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Cameron McAllister: Hello, and welcome to Thinking Out Loud, this is a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope. I'm your cohost, Cameron McAllister.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And I'm your cohost Nathan Rittenhouse.
Cameron McAllister: Well, Nathan, we're doing something a little bit different today. This is for our listeners who are tuning in via podcast, we are actually before a live audience, so not only are we face to face.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: There they are. There they are. Now nobody's holding up a sign.
Nathan Rittenhouse: That's right.
Cameron McAllister: That was very genuine applause and you'll probably hear more of it because we're just so darn likable, right?
But today, we've got an interesting format as well because the audience here, and this is a little bit like being animals in the zoo, under exhibition sort of, but our audience are actually going to vote on what we're going to talk about today.
So we have four options for our audience.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And we'll stick them up on the screen here.
Cameron McAllister: We're going to put them on the screen for you. So have a look at those. I'll say a word about each of them.
Number one, Greta Thunberg. Two, the NBA and China controversy. Three, the Ellen DeGeneres and former president, George Bush, controversy over their friendship. And then, finally, the upcoming election. And so, Nathan-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Excellent, yes.
Cameron McAllister: You've got the unenviable task of actually mediating this.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And I'm a little bit nervous because this is my first time counting a vote in Florida. I'm not sure if this is, we'll see how this goes. So, all right, we're going to do this by a show of hands so you can judge the people beside you who vote differently than you do.
Those for Greta? Both of them. Okay.
The NBA and China. Okay.
You're looking here, Ellen DeGeneres and George Bush.
Okay. And the upcoming election.
Oh yeah. There we have, it looks like we're doing the upcoming election.
Cameron McAllister: Excellent. Yeah. Something that we actually did predict, and in light of the comments from our friends, Oz Guinness, I think the sort of gravity of the situation has been spelled out. But let's begin with the word “gravity,” though, Nathan, because I think that there's an ongoing sense of, I would say fear, but also growing exhaustion in our nation as we approach the election. So I think the way that I would like to begin by framing this, and of course you're free to deviate here, but would be what really does our fundamental posture look like as we began to head towards next November?
Nathan Rittenhouse: So yeah. And let me step back even a step further there and ask, do you think that the weight or the gravitas of the moment is collective or individual? Because it seems to me that there's a sense in which we're looking at this and the conversations that I have with people are more flippant, carefree, the conversations it used to be, you never talked about faith or politics, now every conversation that I had on the flight and the Uber on the way down here was about faith and politics, and so there's the openness, a general, I don't want to say lack of respect or caring, but it feels different to me in that way, and the way in which I think about political conversations happening in the past.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, and I think that there's probably a pretty pronounced discrepancy sometimes between the way these conversations play out on the news.
Nathan Rittenhouse: That's what I'm pushing at.
Cameron McAllister: And on social media, right. And in our everyday experience. There seems to be, you can insert jokes here about millennials not wanting to go through all the trouble to register to vote and all of that, but actually in my experience, Nathan, it's seeming to be more the case that people are invested and that they do care. I mean we can, we're free of course because we're up here to bring in some of the other discussion items. Greta Thunberg wasn't very popular, but let's bring her in for a second.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Sure.
Cameron McAllister: When she made her viral, now viral speech, she was then 15 years old. So, in some ways, you can see that as a kind of barometer of a changing dynamic among younger people where there is a real sense of this matters intensely, the future hangs in the bounds, and not quite well though it's not always that sort of crisis mode, I think we're seeing more interest and more investment on an individual basis.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, and I'm optimistic about that, I think you're asking about her overall posture because there is in our time where we're becoming post apathetic in a time of moral outrage. So people actually do deeply care now in the sense that, I remember when Alicia and I were in Boston, and whatever morality ISIS stops starts chopping people's heads off and people are like, we want to say this is evil, but maybe it's cultural. Like we don't have the framework. And so then we can talk about morality there. Now people deeply care, did the president do this or did the president not do this? And so there's a revival of a desire for the truth to be known that I see is a very optimistic thing, just culturally speaking, about our posture to some of these things that are fundamentally necessary for us to have a stable society.
