/16
·  Did Adam Exist by Vern Poythress 6/16
·  A Beautiful Anarchy: How to Create Your Own Civilization in the Digital Age by Jeffrey Tucker 6/16
·  The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis 6/16
·  The Brother of Jesus by Hershel Shanks and Ben Witherington, III 6/16 
·  Why God Won't Go Away: Engaging with the New Atheism by Alister McGrath 6/16
·  The Universe and Dr. Einstein by Lincoln Barnett 6/16
·  Paradiso by Dante Alighieri (Dorothy Sayers, trans.) 6/16
·  Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman 6/16
·  An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi 6/16
·  Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach by Vern Poythress 6/16
·  Doctor Who: The Forever Trap by Dan Abnett 6/16
·  The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by Rodney Stark 6/16
·  By His Bootstraps by Robert Heinlein 5/16
·  Doctor Who: The Hounds of Artemis by James Goss 5/16
·  Doctor Who: The Day of the Troll by Simon Messingham 5/16
·  The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood 5/16
·  When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God--And Joy by John Piper 5/16
·  Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin by Karl Dahlfred 5/16
·  The Cruel Painter by George MacDonald 5/16
·  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman 5/16
·  Spurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression by Zack Eswine
·  Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater 5/16
·  Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch 5/16
·  The High Divide  by Lin Enger 5/16
·  The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown 5/16
·  It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes by Jeffrey Tucker 5/16
·  Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron 5/16
·  What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do by Henry Cloud 5/16
·  Unnatural Creatures (Neil Gaimain, ed.) 5/16
·  The Legend of Sam Miracle by N. D. Wilson 5/16
·  Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1 by Vern Poythress 4/16
·  All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir by Brennan Manning 4/16
·  The Holy Bible (ESV) 4/16
·  The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame 4/16
·  Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg 4/16
·  Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig 4/16
·  Dante by R. W. B. Lewis 4/16
·  Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott 4/16
·  The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo 4/16
·  The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves by Curt Thompson 4/16
·  The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers 4/16
·  The Gladiator: The Secret History of Rome's Warrior Slaves by Alan Baker 3/16
·  Martin Luther's Easter Book (Roland Bainton, ed.) 3/16
·  Hamlet's Blackberry by William Powers 3/16
·  Spartacus: Rebellion by Ben Kane 3/16
·  Knowing Christ by Mark Jones 3/16
·  Depression: A Stubborn Darkness by Edward T. Welch 3/16
·  The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Vol. 9 (J. F. Shaw and S. D. Salmond, trans.) 3/16
·  Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper 3/16
·  The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl 2/16
·  Esio Trot by Roald Dahl 2/16
·  My First Book (Jerome K. Jerome, editor) 2/16
·  Doctor Who FAQ by Dave Thompson 2/16
·  The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis 2/16
·  That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis 2/16
·  Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman 2/16
·  The Box of Delights by John Masefield 2/16
·  Coraline by Neil Gaiman 2/16
·  Medieval Combat by Hans Talhoffer (Mark Rector, trans.) 1/16
·  A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller 1/16
·  Rhetorica ad Herennium (Harry Caplan, trans.) 1/16
·  Clouds of Winess by Dorothy Sayers 1/16
·  Logic: A God Centered Approach by Vern Poythress 1/16
·  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Constance Garnett, trans.) 1/16
·  The Shocks of Adversity by William Leisner 1/16

15 December 2016

Language and Opinion on Gay Marriage

The literary theorist Roland Barthes once provocatively remarked that language is fascist. In his mind, the given language is a tool imposed from above which prevents independent outside-the-box thought. To some extent I believe that this viewpoint has been widely disseminated throughout our culture such that we all believe in language as a tool of force. Do you want to control the culture? Control the language. Numerous Christian cultural pundits have used this idea to show how American culture has shifted so rapidly over the last decade toward an acceptance of gay marriage and other unbiblical ideas. The thought is that there is a “gay agenda” among the minority of the cultural elites, and that these elites have been using media in order to shift the way language is used to talk about these issues. After all, why have a debate about homosexuality and morality when it’s much easier to label opponents of gay marriage as bigots and homophobes? This top-down cultural control by leftist media elites is a popular narrative among certain groups of conservative Christians, and it even makes a good deal of sense. After all, it does seem that movies and T.V. shows seem to have a specific agenda to push, and it’s rarely a conservative one.

