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Ben Sasse’s Book ‘Them’ Offers Help in Lonely, Hateful Times

Ben Sasse’s Book ‘Them’ Offers Help in Lonely, Hateful Times

The suicide epidemic. Vanishing jobs in a mobile economy. Twitter rage and politics. Nebraska football versus Oklahoma Sooners football. These are just a few of the compelling topics covered in Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal, a new book by U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

In his winsome style, Sen. Sasse diagnoses some of the major problems plaguing American society today, before he offers concrete and helpful solutions.

He begins his book with a powerful story out of Chicago, when a devastating heatwave in the summer of 1995 cost more lives, by some accounts, than the Chicago fire of 1871. “Coroners initially counted 465 dead, but many of the dead weren’t discovered until weeks later, when the stench of decomposition oozed from homes and apartments.”

Among those most likely to have perished from the heat were elderly people—men in particular—living alone. No one—no family, neighbors, a community—went to check on them, as they perished. Some of those men found dead even sadly had letters sitting by their side, written to their estranged children, with woeful words reaching out over broken relationships.

“Loneliness.” Sasse says, “Our world is nudging us toward rootlessness, when only a recovery of rootedness can heal us. What’s wrong with America, then, starts with (that) one uncomfortable word.”

Sasse notes the many trends contributing toward loneliness and cultural upheaval. Some factors include our high-tech dependency. Other factors include the decline of church attendance, and even Friday night local football game attendance (Sasse himself is the son of a coach).

As a politician, known for being critical of his own party (Republican) and other parties, Sasse offers keen insight in this area. Talking about the exaggerated and hateful conversations we see on social media like Twitter, Sasse says:

“Deep, enduring change does not come through legislation or elections. Meaning change comes as lots and lots of individual minds are persuaded and hearts changed. Deep change allows people to change their minds without needing, first, to “eat crow.” It tolerates provisional and partial agreements. It’s the logic of neighbors who live side by side. It’s the logic of the lone-term, which respects the dignity and agency of debate partners.”

He continues, “Warriors view the present moment as make-or-break for all time—but neighbors do not. Neighbors see today’s conversation not as the last discussion we’ll ever have, but as a precursor to tomorrow’s. We can and will visit again. We can continue talking, and listening. We can be open to future persuasion—and to being persuaded. We need not win everything by force, and we need not win everything right now.”

We hear that Sasse believes life is about more than politics. He talks extensively about economics. He echoes an economist’s view that, in America today, there are the general groups: the rooted, the mobile and the stuck. In these last two areas, he offers the best insights. In our hyper-educated age, the mobile economy has led successful people to bounce from one large city to the next, never really setting down roots or building community. There are those, conversely, that have few economic options and are stuck in life.

Beyond these powerful social diagnoses, Sasse offers powerful stories and anecdotes along the way, along with helpful ideas in the book. To list a few, he says “set tech limits;” “have more family meetings at dinner;” “buy a cemetery plot;” and “we need more tribes” (i.e. community). I will invite you to read the book to hear what each of these fully means.

As Christians, we know the ultimate solution to loneliness is relationship. Relationship with Jesus Christ and the Body of Christ. In this new book, Sasse, himself a Christian, has provided a persuasive book that, for those who take it seriously, could move American society from seeing others as the enemy. Move us away from seeing others as “them” and toward the idea of “we” or “us.”

Food Fights

Food Fights

As a social conservative who frequently dines at Chick-Fil-A, the news that the beloved fast-food restaurant has changed its charitable giving strategy away from traditional Christian groups hit me hard. In fact, the news, to borrow a phrase, was not my pleasure.

From Eric Erickson to Russell Moore to others, there is no shortage of interesting “hot takes” on this hot button issue you can find. While personally saddened upon hearing the news, I began to observe some eerily familiar online arguments in this latest “food fight.”

In fact, I have observed a pattern of personalities on social media that seem to rise up during any given controversy. Who am I talking about?

The Agitators

These are the people who enjoy stirring up strife. In our social media age that rewards spats and disagreements, these folks are truly at home. If they are not verbally sparring with someone online, their day is not complete. For Christians, this should not be our posture.

The Perpetually Outraged

These are people who seem to fight a new outrage every week. This week, it’s Chick-Fil-A. Last week, it was another issue. Next week, it will be another. While we can and should be outraged at injustice and compromise in the world, Christians must learn how to avoid being sucked into what’s been called the “perpetual outrage machine.”

The Commenters

These folks have something to say about everything. Whether it’s about war in Syria, profession sports, laws debated in Congress, new TV programs or just someone’s personal news, these people seem to provide “expert” comments on everything. While Christians can and should be informed on a wide array of topics, it does not mean we need to comment on everything.

The Conciliators

“Can’t we all just get along?” is a familiar refrain. These people perceive the growing strife and try to heal divides. While their peacemaking efforts are noble, far too often these folks get steamrolled in any conversation, especially online. While we need more people trying to bring peace, Christians also can heed the proverb that warns us from grabbing a dog by the ears (Prov. 26:17) and inserting ourselves into every strife that comes along.

The Disheartened

All of the back-and-forth wears people out. It seems hardly anyone is persuading anyone any more. This lack of civil discourse leads to people giving up, to becoming disheartened. Many of these folks have either faded away from social media conversations, or quit social media altogether.

At various times, I myself have fallen into each of these categories, whether talking about important news like Chick-Fil-A or other topics. A personality type I am aiming toward becoming is an Ambassador for Christ. That is to say, someone who represents Him well. To that end, all Christians ought to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our calling; in a way that honors Him and sets us apart in a culture gone crazy with verbal “food fights.”