Well, I'd like to latch onto that for a second because, so often when we talk about politics right now, and increasingly it's difficult to separate politics from virtually any issue these days, right?
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. It's everything.
Nathan Rittenhouse: It's just touching on everything because in a secular world, in many ways, politics is all we have.
Cameron McAllister: It's true.
Nathan Rittenhouse: We've kind of lost that transcendent source, so it's just this kind of imminent frame, to use the word from Charles Taylor, but I actually have been quite encouraged as well. On the one hand, outrage culture has so much that's lamentable. We see it's a new sort of shame and honor system that's deeply vicious, but on the other hand, suddenly people care deeply about the state of justice. Around the world and in their own neighborhoods. And I think that is a modest step in the right direction in some ways because I think finally we're beginning to get a little bit of traction in our conversations as Christians about what's right and what's wrong and how we determine that.
Cameron McAllister: And I think that the issue there is, I wouldn't say that there's a cultural hunger and thirst for righteousness, but I would say that there are deep desires for genuine stability and actual hope. And if you look at a political campaign, they've been won on the concept of hope before in the past, but actually everybody is approaching them with the posture of hope. If we can get this person elected, these people elected, we get this party in position and then it gives us hope for the future, things look dismal now. But the hope is if we can get such and such, that being said, I think, in our generation, we look at the options and we're like, you know what? We don't want to play this game of sinking our hope totally into a political system, and that is what's bringing up some of these deeper conversations in a helpful way, I think, for the engagement that we have with people.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, another piece though that I think plays in here, and we're touching on it, and it's been mentioned a little bit, our friend, Oz Guinness, mentioned it, is this growing, what I want to call, there's this sort of growing principled case against civility.
Cameron McAllister: Sure.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And it's happening on all sides of the political spectrum.
Cameron McAllister: In fact, we're probably like two minutes from falling out with each other.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Exactly. Right now I can feel ire building, and I've always been envious of your beard and now it's just worse when I'm live in front of you. But talking about these issues-
Cameron McAllister: It's a power construct, man.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I think so.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I definitely think so. But if we're looking at the growing case against incivility, on the one hand, you can think about people who are more conservative, who will say, look, the stakes are simply too high now, we can no longer afford to be naive and we can no longer afford to roll over and play dead, we need to fight hard because this is a vicious culture war and they are targeting our families, they're targeting our children, but on the other side of the aisle, and this is pointed out quite well in a book that we've discussed before, a book by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. Got it right that time. Yes.
Cameron McAllister: The Coddling of the American Mind.
Nathan Rittenhouse: The Coddling of the American Mind, they point out that one of the great untruths that's taken root in on American campuses and, but really pretty much culture wide on the left is that life is a battle between good people and evil people and they both point out the business extraordinarily destructive and dangerous because the ends justify the means. It's not just that you're resisting those who you believe are politically misguided or that they even hold views that are wrongheaded, you think that they're vicious, pernicious, dangerous, and they need to be fought on all counts, so-
Cameron McAllister: It's morally justifiable to silence them because of the position of privilege and power that they have, they gained through abuse, therefore, they're not allowed to have that.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And of course you see these tactics playing out again across many university campuses, there are numerous cases that bear this out right now. So I think a question facing us, particularly as we're discussing barriers to the gospel here-
Cameron McAllister: Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: How do we respond as Christian men and women in this kind of environment? This is because this is, this is the context, this is the scene. And I think once again, I'm going to stress a point that I think you often would stress, it's important to know that social media, Twitter is not necessarily an accurate in its numbers.
Cameron McAllister: It's not representative.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Of how things are on the ground all the time.
Cameron McAllister: Even on the, on the DeGeneres and Bush thing, you have what, 5,000 people tweeting about it, let's double that to 10,000 and say, oh, you know what, that's 0.003% of the U S population.
So the thing that seems to be, capturing the headlines isn't necessarily representative of the, I use the analogy of I look and see that there's a, it's raining in California, I live on the East coast, so I better take an umbrella with me.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Right.