On the other hand, Umberto Eco, in his 1979 essay “Language, Power, and Force,” argues against the opinion of Barthes that “language is fascism” by showing that, while the given language does shape the way the speakers of that language are able to think and articulate their ideas, this force is not imposed in a top-down tyrannical way. Rather, using the book The Three Orders by French medievalist Georges Duby as an example, Eco shows that the force applied by language is often a grassroots flow of power imposed from below. He writes:

“The fact is that over a period of three centuries numerous evolutions of European society took place, and different alliances came into play: between the urban clergy and the feudal lords, to oppress the populace; between clergy and the populace to escape the pressure of the knights; between monks and feudal lords against the urban clergy; between urban clergy and national monarchies; between national monarchies and great monastic orders…The list could continue to infinity…

These relationships of strength, however, would remain purely aleatory if they were not disciplined by a power structure in which everyone is consentient and prepared to recognize himself as part of that structure. To this end, there intervenes rhetoric, the ordering and modelizing function of language, which with infinitesimal shifts of accent legitimizes certain relationships of strength and criminalize others. Ideology takes shape: The power born from it becomes truly a network of consensus, beginning from below, because the relationships of strength have been transformed into symbolic relationships.”[1]

By this model, the rhetoric that develops within a society is a result of competing forces within that society coming to a consensus and establishing a new normative way of speaking. Applying this to our cultural issues today, we have to consider whether the changes in language regarding issues such as gay marriage have been imposed from the top by liberal elites or whether they have arisen in the push and pull of competing forces in our increasingly secularized society. If the second is true, then the problem isn’t a power above that must be fought; the problem is cultural decay brought about by a rejection of God’s Word and a drifting away from the gospel. The solution then won’t be found primarily in attempting to control, counteract, or attack the media. The solution is the spread of the gospel on a grassroots level transforming the culture from the ground up, rather than the top down. Only then will the balance of forces competing for a voice in our society change and language shift in a more biblical direction.

[1] Umberto Eco, “Language, Power, and Force,” in Travels in Hyper Reality, translated by William Weaver (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), 246-247.

30 November 2016

Disrespecting the Flag

The American flag is a great and powerful sign. It symbolizes the American Revolution, that initial act of defiance to the unlawful tyranny of the British Parliament. It represents the brilliance of the framers of our system of government. It calls to mind the countless lives that have been lost in battle to defend, protect, and further one all-encompassing, dangerous, and revolutionary idea upon which our entire nation is based: liberty. Yet there are those in our country today who stand in fundamental opposition to this symbol, who spit in the face of those who have given their lives to defend it. I don’t say that they intend this by their actions. Like the Israelites who embraced the brazen serpent and forgot the reality for which it stood, these people embrace the flag as fetish or talisman while simultaneously committing treason against the very principle the flag stands for. This is why we cannot allow our flag to be disrespected by those who, like our current president-elect, wish to enact civil punishments for flag burning.

By now, everyone on the internet has read Donald Trump’s tweet from Tuesday, but in case you missed it here it is:

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Now on the face of it, many patriots who love America might agree. “Yeah, that’s right! If they hate America so much, why do they live here anyway? If they want to burn our flag, they can find another place to live that they like better.” I have more than once seen the sentiment that it is wrong that people in our country should use the very freedoms granted by the government to attack that very government. I understand that. I see the visceral reaction to people burning the flag. But there is one very dangerous assumption hidden in that line of reasoning.

Our founding fathers did not believe that the government granted rights to anyone. The Declaration of Independence makes it clear that our founders believed it to be self-evident, needing no proof at all, that God has given the right of liberty to men and that governments only exist to protect the God-given rights that men already have. Further, when a government endangers those rights, it is the right of the people to rise up and form a new government. Imagine a government that exists only to preserve the life and liberty of the citizens, that has no other function than to defend freedom and preserve life. That is what the American flag stands for.