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:6).

Too tired to sleep

Too tired to sleep

 “Good morning! How’d you sleep?” That’s a phrase many of us hear from time to time.

If you stop to think about it, we humans spend an extraordinary amount of time in life dedicated to sleep. Perhaps second only to working hours (or these days, to screen time), sleep looms large in our daily lives.

What’s so important about sleep? A National Sleep Foundation poll found that, “among U.S. adults with excellent sleep health, nearly 90 percent say they feel very effective at getting things done each day, compared to only 46 percent of those with poor sleep health.”

In biblical terms, we see that sleep is a blessing from the Lord. Psalm 127:1-2 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep.”

Yet I know many people who walk around feeling systematically sleep-deprived. There are many reasons for this. Perhaps your job is at odd hours, making good sleep hard to come by. Perhaps you have a full house of kids or people you are taking care of that make sleep difficult. It could even be feelings of guilt or worry are robbing you of sleep. You may even have a sleep disorder or medical condition.

What can we do when we have trouble sleeping? Though I’m no expert, here are few ideas:

  1. Put away technology. The “blue glowing light” of screens beckons us away from many important things, including sleep. I heard someone advise to put our phones and screens to bed one hour before you go to bed, which can only help.
  2. Read a book. Before you pop a sleeping pill, go the old-fashioned way of reading a book before bed. As a Christian, we believe we must prioritize reading God’s Word each day. But don’t be afraid also to read some light fiction, or just a book you enjoy, before lights out.
  3. Get into a routine. I know someone who is a self-described “night owl.” This person ends up staying up late and sleeping in late, and seems always to walk around tired. The explorers Lewis and Clark said that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth more toward restfulness than several hours after midnight. Re-evaluate your schedule, if you are sleep deprived.
  4. Pray. Christian writers have long upheld the idea of morning and evening prayers. There is something significant about beginning each day in prayer to God, and ending each day before God. We don’t pray to Him so that we can sleep. We pray and “He gives to His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).

These are just a few ideas, none of which require medication, which I have found helpful, to go with whatever ideas you may have.

All this being said, there can be days when suggestions like these just don’t work. You go to bed and just stay wide awake. And that’s okay. Whether in plenty of sleep or little, may God show each of us how to put Him first and how to give thanks in all things.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Emergency Texts

Emergency Texts

According to a news announcement from the city where I reside, people can now send an emergency text to 911. No longer do you have to call 911, you can simply notify them by text.

No more calling to hear a live voice say, “Hello 911, what is your emergency?” Simply text the location and nature of the situation to 911, and help will be on the way.

Some days, when troubles or emergencies come, I forget that I can “dial direct” to another source of ever-present help: God Himself.

During life’s trials, we are quick to look elsewhere for help. We sometimes look to other people, friends included, for help (which can be very good and something God wants us to do). Other times, we turn to less helpful resources, like self-help books or Google, to look for solutions.

In her classic Christian work telling her life story, “The Hiding Place,” Nazi concentration camp survivor Corrie Ten Boom, recounts a time when she turned to a person to help instead of the Lord. Facing one of the many instances of injustices that she did, Corrie pleaded her case to a Nazi, only to be turned away cold.

After the encounter, Ten Boom was reminded that it is to God she could turn for real help, not man. This is the same spiritual giant who said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”

Today, when problems arise, call on Jesus through prayer. From God’s Word, we are promised that He will answer. And He may answer your emergency message even more immediately—and for sure more thoroughly—than 911 ever could.

On Single-Issue Voters

On Single-Issue Voters

According to a new LifeWay Research Poll, “around 1 in 12 (8 percent) say they are single-issue voters, while 80 percent say their support for a candidate depends on several issues.”

The poll was “sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (and) explored the perspectives of American evangelicals on civility, politics, media consumption and how likely they are to engage with views different from their own.”

Let’s take a moment to think about single-issue voters. This concept has most often been associated, in American politics, with the abortion issue. The survey results said, “half of evangelicals by belief (51 percent) say they will only support a candidate who wants to make abortion illegal.”

One of the aspects that the poll did not directly appear to address was single-issue voter positive-versus-negative, as one ethics expert put it. In other words, some people are “single-issue voters” in that a candidate being incorrect or in disagreement on one lone issue (e.g. abortion) can disqualify someone from their consideration. But they are not “single issue voters” in that the candidate being right or in agreement on that issue does not automatically qualify that person for consideration.

Translation: If you’re wrong on that non-negotiable issue, I cannot in good conscience support you. If you’re right on that issue, depending on other factors, I may or may not support you.

I would consider myself in this latter category. I am a single-issue voter in that being life-affirming (for the born and unborn) is a must; not to affirm life is disqualifying for me.

You may or may not agree with this frame of thinking (I would be happy to hear you out). But consider this analogy. If a would-be pastoral candidate is qualified in many areas but fails in one or two key areas (as defined by Scripture), it can disqualify him entirely from consideration. One truly toxic factor can poison the whole well.

Thinking beyond this seminal issue of abortion, the poll revealed that many do not share this issue as the top priority. “When asked which three public policy concerns are most important to them, evangelicals by belief today are more likely to choose issues like healthcare (51 percent), the economy (46 percent), national security (40 percent) or immigration (39 percent), than issues like religious liberty (33 percent), abortion (29 percent), providing for the needy (22 percent) or addressing racial division (21 percent).”

Whether you are a single-issue voter or not, as the 2020 Election looms larger, every professing Christian can learn to show more patience with fellow believers, as we parse through the urgent issues needing attention this election cycle and beyond.