We Americans sure do love experts.

It’s been at least a generation since the image of an “expert” was the archetypal man in a suit and tie…but we generally still trust him.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing, maybe it’s a human thing. But I find that we spend a lot of time seeking out people who can tell us the way things are, the way the wind is blowing, or the way things ought to be.

No doubt, we need people with specialized knowledge. But I also find that in my life, I have to limit the number of experts that have influence over me. I cannot listen to everyone. 


Because experts contradict each other. If you are an expert in your field, the best thing you can do for your career is to have a contrary opinion. All of a sudden, you’ll be making the rounds on all the cable news outlets. And the rest of us are left to make petty arguments over the internet over which expert is more “expertly,” which is especially useful when it comes to topics that cannot really be proven.

Experts are often surprised, which in my mind, kind of undoes the veneer of “expertise.” Now, I value the pursuit of new knowledge, and celebrate when experts acknowledge that they have learned something new. (To see the excitement on the faces at NASA over the Pluto photographs was pretty cool.) But when a group of experts is constantly surprised, it tells me that they aren’t really that knowledgable. They have just been given the authority to sound knowledgable.

And finally, I limit the number of experts who are in my life on a very personal level, because I need a sense of discovery in my life. Remember when we were teenagers and our parents had to tell us not to do reckless things? Some people in the adult world think that they need to play that part with other adults. It’s strange but true. These people have written no books, they host no television or radio shows. But they are self-appointed experts. And you and I sometimes need to get them out of our lives. They are the friends who spoil the end of the movie, or the co-worker who is always giving reasons why an idea won’t work. What makes that person such a prophet?

Nothing. They are just cynical, and their cynicism is disguised as wisdom.


Be careful about the experts in your life. Not all of them are really authorities. Some people just crave authority, though they have no way to actually earn it.

So take stock of the people you are listening to. Do they know what they are talking about? If not, then it might be time to jettison them and sail in a new direction.

Just looking at my social media feed, it seems apparent that everyone is in on the sudden push to ban the Confederate flag from public confederateview. People cannot speak out fast enough in order to show that they are on the bandwagon.

I thought we were all in on the conversation…but then there you are, guy with a Confederate flag in your truck.

There are many of you, even here in the Midwest, which surprises me a little bit.

Your flags take many forms, usually displayed in the back window of your vehicle. Some of them are in the form of Chevy or Ford logos or are paired with some of your favorite brands. Sometimes, the flag is on your mudflaps or a bumper sticker.

So, guy who still keeps a Confederate flag on his truck, here is the thing:

For better or worse, I already know everything I need to know about you.

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In a few weeks, my students will return to school. I’ve been in and out of my classroom throughout the summer, working on big plans.

I worry for my students, the same way I worry for my own child. I worry about the world that they will have to live with, the world that is being created today.

I know I’m not the only one who is worried. Studies show that most of us are worried. What has become of our culture in the last thirty or fifty years?

Are we a more civilized people than we were a generation ago?

Are we more educated and enlightened?

Are we more understanding of one another?

Are we more ambitious?

Are we a more peaceful people?

I have to say that I think we are not any of those things. For whatever progress we have made, it seems to me that Americans in particular are less than they used to be on all measures of virtue. We are less knowledgeable about the world and people around us. We are more isolated and divided.

There is a reason that Donald Trump is ahead in the polls, and I don’t think it illustrates a small part of our culture. If the Democrats had a counterpart to Trump, he would be just as popular. Why? Because we like politicians that draw on our fears. We like to draw lots of lines, lines which tell us who is on our side and who is the enemy.

Lines make us feel secure. Lines make us feel safe.

We draw lines on politics, on theology, and every other issue.

Lines, lines, lines.

I tell my students every time we are about to start drawing to draw lightly. Why?

Because it’s easier to draw a line than it is to erase it.

But it is hard for students to pull the pencil gently on the paper. It is hard for them to draw lines which can be easily removed if they turn out to be wrong. Their instinct is to press hard, to grind the graphite into the paper, to make an indelible mark on the first pass.

And when they try to erase, they cannot. The line remains.