Flag burning may be disrespectful; it may be deplorable; it may be the most irreverent, arrogant, wrong-headed, unpatriotic action imaginable. Let it be all those things. But as soon as you talk about putting people in jail for burning a piece of cloth, regardless of what the cloth is or what it stands for, then you are laying an axe to the very foundation of everything our flag means. In burning a flag, assuming the flag is the lawful property of the person doing the burning, is anyone’s life being endangered? Is anyone’s liberty being threatened? No? Then the government, if it wishes to be that free republic for which the flag stands, has no business prohibiting or punishing the flag burner. To do so is treason against the principles upon which our nation is founded.

26 November 2016

Martin Luther Description

When we think of Martin Luther, we often picture a fat man with a grumpy, pugnacious disposition. The second part of that picture probably comes from being familiar with Luther's polemic writings without putting them in the context of similar writings by other authors of that time period, and also from not being familiar with Luther's more pastoral writings and sermons. The first part of the picture, that Luther was a very fat man, comes from the fact that most of the portraits we have of him come from when he was an older man and had become portly through the good cooking and good beer of his wife, Katie.

But a witness of Luther's disputation with Eck at Leipzig paints a very different picture of Luther. Luther was 35 years old at the time, and this is how he is described:

"Martin is of middle height, emaciated from care and study, so that you can almost count his bones through his skin. he is in the vigor of manhood and has a clear, penetrating voice. He is learned and has the Scripture at his fingers' ends. He knows Greek and Hebrew sufficiently to judge of the interpretations. A perfect forest of words and ideas stands at his command. He is affable and friendly, in no sense dour or arrogant. He is equal to anything. In company he is vivacious, jocose, always cheerful and gay no matter how hard his adversaries press him."[1]
This is actually a downside in the two best known film versions of Luther's story, the 2003 movie with Joseph Fiennes, and the 1953 movie with Niall McGinnis. McGinnis's Luther is prophetic and Fiennes's Luther is angsty, but neither of them seem to be the vivacious, jocose, cheerful fellow of the description above.

[1] Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Meridian, 1977), 87.

23 November 2016

Donald J. Osteen

If you haven't seen Tweet Mashup yet, go check it out. It's hilarious. Just put two twitter accounts into the machine, and, voila, you get an instant idea of what would happen if two people were merged into one. I was playing around yesterday wondering what would happen if Joel Osteen and Donald Trump were the same person. Here are a couple of the results.

God is counting on Floridians to vote the right way.

To be fair, I think there are some Republicans out there who probably pray this. 

22 November 2016

Politicians Can't Fix America

J. Gresham Machen, in the 1923 book Christianity and Liberalism, makes a good point that Christians in America need to hear today.

"It is upon this brotherhood of twice-born sinners, this brotherhood of the redeemed, that the Christian founds the hope of society. He finds no solid hope in the improvement of earthly conditions, or the molding of human institutions under the influence of the Golden Rule. These things indeed are to be welcomed. They may so palliate the symptoms of sin that there may be time to apply the true remedy; they may serve to produce conditions upon the earth favorable to the propagation of the gospel message; they are even valuable for their own sake. But in themselves their value, to the Christian, is certainly small. A solid building cannot be constructed when all the materials are faulty; a blessed society cannot be formed out of men who are still under the curse of sin. Human institutions are really to be molded, not by Christian principles accepted by the unsaved, but by Christian men; the true transformation of society will come by the influence of those who have themselves been redeemed."[1]

[1] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 134.

21 November 2016

The Fall of Arthur

From the apparently inexhaustible depths of J.R.R. Tolkien’s papers comes another gem brought forth for the public by Christopher Tolkien, The Fall of Arthur. Being a longtime fan of all things King Arthur and a huge fan of Tolkien, I’ve wanted to read this book since it was published three years ago. I finally got my hands on a copy and here are my thoughts.

The poetry here is breathtaking. There aren’t many people who laud Tolkien as a great poet, though I think he is, but this poem by far exceeds any of his other verse that I’ve read. The first canto felt like a bolt through my heart, and I’ll admit to getting a bit teary-eyed at the description of the land and setting. Nobody does sehnsucht like Tolkien. The other thing that surprised me was the level of character development given to both Mordred and Guinevere in the second Canto. Mordred’s characterization at the villain was especially vivid.

