Monthly Archives: October 2012

Five Reasons Why I’m Voting for Romney

My vote won’t matter at all in California, but I sent in my ballot last week anyway, voting for Mitt Romney. Am I super excited about everything Romney stands for? Not at all. I’m uncomfortable with his Mormon faith, regret that he supports drone strikes & the use of torture, and absolutely wince when he says things like “America is the hope of the earth.”

I’m also not one of those people who thinks Obama is an unqualified disaster of a president. I like a lot of things about him and had high hopes for his presidency four years ago. I think he’s a good guy, a family man, and not the villain the Ann Coulter Fox News crazies would label him.

But for this moment in America, I think it’s wise to switch course and give Romney a chance. Here are a few of my personal reasons for voting for him:

Abortion. I’m pro-life and this will always be a deal-breaker for me. Fighting for the “reproductive right” to destroy a living being will always be sickening to me, and I’ve been particularly sickened this year with the Democrats’ tactic of equating the pro-life cause with some sort of “war against women.” That’s just silly and makes disturbing light of the real issue: the war on unborn children, which takes more than 1.2 million lives a year in America.

The Economy: I have real concerns about the U.S. economy, both in its current state and its long-term viability. And so much else depends on a solid, growing economy: national security, the effectiveness of our foreign policy, our education system, the plight of the poor, and so on. The federal government is addicted to accumulating debt and spending money that isn’t there. On the track of spending and debt-accumulation we’re currently on, the world my children will inherit will look something like the landscape of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Dire. I have hopes that Mitt Romney’s business-savvy and focus on private-sector growth and job creation will prove much more effective for America’s economic recovery and long-term fiscal stability.

Religious Liberty. The HHS mandate, which went into effect this year as part of Obamacare and which forces religious institutions to cover contraceptives (including abortifacients such as the morning-after pill and the week-after pill), represents a disturbing narrowing of the government’s understanding of religious liberty. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed (including by my own employer, Biola University) by religious organizations of various stripe, including both Protestant and Catholic Christian schools, nonprofits and companies fighting to retain their religious classification/exemption. What’s frightening is the extent to which Obama’s administration has narrowed the understanding of who qualifies for a religious exemption: apparently a Bible-focused Christian university like Biola and a Bible-publisher like Tyndale House are not “religious” enough to qualify. Only churches are. In what universe does that make sense? I agree with Alan Jacobs when he notes that the government’s position “suggests a move to confine freedom of religion to freedom of worship… to confine religion to a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought. Even those who support abortion and contraception should not want to see the government defining religion maximally as private thought and belief. The social costs of that restriction will, in the long run and perhaps even in the short, be catastrophic, because churches and other religious institutions have long been attentive to ‘the least of these’ — the ones that government habitually neglects or even tramples underfoot.”

“The Least of These”: As a Christian, I want to vote for the president who I believe will be better for the most vulnerable and suffering in the world, the “least of these” (Matt. 25:40). I believe that person is Mitt Romney, because of the abortion issue but also because I believe he will get the American economy back on track and will help create a more jobs-friendly business environment, where real opportunity is created and government dependency (which only perpetuates cycles of suffering) is reduced. I also have hopes that Romney will empower religious institutions and faith-based charities where Obama alienated them, allowing them to do the humanitarian work they already do and want to continue doing. Meanwhile, on Obama’s watch, the welfare state has grown substantially and spending on means-tested welfare programs has increased by a third in just four years, to an all time high cost of $1 trillion a year. Obama’s own budget plans estimate this cost to rise to $1.56 trillion by 2022. Where is this money going to come from? Also, food stamps have surged, with 71 percent more spending on the program in 2011 than in 2008. This explosion in federal spending on welfare is simply not a sustainable solution. Furthermore, government handouts do not address the systemic issues and underlying economic woes that are the true scourge of the poor and low-income in America. Building a stronger economy and creating jobs is a much better long-term solution to helping bring people out of poverty.

Bipartisan Efficacy: I thought one of Romney’s most encouraging lines in the third debate came in his closing moments, when he pledged to work across the aisle and help facilitate cooperation in a divided, broken Washington. Of course Obama made this a big talking point in his 2008 election as well, and look how that turned out. But Romney actually has a history of doing it, having successfully governed Massachusetts as a Republican when the state legislature was 87% Democrat. People often criticize Romney for being vague or flip-flopping, which is a valid critique; but when it comes to Washington and fostering a cooperative, productive government, inflexibility (on both sides) is disastrous. We need a leader who can build consensus in a climate where political divisiveness and belligerence lead to fiscal negligence (see the 2011 debt ceiling crisis). Maybe its naive, but I sense that Romney will be a better politician and dealmaker as president than Obama was, and I think we need someone new to perhaps break the stalemate.

Will Romney win? Probably not. But that’s democracy, and that’s OK. My hopes are not pinned on either candidate, nor on any political party or government. My hopes are fixed on Jesus Christ, who reigns supreme over all things, now and forevermore, regardless of who is in the White House.

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Autumn Horizon

Autumn isn’t really autumn in L.A. Sure, temperatures may drift downward into the 70s and (if we’re lucky) 60s rather than the 80s and 90s. And sure, the evenings cool off quicker and some types of deciduous trees (if you can find them) shed their leaves. Sure, Starbucks has their pumpkin spice lattes and caramel apple ciders. One can even find a local pumpkin patch after enough Googling.