Cameron McAllister: Well, it doesn't exactly work like that, but the media has a way of nationalizing every single, and that doesn't mean that we don't pay attention to it, but I think it is important that we know as much about what our neighbor thinks about it as what the news thinks about it.
Nathan Rittenhouse: When you, when you were asking about the posture of us in a time of good and evil...
It made me think about actually, if the whole idea of political polarization and people, the New Testament is extremely polarizing. So let me throw some words to you and think about it in the context of the New Testament, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They meet Jesus, is that going to be a good interaction? No, probably not. Why does Nicodemus come to Jesus at night? Because Nicodemus couldn't be seen watching a Cowboys game with Jesus in public. So there's that tension that Jesus really does have a very polarizing effect, they tried to kill him multiple times, he tells his disciples, they hated me, they'll hate you too. And then, to make it even more profound, if you start looking at Paul saying, well, I was going to come here, but Satan prevented me from doing this, and then Sam was preaching out of first John, and we love those about God is loving and all of this and how great the Father's love that he's lavished on us, that we can be called children of God.
And then he goes right on to say, he who does what is sinful is of the devil. And I mean it's just that clear that Christ came to destroy the work of the devil and these people, this is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are. That you want to talk about a battle between good and evil.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: This is not new. However, what is new here, is that we're labeling people as good and evil rather than good and evil as good and evil.
Cameron McAllister: It's a subtle shift.
Nathan Rittenhouse: It's a subtle shift. And so we want to affirm that there really is evil in the world, that there really is goodness, but we have to be careful about demonizing people because demons can't be redeemed.
Cameron McAllister: Say it again.
Nathan Rittenhouse: We said we can't demonize people because demons can't be redeemed, we don't have an atonement structure for the demonic. Evil isn't redeemed in that way, but, people can be. And that's the historic shift, I think, that brings the Christian posture and perspective to this conversation. There is good and evil in the world, but just because you disagree with me, doesn't mean that you don't have an inherent value and worth.
Cameron McAllister: Would you say, I mean this, that is a robust, realistic Christian hope. That's a hopeful posture. If we can, we just saw a testimony video of Alonzo, if that can happen, and people are redeemable, so it's not the zero sum game-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Right. So it's not that we're not taking evil seriously enough, actually, it's not that we're not taking it serious enough, but we have to recognize that with a construct that evil is redeemable in a human life, then that's the additional thing that you have to add on to that cultural sentiment that is a battle between good and evil people, is that it's a battle between good and evil, but people can change. And I think that's the good news of the gospel. So there's a cloud hanging over America maybe, but there isn't a cloud hanging over the church, the son of man comes on the clouds. I mean, it's a, there's a possible redemption of humanity we believe in resurrections. And so, we have to be realistic about the difficulties and call evil for what it is, but we can't forfeit our Christian theology of the redemption and the conquest of evil through the work of Christ because that will leave us hopeless.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. So I think...You were talking about the early church, and, interestingly enough, so many theologians now are comparing the time that we're living in more and more to the sort of setting of the early church where the gospel was greeted with true hostility and it really clashed with the surrounding cultural landscape. And I think you're seeing that more and more. And so I find myself often going back to the book of Acts, and looking at the comportment of the apostles in this early church period as they find themselves confronting these different systems of idolatry and also kind of looking at their political posture. So here's kind of the direction I want to take this, you're free to, we can swerve anytime we want, because-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Because we can.
Cameron McAllister: Thinking Out Loud, that's what we do. But, a number of years ago, I think it was about two years ago, James K.A. Smith's final installment in the Cultural Liturgies series came out. There was Desiring the Kingdom, then there's Imagining the Kingdom, and finally, there's Awaiting the King. And there's a wonderful phrase that he uses in that book. And of course he says we as Christian men and women are those who are awaiting the King, our heavenly savior. And he has this great phrase, and I think it really is helpful as I think about the upcoming election and our political posture and it's-
Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm on the edge of my seat literally.