So, here’s the downside to the whole thing. The poem is unfinished. Tolkien abandoned work on it when he became more deeply involved in his Middle Earth stories, and never returned to it again. It’s a real shame because it would have been one of the most amazing things he ever wrote if he had finished it. As it is, it really shouldn’t have been published as a standalone work. I can see this working better as a single section in a collection of other shorter or unfinished works. That said, I’d also like to comment on the things Christopher Tolkien used to pad this out to the length of a book.

“The Poem in Arthurian Tradition” is an essay that focuses on the Arthurian tradition related to the fall of Arthur. For those who have read most of the major works pertaining to Arthur, this is simply review. Christopher does talk about how his father’s poem followed and differed from the major strands of tradition, and, using various notes that his father wrote, speculates about how the poem would have ended up had it been finished.

“The Unwritten Poem and Its Relation to the Silmarillion” was very interesting. Most of this essay focuses on Lancelot sailing into the west to find Arthur and never returning; this is how the story would have ended in Tolkien’s poem. Christopher explores the relationship between Avalon in Arthurian tradition and Tol Eressea in the Silmarillion, which is also called Avallon. To what extent are the two interchangeable? To what extent did he keep the two worlds separate? This essay is the best of the added essays in the book.

“The Evolution of the Poem” was largely unnecessary, focusing on the various manuscript stages that various parts of the poem went through before the final form printed in the book. This chapter seemed like a self-indulgent exercise on the part of Christopher Tolkien, and is probably only of interest to someone who might be writing a thesis on this poem by Tolkien.

So overall, I would give 5 stars to Tolkien’s poem and the chapter on the poem’s relation to the Silmarillion. The rest of the material is less interesting and important. It’s still worth a read for fans of Tolkien and Arthur.

10 November 2016

All Relationships are Telelogical

It was the fall of 2003. I had returned to college from summer break, and I had exciting news that I had to share with someone. While volunteering at our church's day school that week, I mentioned to my pastor that I now had a girlfriend. I'll never forget his response. He didn't congratulate me or slap me on the back or even really smile. He looked me right in the eye and said, "So, what are you doing with this girl, Rick?" At first, I was a bit baffled because I thought he was asking if we were, you know, having sex. "Nothing!" I responded. But it turns out, he wasn't thinking anything like that. He was asking me what my plans were for this relationship. Was I just using this girl as arm candy, someone to have fun with when I'm not doing school? Or was I considering whether we were compatible for marriage? What was the goal? At the end of the conversation he said, "I expect that in a few months, you should have decided to either marry this girl or to turn her loose. She sounds like a sharp girl, and it would be wrong to ask her to limit her future options for you just because you want to have fun." Wow. That was heavy, and unlike anything I had thought of before. And within a year of that conversation, my wife and I were married.

I recalled this conversation recently while reading the book Scary Close by Donald Miller. In one chapter, Miller recounts an exchange he had with with a friend and counselor.

"The whole thing reminded me of a conversation I'd had with my friend Al Andrews. Al is a counselor with a practice in Nashville. We were driving once when I confessed to him I'd hung out the previous week with a girl I probably shouldn't be hanging out with. She was in a bad marriage and had leaned a little too much on me and I confessed I liked it. I liked playing the wise, kind counselor and yet at the same time it felt unwise and even wrong. Al sat there and nodded and didn't have the slightest look of judgment on his face. Finally, when  I finished rambling, he said, "Don, all relationships are teleological."

I asked him what the word teleological meant.

"It means they're going somewhere," Al said. "All relationships are living and alive and moving and becoming something. My question to you," Al said seriously, "is, where is the relationship you've started with this woman going?"

I knew the answer to that question immediately. It wasn't going anywhere good. Within months, I'd be this married woman's surrogate husband, the man she could talk to, and as a man, I'd likely turn that into something physical and then I'd be a best-selling author in an extramarital affair..."
There are many pastors who could have avoided a lot of trouble had they thought in these terms. Likewise, married people who have close friends of the opposite sex other than their spouses should take heed. Where are those playful conversations and cups of coffee together leading? In fact speaking of couples in general, it's important to remember that marriages are also relationships, not stagnant contracts. You and your spouse are either growing closer or growing more distant from one another. Realizing this fact should cause you to be more intentional about your interactions with everyone around you. All relationships are teleological. Where are yours going?

