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I’m exhausted

Here’s my February column for the Holland Sentinel…

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by the news.

The House impeachment hearings, the Senate impeachment trial, the 2020 presidential campaign, the Iowa caucuses, the State of the Union address, the daily drama of it all—it’s too much. I find myself talking back to the TV, which can’t be healthy. I do it even if no one else is in the room. I also grumble aloud while reading the newspaper, mostly animal sounds, not actual words. Frankly, I don’t recognize myself anymore.

I did a news cleanse after Christmas and spent a wonderful week in California with my children and grandchildren. I glanced briefly at the headlines in the morning because, well, I get up earlier than anyone else and couldn’t help myself, but I spent most days playing, laughing, and being silly, which seems to delight the grandchildren, if not their parents. I can’t wait until next year.

But now I’m right back to old habits, as if there had been no cleanse and no detox. I don’t dare look away.

I’m old enough to remember the Richard Nixon impeachment drama. I was on the editorial staff of my college newspaper at the time. Hardly an issue went out without an editorial, filled with outrage, calling for Nixon’s impeachment or, even better, his resignation. There were no more surprised people in the country than our tiny staff when the president announced his resignation on August 8, 1974. I forget what there was to editorialize about over the following months.

Strangely, though, I don’t remember feeling stressed by any of that Nixon impeachment drama. What I remember was feeling delighted when Gerald R. Ford became president. The excitement was short-lived, but real. Ford was from my hometown, after all, and he was my Congressman. I had even received a letter from him congratulating me on my high school graduation. (I was somewhat deflated when I found out that all other graduates received the same letter.)

I know I’m not alone in feeling whatever it is I’m feeling these days. The American Psychological Association, in a recent study, found that “the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress” for more than half of Americans (57 percent).

According to a Pew Research Center study, almost seven-in-ten Americans feel worn out by the amount of news there is these days, compared with only three-in-ten who say they like the amount of news they get.

Apparently, people on both ends of the political spectrum express news fatigue, but Republicans report more of it than Democrats. Once again, according to Pew, 77 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Republican-leaning independents feel worn out by it all, while only 60 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Democratic-leaning independents are feeling elevated levels of fatigue.

What’s puzzling about all of this is that I’m feeling so bad at a time when the economy is so good. I should be a lot happier than I am, shouldn’t I? The stock market is up, unemployment is down, and TVs are really, really cheap. It doesn’t get much better than that.

And yet, the stress I feel is real. I wake up each morning wondering what new tweet, accusation, or outrage that I need to be concerned about. I watch the panels of experts on the cable news programs offering their opinions, competing with each other for screen time, and I’m tired of it. Even the late-night talk shows offer mostly political humor, which is hardly relaxing.

I know from previous experience that Sentinel readers will try to be helpful at this point. Suggestions will be offered by email, and personal experiences will be shared. Someone will write and say, “Here is what I have found to be helpful.” “Turn it off entirely,” they will say, “or at least limit screen time, which is what we do with our children (except on Saturday mornings when we want to sleep late).” And all of that would be good advice too, if this were the sort of issue that could be resolved by making a few behavioral changes.

But my sense is that those few behavioral changes are not enough to address this particular problem. The problem is deeper; the causes are more profound. Something is wrong with us, something I can’t quite put my finger on, and it won’t be fixed any time soon, not even with an election.

I am generally a hopeful person, which is different from being an optimistic person. I am able to face each day, no matter the circumstances in my own life or in the country, because my life is grounded in hope. I attribute my hopefulness of course to my faith. But the hope with which I have lived my life has never felt as threatened as it does right now.

Photo: Am not sure what to say about that, except that I sometimes get bored while listening to the docent during castle tours.


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The Courage to Tell the Truth

Here’s my January column for the Holland Sentinel…

I admire people who tell the truth. But I especially admire people who tell the truth when they do so at the risk of personal loss. Losing a job, for example.

So, I admire Napp Nazworth, the former editor of The Christian Post who resigned last week from a position he has held since 2011. Announcing his departure, he said he could not in good conscience continue with a magazine that, as he put it, was “joining Team Trump.” As I understand it, he has two children about to enter high school, and now, at least for the moment, he is unemployed. I call that courage. I would like to think that I would have been able to do what he did. Continue Reading →

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No more let sins and sorrows grow…

creation groans

(reprinted from December 24, 2013)

Romans 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

I’m aware this Christmas Eve 2013 that I am joining with Christians all around the world, millions and millions of us, to wait patiently, though groaning inwardly, for God to complete what was started in Bethlehem a long, long time ago.

Come, Lord Jesus.

I wish all of my readers a very merry Christmas and a joy-filled new year.

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The inspiring example of Fred Rogers

Here’s my December column for the Holland Sentinel…

Applications to Presbyterian seminaries have surged in the last week, following the release of “A Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood,” a new movie about Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian pastor best known for his popular PBS television series “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Admissions offices at several Presbyterian seminaries have reported that they are struggling to keep up with a record number of inquiries. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Anthony Rivera, long-time director of admissions at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian school where Fred Rogers received his master of divinity degree.

Just kidding. I’m making this up. The last I heard, applications are trending down at most seminaries, not just the Presbyterian ones.

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The annual Christmas letter

Advent 2019

Dear family and friends,

No one who knows me will be surprised to learn that I crammed an entire retirement’s worth of activity into my first full year. It’s hard to imagine that there will still be one or two things left to do.

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Reading the comment section in online news

Here’s my Holland Sentinel column for November. If you do not live near the Great Lakes, you may not know that lake levels are near or at record highs. The Army Corps of Engineers is predicting that lake levels will continue to increase into next year. Together with powerful storms, lake levels have caused dramatic erosion along the coast line, with many lakefront homes now in danger of falling into the lake. My column reflects on readers’ reactions to newspaper articles about this situation.

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Letter from Lucerne, Switzerland

Here’s my October column for the Holland Sentinel…

The Swiss like to shake hands. They like a firm handshake with lots of eye contact. In Switzerland, it’s considered rude not to shake hands with everyone before leaving a social gathering, even if doing so requires a considerable amount of time.

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“How are you enjoying Holland?”

Here’s my September column for the Holland Sentinel…

“How are you enjoying Holland?” my dentist wanted to know last week at my annual checkup.

I had been a new patient only a year ago, so the question was an appropriate one. However, with his fingers exploring my mouth, I couldn’t do much more than nod and give a thumbs up. I want to give a fuller answer here: I’m enjoying it very much. Thank you for asking.

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The moral urgency of “plastic or paper?”

Here’s my August column for the Holland Sentinel:

“Paper or plastic?” the person at the grocery cash register asked, without looking up (or saying hello).

“I brought my own bags,” I said, proudly, holding them up for her to see. And with that, of course, she looked up—to get a good look at the tree-hugging Green Panther standing in front of her.

I’ll never know if I fit her image of an environmentalist, because she quickly looked down again and began to scan my items before placing them in my reusable bags.

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Living with meaning and purpose

Here is my July column for the Holland Sentinel…

I’m still not sure how it happened, but one day I woke up and, curiously, I was retired. Of course I had planned for it, as much as it’s possible to plan for something like retirement. And I recognize that not everyone gets to choose the actual date and get ready for it. So, I am grateful for that.

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