Cameron McAllister: Let's see if I can build this up anymore. It's going to be let down at this point. Why did I do this to myself? I always do this to myself. The phrase is “holy ambivalence.” I don't feel that there's sufficient sort of law at that statement, but yeah, I had a holy ambivalence about it, that's why.
Nathan Rittenhouse: There you go. That's right.
Cameron McAllister: You stopped short, but a holy ambivalence. On the one hand, we do care. This is where part we're part of the earthly city and we're invested and we care because, after all, politics affects, it's our life in common, it affects all of us and it's, these are matters of life and death and it matters tremendously. So we care, we're invested and we do our part.
But on the other hand, we recognize that in the end all things are in our Lord's hands. And this is not an excuse to for any kind of quietism or any shirking of our responsibilities, but it also keeps our hearts at rest. So on the one hand we have all the affirmation that we need to be involved. And on the other hand, there's a transcendent element to our hope that is not lost touch with reality, in fact, is more deeply in touch with reality, because we're the ones that recognize that we don't just need this world to be improved, made better with a new program, with some new social program is helpful with some of these programs, can be in the end, this world needs to be broken and re made and we are awaiting that new heavens and that new Earth. That defines us.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So, and so if I can follow your thought here, there's a sense in which we do look with eager anticipation to what will be, there is the hope that comes from that, but Jesus also leaves very real and concrete things for his disciples to do before he shows up in the fullness of his manifest power on Earth. And so I think what you're trying to do there, or he's trying to do there is outline for us a model of an already not yet where our action is already, but the fullness of our hope is not yet. Is that the direction you're going with that?
Cameron McAllister: Well, if you go to...So the most robust, full bodied account of Jesus's ascension happens in the first chapter of Acts and it's a section I keep going back to over and over again, the Lord keeps putting it on my heart.
And there you see the Lord... There's a couple of really interesting dynamics there, all of which are graciously included by detail oriented physician Luke, right? He wants those details in there. And so the apostles, what do they ask Jesus at this time? Are you, Lord, at this time restoring the kingdom?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. So earthly focus.
Cameron McAllister: Yes, an earthly focus. And they still, even at this point, they've still got kind of political aspirations ringing in their ears and they're thinking of some of the glorious prophecies from Hosea and from Amos, but Jesus says it's not for man to know the time or the hour, but then, when he ascends...So they're standing there and he's taken up into the cloud, and there's a beautiful parallel there between the cloud there and the Old Testament cloud withholding sort of the Shekinah glory of God, but they're, so they're sort of standing there mooning around and looking into the sky, and then some angels show up and say, “What? Why are you, why are you standing around here looking into the sky? This same one who ascended bodily,”…there's a lot of emphasis on that body-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yep.
Cameron McAllister: “Will return in the same way that he came.”
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: So there's a mandate here to go to the ends of the earth. And Jesus, remember again, reiterates here that the gospel was made for the Judea, Samaria, and the very ends of the earth, bear in mind is saying this to Jewish people-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Any place we can get Ravi on a plane.
Cameron McAllister: We got it right. And so, there's work to be done while we're here and yet we have-
Nathan Rittenhouse: That's right, it's not a totally upward looking gaze where that's it.
Cameron McAllister: No. Yeah, we're not standing around naval-gazing, just thinking, well in the end, you know, an eternal perspective, in other words, doesn't take us off the hook from getting our hands dirty, from being invested, from caring.
But it orients us in such a way that when there are, if there is a loss, if the cloud over America does darken, we will be characterized as people filled with great expectations and not downtrodden, you can be sad, but you're not in despair. If you're in despair because of a failing political cause, there's time, I think there's occasion to examine one's heart.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. You know, it's fascinating as you're saying that, I was thinking through where I was reading where somebody was trying to do a study of passages of scripture that were, what's the most common passage used at various times in history, now you can do that through the Bible at different applications, but what they were doing is they were looking historically through old manuscripts at the amount of candle wax on the pages of the Bibles that were at the front of the church.