By contrast, the only line we see Jesus ever drawing was in the dust. A dust line, that could be easily removed.

And yet, most of us still make lines like we did when we were kids. We pull out our pencil and make a careless line that we never think about again and cannot erase.


I am concerned about our culture, because we have increasingly stopped being a society of people, and become more of a culture of us and them.

I think it’s my mission to erase a few lines today.

Maybe you could do the same.

Way to "engage" with the culture.

Way to “engage” with the culture.

Over the last few weeks, my social media feeds have been filled with plenty of Christians trying to discern how the church will “respond” to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

Most of the responses are based on fear.

Most of the responses belie an “attack and defend” concept of the church.

There are plenty of Christians who think the American church is on the ropes, that we are very close to becoming a persecuted minority. Soon, pastors will be forced to perform weddings they do not agree with, churches will lose their tax exemptions, and perhaps even worse consequences will occur. Cultural influencers publicly cry that there are thousands of pastors willing to “die” for this cause.

And you know what I can now conclusively say?

All of these responses, based on fear, defensively postured, conceptualized as “attack and defend” are kind of pathetic.

And if your church is responding this way, it’s kind of pathetic too.

Here’s why.

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Over the last few years, I’ve taken a minor interest as the debate over women nursing in public periodically resurfaces.enhanced-32750-1391391832-2

However, as my wife has been nursing our infant son over the last six months, the issue has taken a new dimension for us. More than once, we have found ourselves without a comfortable place for her to feed him. Several meals have taken place in the car (he is an American after all, and Americans eat in their cars.) We have even been unable to find a proper nursing room in a hospital, a children’s hospital. (It was suggested by a female security guard that we use a bathroom. More on that later.)

What has interested me most, however, has been the feelings we are torn between as we search for suitable feeding spots. Part of me wants her to just plop down on a bench any place we please and let ‘er rip. The other part of me is more sensible and knows that our son doesn’t feed well with distractions.

We also know that we are a microcosm of a cultural debate about the place of female bodies in general. And in general, I think we are getting it wrong.

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When I was a kid, the first thing we did at school every day was recite the Pledge of Allegiance with our teacher.

Hands over hearts.

I’m not really sure we completely understood what we were saying. But we said it because that’s what you do.

As far as I know, Coca-Cola has been working on you and I since we were the same age or younger, creating brand loyal, lifelong customers. You’re either a “Coke” person or a “Pepsi” person.

We pledge our allegiance…to a soft drink brand.

Can you imagine that soft drink brands got to us before our country did?

I’m pretty sure many of us are Apple loyalists. I cannot imagine switching sides at this point. Our cellular providers know that our allegiance mostly comes down to necessity, which is why I’m sure all of our bills are going up exponentially.

There are people who are loyal to a brand of car. Many of us have allegiance and pride for the cities we live in. We have allegiances to sports teams (usually based on their geographical location, which is an odd thing in and of itself, but it taps into the basest caveman instincts for tribalism. “Me like these guys who hit the thing with the thing because they live here. Me hate those other guys who hit the thing with the thing because they live there.”)

We are told to be loyal to party politics, one of the most poisonous forces in our culture. How many of you feel like either you changed or the labels “conservative” and “liberal” did?

And as a pastor, I saw just how hard it is to enjoy peoples’ allegiance in church. Every week, something took people away.

Jesus told his followers that allegiance to him cannot be shared with money. Either you serve money, or you serve him. On another occasion, he drew a line between Caesar and God.

But we live in a world of distraction, and every distraction vies for our undying loyalty, our little pledges of allegiance (or at least a two-year contract.)

I thought about my complicated relationship with the Pledge of Allegiance this weekend, while I enjoyed celebrating. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy being an American. But being an American and pledging allegiance is really nothing more than a nifty little motto for most of us. Our lives are filled with much nearer forces that want to consume our lives, enjoy our undying loyalty.

Our allegiance is marked by what is in our pockets, in our stomachs, on our wrists, or in our earphones.



How excited do we get when we have bought the newest gadget from our favorite brand? Does it compare to the excitement we feel for things that truly matter?