But for a Midwestern boy like me, it will never feel quite right. I have too many ingrained memories of the sights, smells, and sensations of autumn in Oklahoma and Kansas. The smell of burning leaves, the first chimney smoke of the season. The browning of grass, the blooming of mums and the site of my mom covering flowers with buckets on the night of the first frost. The adolescent energy of Fridays at school on game days, and the sounds of the drumline, cheerleaders and press box announcers on those crisp dark nights illuminated by Friday night lights.

So beloved are those golden days of the autumns of my youth: the “back to school” nights, Homecomings, bonfires, Oktoberfests, Tulsa State fairs; the smells of smokey barbecue, roasted cinnamon nuts, caramel-dipped apples; the joys of scalping tickets to college football games with dad, raking the leaves for mom, taking weekend trips to places like Coffeyville, Eureka Springs, and Branson. And also the church harvest festivals, hayrides and fall revivals; the craft fairs with their smells of cedar chipping, holiday candles, glue-guns and Hobby Lobby.

With every passing year removed from a true Midwestern autumn, such things glow only brighter and seem more idyllic in my mind’s eye. Though I wonder now how much of my autumnal nostalgia is for particular experiences of my past as much as the idea of autumn as collected over the year from movies, books, television, poetry. One of the reasons I so loved the TV series, Friday Night Lights, is because it evoked so clearly my own experiences of the Midwestern fall (i.e. football) season. And yet now FNL is itself a part of that nostalgia. I like to break out the DVDs around this time of year to live autumn vicariously through them.

I also find myself saying yes to travel invitations every fall, if it means I can go somewhere for a few days where the air is crisp, the leaves are changing and faint sounds of marching bands or tailgating can be heard. Last weekend I went to Spokane for a conference; last fall I went to Ohio and Tennessee; the fall before that, Wheaton. Some years a simple drive up to the more autumnal regions of Central California will do the trick.

Perhaps it’s time I learn to love autumn in Southern California. I don’t know. Maybe autumn is actually more beautiful an experience for me when it is such a longing of my heart, when it is a memory, a smell, a smoky horizon just beyond the reach of my senses. I may never live in the Midwest again, to fully experience the bright blue October skies over the rolling hills of harvested grains. But maybe that’s a good thing. I believe joy exists most forcefully in the unsatisfied longings and nostalgic echoes swirling around each of our hearts, hungry for a return to the land of promise and infinite skies, whatever that place was, is, or (most likely) will one day be.

Looper

Movies like Looper give me hope for American cinema. Rian Johnson’s film is a tight, stylish, deftly scripted crowd pleaser, a clever film that engages the audience viscerally, cognitively and emotionally. Its also a film that takes a schoolboy’s delight in the magic and thrill of cinema. Rian Johnson is film nerd, fanboy, and B-movie genre postmodern in the vein of Tarantino, with a smidge less irony and a bit more Raymond Chandler noir. His films (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) are characterized by anachronistic pop culture pastiche and the merging of multiple genre tropes.

His latest, Looper, borrows from time travel, gangster and sci-fi genres. It feels like Back to the Future meets Blade Runner meets Road to Perdition, with a little bit of X-Men. There are gangs, hit men, hovercrafts, pocket watches, rural roadside diners, seedy underworld clubs, drugs, guns, and even some telekinesis.

Above all, though, Looper is a brain-twister. In the head-scratching spirit of Christopher Nolan’s headier narrative mazes (Inception, Memento), Johnson’s Looper takes the viewer on a loop-de-loop tour back and forth in time, on multiple levels and layers of reality as we observe the paradoxical meeting of a man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his future self (Bruce Willis), who he is being paid to kill. If it already sounds confusing, just wait. By the end of the film, my fiancee and I literally had to sit down at coffeeshop and draw diagrams of the plot and story lines to make sense of what we just saw. Which is awesome. I can’t remember the last film that made me work so hard to piece together the narrative, which I think is a great thing. Maybe The Tree of Life was the last one.

I love films that play with time, experimenting with new ways of arranging things temporally. Tarkovsky said cinema is “sculpting in time,” and I think he is right. Films can take us back and forth hours, days, years and (in the case of The Tree of Life) millennia, in the span of minutes of screen time. Cinema of all the arts, I believe, is most well-equipped to do interesting things with the story vs. plot, or, as the Russian formalists call it, the fabula vs. sjuzhet. Story/fabula refers to the actual happenings, in chronological order, of the story one is telling. Plot/sjuzhet refers to the what we see on screen, sometimes in fragmented or non-chronological order. When I was drawing diagrams for Looper (which, appropriately, ended up looking like loops), I was trying to reconcile the plot and story. Some may not enjoy doing the work to “figure out” a film in this way, but I do.

Looper is more than just a brain-teasing intellectual exercise, however. It has some excellent action sequences and great tension, and some pretty interesting thematic ideas about nature/nurture, violence, fate and parenting. I’d say it’s the best time travel-related action film since at least Terminator 2, and certainly one of the most satisfying films of the year thus far.

Below: My diagram to make sense of the story/plot immediately after watching the film.