08 November 2016

Feeling Good About America

It’s easy to get cynical about politics. We live in an age in which rational adult human beings can’t disagree with one another’s political positions without demonizing each another. For example, it’s not enough for people to disagree with Hillary’s politics. The latest thing in the news apparently is that she is not only wrong, but also, literally, SATANIC. Probably offering virgins right now on some bloodied altar in the name of her dark lord, Beelzebub. And, of course, we know that Trump supporters are ALL RACISTS and hate women. And amidst all the purple faces, loud voices, and pounding veins in temples, it’s hard to hear anyone discussing any of the actual issues that need to be discussed. Also, those of us whose opinions fall somewhere outside the rigidly-structured, two-party system are weak, spineless, and ignorant.

It reminds me of what Thucydides wrote about Athens during the time of the Peloponnesian War: “Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, incapacity to act on any.”[1]

I would also like to direct your attention to the fact that no one ever, ever enjoys standing in line at a government institution. Think back to the hopeless, lost faces of the people in line during your last trip to the DMV. Think back to the Dante’s Inferno of doomed souls when you had to stand in a long line at the US Post Office in order to mail a package before it closed. Government doesn’t make people happy, but people are more than willing to spew the most vitriolic, poisonous rhetoric imaginable at one other on behalf of their preferred government candidates.

And that is why my trip to the polls today was such a magical event. My local polling location is the church down the street. It was more crowded this morning than I’d ever seen it for an election before. And yet, there was none of the soul-draining quality of the formal institutional government about it. The people working the tables were volunteers, serving happily to help people vote. The entire room had the feeling of a town meeting in Mayberry. People were smiling at one another, striking up conversations with strangers while waiting in line, and generally seeming excited to be taking part in this local expression of their civil government. And the diversity of people was astonishing, people of every race and social class. There were men in business suits who were clearly heading to the office right after they voted. There was a twenty-something guy in sweatpants and a t-shirt who looked like he hadn’t bathed in weeks and had probably just come from an epic Call of Duty marathon in his mom’s basement. There was an old lady in her eighties behind me, feebly holding her walker and chattering about her grandchildren, while being helped along by her nurse. There were young moms with strollers, bikers in leather jackets, respectable, churchy-looking ladies, construction workers, and all other manner of people. And there was a guy there with tennis shoes, plaid pants, and a green bow-tie; wait, that was me.

I talked to the guy standing in front of me, a college student voting for the first time. He was excited to be there, getting to cast his vote. All around, people were shaking hands, introducing themselves, and getting along marvelously. And here’s the thing: no one knew who anyone else was voting for, and no one asked! Here, standing in a government line, waiting to cast a vote about the thing that has been making Americans treat each other like Orcs and Zombies for the last six months was a feeling of community and goodwill that the world-weary among us think is only a product of Norman Rockwell nostalgia.

How can this be? What accounts for this paradox? It’s because that… there…what was happening at the polls…that was America. America can’t be found in the endless bureaucracies inhabiting drab buildings like parasites. It can’t be found among our elected dictators and petty tyrants in Washington, D.C., that Leviathan entity that presumes to call itself “Government”. It’s here among the people. Because despite being weak, foolish, sinful, and often confused, human beings can somehow usually figure out how to treat each other like fellow humans, fellow partakers of the imago dei. Without our political handlers on talk radio, on CNN, and in public office reminding us of who we’re supposed to be hating right now, it seems like we often default to treating each other like people. And when community volunteers take the lead instead of a government monopoly organization, waiting in line doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

And in the end, this is why America is not ending tomorrow. Whether your candidate wins or loses tonight, just remember that what we let our politicians get up to in that capital city of theirs doesn’t make up the biggest part of human life. You still have the freedom to treat others with dignity and respect. You still have the freedom to love your community. You still have the freedom to be a part of “We the People”. Sleep well, America.

[1] Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides, Robert Strassler, ed. and Richard Crawley, trans. (New York: Free Press, 1996), 199.