And so based off, you have the candle burning and a little pieces of wax are on the paper, and so the ones that had the pages that had the most wax on them, and you can look historically and see that in times of great political turmoil, or persecution, the book of first Peter floats to the top as a book that the church has kind of gathered itself around. And it's strange because in first Peter, you have a letter written to a group of people who he acknowledges are strangers, sojourners in the earth. So it's a letter written to strangers as a call to holiness in the context of suffering.
And he ends by saying, and all of this is the grace of God. And in the middle of that, comes our famous apologetic mandate of always being prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have.
Cameron McAllister: Right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And everywhere else in first Peter that he talks about hope, he talks about what God has done in the world through the person of Jesus Christ, and so when we give a reason for the hope that we have, we're talking about Jesus. And I think they're, that sense of anxiety and darkening that happens around us makes the gospel shine more brightly in that sense of people would say to us, because there's an assumed response there, why are you so hopeful in the midst of this? And there was somebody, my dad and I, where were we? We were with our brothers on vacation and somebody was running around yelling something about politics and the sky is falling and all of this and my dad's like, oh, I got to go talk to this person. We're like, really? We're on vacation, we're trying not to think about these things. So he goes and listens to her little rant and she had a cross necklace on and, when she took a breath, he just said, "Isn't it so nice that our hope isn't dependent on this?"
And it was just that pregnant moment of like, ah, yes. And so I wonder there if we're not reinventing the wheel when we're talking about times of political turmoil, about a culture of despair, but I think the affirmation of hope that comes from what God has done in the world through the person of Jesus Christ has been something that has been there historically. And, not that we don't have our eyes wide open and see what's happening all around us, but we remember that hope. And that does stabilize us and would hopefully lead us to live lives that people would be curious about that.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. So then on that note, if we're characterized by hope that differentiates us, especially in darkening times, I find myself cooling a little bit on the word “civility.” I like the word in some ways, and of course we have wonderful examples of it already here in the ministry. Ravi Zacharias just appeared on the Dave Rubin Show and it was a phenomenal dialogue.
Nathan Rittenhouse: But he did sort of try to suck him into this you can't just be nice-
Cameron McAllister: Yes.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Kind of mentality. And he-
Cameron McAllister: You see that script emerging over and over again. But, or the word tolerance, which is not being used as much, but they, as Michael Ramsden points this out, tolerance, civility, in Christian terms, actually don't go far enough.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Oh sure.
Cameron McAllister: I don't merely want to tolerate people and I don't want to just stop at civility, I want to actually love people even when there's no precedent for it, even when I'm being maligned or mistreated, and I think increasingly this is also an inescapable part of the context because as that kind of uncompromising tone ramps up and as politics is often viewed as a zero sum game these days, I think we see more and more of that. So how do we as Christians be deeply loving? Not in a sentimental sense, but in the robust, powerful sense that Sam Aubrey was talking about so well today?
Nathan Rittenhouse: So, part of it, I think, is telling a better story and it reminds me of a couple of years ago, I was speaking on a panel, it was, a Buddhist, an Imam, an atheist, a lesbian rabbi, and myself on a panel called can we coexist?
Cameron McAllister: And this is not the beginning of a joke.
Nathan Rittenhouse: This is not the beginning of the joke. No, there was no bar involved with this. This is your education system in 2017 or something. And so everybody went down the line, I was the last one, and everybody said, kind of the nice, which you're supposed to say, sort of thing. And I said, you know, you've asked the question, can we coexist, I think it's a lousy goal. I want so much more than this in life. And just talked about the possibility of love and community and the ability to call each other out out of love. And everybody on the panel said, yeah, that's what we want. I was like, all right. But then I had to make the case for that. But I think, the idea is that we want tolerance, not because we think it's good, but because we think it's the best thing that's available to us. And so it's a settling for something that's inferior to what the gospel of Jesus Christ offers us. And so that's, I think the continuous thing that we're doing as we're traveling and speaking as RZIM is we're reminding people of Jesus.
Cameron McAllister: Hmm.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Here's another story, another way of thinking about this, there's another way to interact with that, which transcends us, to interact with that and what we relate to even to the planet, all the things around us, there's another way to do this, and it has to be modeled. I think the power of testimony is becoming a very important thing because we're interested deeply in integrity, does it really matter? Does it change my life? So again, it's a call, I think that often would I, when I see RZIM speakers interacting with people that they disagree with, it's less of a head-butting contest and more of an invitation to say, well, what you're saying is interesting, but what if your view is too low? What if there is? And so it's a taunt almost rather than a conflict because we're calling them to raise their gaze a little bit and say, what if there's a bigger story here that this is a part of? So I think that's a 30,000 foot view of the, my response to your question.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, but I think it's, it's good because it's avoiding abstraction and the best way to avoid abstraction as Christians is to point to Jesus in the incarnation where we see the actual embodiment of love. But, when I look to Jesus and I looked to his life, and I looked to his responses, now you've already mentioned some of the more uncompromising responses that he gives. I am constantly reminded of the courage that it takes because love does not preclude confrontation and neither does it preclude self-sacrifice.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Right?
Cameron McAllister: And see therein lies that pivotal balance, that is so hard for me because, personally, I tend to be a little bit better at one of those than the other. I'm decent in the confrontation department, often I can be, I think a lot of people in frontline industry are well let's talk about this right now.
Are a little bit better in the confrontation department calling out and we need that, we desperately need honesty, too. I think that's at the heart of some of the pushback against civility sometimes is for people to say, look, let's not pretend, let's not have this utopian political vision that there's not huge matters at stake, we need to be honest, but on the other hand, if truth, if my pursuit of a political cause or truth comes at the cost of denigrating somebody, villainizing them or demonizing them, that cost is too high. And so we need to never, I need to remind myself constantly, I never want to forget that the people I'm talking to are image bearers, but because they're image bearers, because I love them in the true sense, and to quote from Dallas Willard, Dallas Willard would often point out that to love somebody truly is to will the good for them. What's best for them, and of course that raises an important question. What is the good? What in the world is the good? And of course we would point to Christ and say, he is goodness embodied.
But to do that, and to do that well, requires often, yes, the ability to confront, but lovingly. Self-sacrifice is also called for. And so that means that we don't bow to any of the vicious tactics that we see around us-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Or the separation tactic also, because think about Jesus's disciples, oh, there's the Canaanite woman, send her away. Oh, there are the hungry people, send them away. Oh, there are the children, send them away. And so their response is detach, separate, and Jesus always stops, pauses and invites into that. But then that sacrificing part you're talking about, and this is where the gospel terrifies me because if you look at what's different about our time and like moral outrage, the uncivil nature of interaction, it's, oh, so-and-so associated with this person, and then they get crucified, not by the opposition, but by their followers who feel like they're being sold out.
And so the question is, is can you get close enough to friendship with your critics without being crucified by your own people? And the thing is, Jesus wasn't, and if Jesus wasn't, what's the hope for the rest of us? And so when you're talking about self-sacrifice and those interactions, I think that's one of the dangerous things that we have to be, maybe it's not dangerous, I guess it is dangerous that we have to be open to, of recognizing that this might not go well with me because of the friendships or the connections that I make across the aisle, across the plain aisle, whatever.
We face, actually RZIM ministry, faces more heat from Christians who think we spoke someplace that we shouldn't have, than from unbelievers. And that's a fascinating thing of oh, you associated with, yes, we went to tell them about Jesus. What was your other problem? You know? But that's a real thing that's translating over from culture into oh, you associated with, you were in the same building as that. Yes. Yes, we were. Jesus actually came to our planet with us. So there's a model there that isn't a pie in the sky utopian. If we're going to say that this can't be done well then that's a weak theology that we're bringing to our political conversation.
Cameron McAllister: Okay.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, I don't know. I think we're, our time is counting down here, we've thrown a lot out there and, as always, we've resolved nothing. We've just given people more things to think about, things to have conversations with their friends and family about. And we really appreciate you sticking with us. You've been listening to another episode of Thinking Out Loud, a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope.