All posts in Letter From 2011

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Letter From 2011 (part 3.. The Final Installment)

A few months ago,  a letter began circulating the interwebs positing a vision of the future four years into Obama’s presidency.  It is a bleak picture to say the least.  As I read the letter, I am particularly struck by the sense of hopeless that undergirds the writer’s ideas.  Believe me when I say it is not the politial opinions of the writer that I am responding to, but the quiet idea that if we don’t have “our guy” in the White House, we have lost something of our cause.

So, just as was the case with the last two installments, I have been writing a fictional letter from the future, not so much as a defense of Obama but more a call to a more Christian handling of politics and history… one rooted in hope rather than fear. It seemed appropriate to post the last installment on the day of the inauguration.

Because of the length of the total piece, I broke it up into a three parts. Here is the promised continuation (part 2) of the “Letter From 2011″…you can find the other installments under listed under “Letter from 2011.”

Without further au juice, I give you the final installment of the nail-biting thriller “Letter from 2011.” Closed captioning unnecessary.

Education
…Sacramento Mayer Kevin Johnson and DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee have set a hopeful tone for public schools throughout the US.  Johnson with the success of his St. Hope Academy.  The overall impact of charter schools nationwide has given energy to a system that desperately needed a shot in the arm.  We’ve also seen a reconstituted effort to invest in the arts with academies and while public education still has miles of roadwork ahead, the map looks somewhat clearer than before.

Military Policy/Foreign Policy/A Changing Global Landscape
Following the lead of Ahmed Maher and the April 6th community in Egypt, the online community in Iran and Afghanistan has made it’s youthful, energetic and politically moderate presence felt.  Over social networking sites like Facebook, dissenting voices from these countries have formed bonds with other users all over the globe, drumming up sentiment and support.

Similarly in Afghanistan,  Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh’s “Prison Letters”, which, despite the best efforts of a repressive government, continue to make their way onto the internet and are now being published internationally.  Originally sentenced to death for openly questioning the treatment of women within Islam, his sentence was (mercifully?) lessened to twenty years imprisonment.  He immediately began writing and somehow these letters continue to find their way out of the prisons and onto the computer monitors of an enormous and growing Muslim populace.  Popular rumor is that many of Sayed’s own prison guards have been swayed by his writing and are assisting in the release of each document.

In Iran, Ahmadinejad’s presidency is loosing footing among neighboring Arab nations and even more-so among his own citizens. Much of which has to do with maturation of the generation coming of age now in Iran.  The hushed tones of quiet grumbling among a generation who, four or five years ago, was still too young to effect much change, has become the constant harangue of Iran’s largest demographic.  While these young men and women certainly aren’t looking to replicate a particularly American way of living, they are not the least bit anti-western and have a vision for a more globally integrated Iran.  The cautious and oftentimes nervous patience of the EU and the US is starting to pay off.

Joseph Cirincione’s contribution has also paid major dividends as he has been instrumental in brokering de-proliferation agreements between several nuclear powers, beginning with the US and including Iran.  Fewer nukes means a safer world… period.

What I am most stuck by in all of this is the underlying historical truth that when revolutionary, redemptive ideas finally do make their way onto the public stage, we often find that far more than we thought share those ideas.   The efforts to suppress revolutionary ideas never last as long as the ideas do and the same goes for the repressive regimes themselves.

Another effect of the connectedness of people over the internet is that the public categorization of whole nations as “evil” or even “good” is a political game whose day has likely seen its last.  The tone set by the Obama white-house in this area has been very helpful but once again, the shrinking world has meant citizens of greatly divergent nations growing to know one another more personally and more completely.  We are, all of us, growing more comfortable with complexity and closeness.  The international  community has ceased to accept “because they hate us” as a viable explanation for or justification of international conflict and even local violence.

Unfortunately, The US pullout from Iraq was not what some had hoped.  There is more of a US military presence remaining in Iraq than many congressional Dems expected.  Still, the Iraqi people have responded to the pullout in mainly positive ways.  Unqualified support from the US had the positive effect of helping the Maliki government deal militarily with its strongest military foes (including the Sadr movement).  Yet the adverse effect was that the open-endedness of the US commitment allowed a lackadaisical  approach to Iraq’s long term development.  Life is still quite trying in Iraq, but the worm is turning and it is turning on the will of the Iraqi people.

Brother, I know I don’t need to convince you of this but there are forces working in the world whose influence and reach is much greater than that of America.  Some call it the Force of History, some Progressive Social Evolution,.. I choose to see it as the Hand of the Divine.

The Economy and The Poor
Financially, this has been one of the most difficult times in most of our memories.  The market has yet to stay above 9,500 for very long despite the recovery of major sectors of industry as well as new growth in others.  There is fear that the accelerated growth in green industry will only end in a bursting of the “green bubble” much as we had seen with previous patterns in tech.  We’ll see how that plays out.  In the meantime, the largest sector of job growth nationwide has been with companies like Amyris with whom I know you finally applied; good call.  I always thought the “Men’s Bakeware” idea was better left an idea and glad you didn’t pursue it.

In light of the hard times we’ve seen, there have been a few very positive repercussions.  For instance, the decline in overall consumer spending has definitely had it’s down side, but it also has meant that we’re beginning to learn to live more simply.  It began with some simple things in my case, like making coffee at home and cooking more often, but has extended to my spending habits overall.

I read a report detailing how the physical size of the average house has started leveling out after years of fostering our tendency to take up far more space than we need.  Sales of consumer electronics have taken something of a hit as well.  In fact, Kansas City artist Dylan Mortimer recently installed a piece in downtown Kansas City whose centerpiece is the 120 inch plasma television Sony produced just a year previous.  The piece is comical and powerful all at once, entitled “Nothing’s On.”  You, as one of the few guys who held on to his tube television until the bitter end, are going to love it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a trend of generosity has grown out of our financial hardship.  Once again, concern for the poor in Africa, South America and India has begun to take root here in our own neighborhoods, particularly among a generation whose lifestyle is simpler and less encumbered, influenced by the popularity of “The New Monasticism” and voices like Shane Claiborne.

Meanwhile, during the last few years middle-income Americans have faced some of the questions low-income Americans have always wrestled with (long-term savings, retirement fears, end of the month bills) and this tension has given birth to a sense of solidarity, you might say.  I’ve watched several friends whose live were turned upside down financially who have gotten back on their feet with a renewed commitment to use their time and treasure more redemptively.  Donations to local shelters as well as commitments to child sponsorship programs like Compassion International have spiked, which few would have seen coming when the “financial crisis” first hit.

Open Source Industry
David Rowe’s telecom model and Massimo Banzi’s Arduino board have quite literally opened the door to a new direction for industry worldwide.  The term “Open Source” has become as much a buzzword as “Green” ever was and equally important.  The level of creativity and innovation we are seeing in the tech world is exciting and unparalleled.  The sharing of ideas and designs among Open Source enthusiasts has breathed a vibrant new life into the DIY spirit of America in particular where, even the products and programs teenagers are developing have been both useful and profitable globally.

Of course some of what is being produced is a bit over the top but that comes with the territory, I suppose.

In Closing
Before I end the letter, I wanted to offer a couple words of wisdom from the few that I have.

First, is that while Obama’s platform was “Change” and the expectations he entered office with were rather over-dramatized, we’re all coming to grips with the fact that change happens slowly.  Always too slowly.  After three years what we are seeing is still more or less a shift in trajectory rather than a flamboyant revolution.  I suppose the very fact that there as many inspired and active communities as there are is something of a dramatic change itself.  Perhaps that’s the most important kind of change a democracy can see; the investment of its people.

Second and more importantly, I’ve learned a great deal about hope.  Specifically, that hope is a choice we make.  Hope is what we read into the future.  It is infused into the days we see before us by our wills and is rooted in our dreams.  I’ve realized that to look blankly at the destructive patterns currently at hand and extrapolate the future is to rule out not only the influence of our better selves but also the goodness of the God.  So, take hope; not because there is evidence of it but because there seldom is and because in order to remain human, we must.


Sincerely and in Love from The FUTURE,
Hiro Nakamura


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Letter From 2011 (part 2)

This is the second part of my response to a fictional letter recently posted online which outlined a vision of the America well on its way to ruin just four years into Obama’s presidency.  I felt somewhat compelled to respond to the letter’s sense of hopeless and to the quiet idea that if we don’t have “our guy” in the White House, we have lost something of our cause.

So, just as was the case with the last installment, I am writing a fictional letter  of my own; also from the future (2011).  My piece is not a defense of Obama so much as it is a call to a more Christian handling of politics and history… one rooted in hope rather than fear.

Because of the length of the total piece, It will be broken it up into a three parts. Here is the promised continuation (part 2) of the “Letter From 2011″…you can find the other installments under listed under “Letter from 2011.”

Religious Speech in the Public Square
Earning the right to be heard” has become a mantra of sorts among mainstream christian communities.  With the slow passing of the voices who had previously represented christendom on the public stage, the Church’s marginalization has been read quite differently.  Gabe Lyons’s followup to “Un-Christian,” a book he wisely titled “They’re Not Listening,” helped frame a more complex and still more complete picture of dialogue between the religious and non-religious.  “One can only instruct and lead a person so far as that person knows he is loved,” Lyons writes “That same principle is true of our culture and our world.”  As uncomfortable as the notion has been, we’re learning that we are marginalized because we have not loved well.  As Lyons writes it, 
“Our case is no less urgent, the Truth no less compelling… but we must attend to our posture, our position and our authority, which we do not have by rights… we must earn it.”

Many campus ministry organizations on college and high school campuses have become centers for transformational social action.  This shift away from prosthelization has left many hard-line evangelicals worried, particularly those who have held to the compartmentalization of religious practice; those among us who have yet to see the deep ties between evangelism and social justice or social activity and personal worship for that matter.  In an unfortunate example of this misunderstanding, my eldest son was recently met with some hostility at his youth group stemming from an event his Social Justice chapter put together in conjunction with the Muslim Students Union.  The groups teamed up on a Saturday morning for what they called a “Beautiful Day” project.  They had compiled a list of simple maintenance projects they could do at their campus (painting, planting, trash-pick-up, etc… ) and about 40 of them worked an afternoon at the campus.  One of the other parents pulled him aside after he talked about the event at youth group and reprimanded him for his “partnership with Muslims”; telling him that he had “compromised the Gospel” or something along those lines.  J____’s answer was perfect: “If you knew any Muslims yourself, or had ever picked up a piece of trash from my school’s campus, I might be more interested in your opinion.”

Abortion
In the area of abortion, it seems that we continue to take a step forward and another one back; much as it has been for decades now.  Optimistically, there has been a movement to meet in areas where we see eye to eye and can work together and while there is still a goodly sized faction on either side who are still more interested in locking horns with each-other than accomplishing anything, I’ve been personally inspired by the way leadership and the christian community has helped to build bridges for people to cross.  We’ve seen a slight decline in the number of abortions nationally and a greater decline globally as conditions of extreme poverty have been greatly improved, most dramatically in nations such as Brazil, Russia, China and India.

It is from this link between global poverty and abortion is where I’ve seen the most powerful activity in christian leadership.  As the younger populace has been mobilized to give themselves to the cause of Justice and Compassion, something has shifted in their hearts in the area of abortion.  Case in point: recently, a popular young blogger calling himself “Icarus” posted a piece entitled “A Consistent Ethic Of Life.”  He points back to a lot of Pope John Paul II’s writing around Catholic Social Teaching but ultimately tells his own story about his desire to defend the rights of poor and oppressed children leading him to make a case for the unborn as well.  It’s a story shared by a much larger populace than you might imagine.  The commitment to the preservation and defense of life, beginning for many with social justice, has extended to the unborn.  This larger sense of the sanctity of life has birthed a cohesive story among our young, prophetic brethren.  It is a story the culture at large has been intrigued by; as they are less putt off by the old hypocrisy of a Pro-Life platform that had consistently included a support of a nearly blind system of capital punishment and a general lack of sensitivity to war.

Television
Hulu and other media services have forever altered the way we watch television.  Not to mention entertainment software like Boxee.  I know very few people who haven’t made the switch to one or another of the new generation media.  YouTube’s launch of their own television service has been met with a flood of users as well as advertisers which has opened the door for creative new programming models.  Not only has the shift meant a greater consumer control in general, it has also meant a greater content control for parents.  Even ad spots between segments are cleaner and more appropriate to the demographic of each user and in some cases is decided by the user’s preferences upon registration.

Speaking of television, you’d be interested to know that season 10 of “24” got really weird again.  Jack was once again exiled for punching the president in the nose but ended up in Belgium this time, where he found himself wrapped up in some kind of waffle-smuggling thing… Last night, he actually shot a waffle in the leg… it had no information.

Another interesting note on entertainment: The porn industry has been rocked by what is being called the “New Feminism.”  Women in droves have turned out to rail against the exploitation of their gender.  Internet campaigns, conferences and rallies have served to make theme “Take Back Beauty” one of the more visible and recognizable slogans in pop culture.  Some very unlikely hollywood personalities, women and men, have become the campaign’s face.  It seems to be taking some effect, as well.  Ad agencies have shown clear trends of moving away from the use of big-breasted women to sell products; bending to the pressure applied by masses upon masses of these angered and enlightened women.  The sexual “expression” that was at one point seen as feminine empowerment has been turned inside out.  It’s been quite a sight.”

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Letter From 2011 (part 1)

For any of y’all that missed it, a prominent figure in christian leadership recently wrote a vision of the future four years into Obama’s presidency.  It is a bleak picture.  As I read the letter, the word “hopeless” came to mind several times.  Now, I will seldom begrudge anyone their political opinions, even though I may strongly disagree.  That said, I do begrudge the use fear to influence behavior.

In the preface to the original letter, the Apostle Paul is referenced, which led me to seek the words of Paul, myself.  Reading some of the most quoted words the apostle ever wrote (1 Corinthians 13:1-15), I was struck by a kind of newness (as often happens with Holy Text).

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part,.. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

A vision of the future is hardly a vision of clarity as it is possibility.  Now, the original writer does preface his dark vision, saying “This letter is not “predicting” that all of the imaginative future “events” named in this letter will happen. But it is saying that each one of these changes could happen”  But that leads me to the last bit of Paul’s instruction in this area:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

While the greatest of the three remaining principles or ideas is love, hope, nonetheless remains.  Hopelessness is not a characteristic of the christian life; nor a christian vision of the future.

There is quite a bit to the letter, so I will post in in parts.

This is part 1:
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Dear friend,

I just got back from singing the National Anthem at the ball-game.   Boy, the A’s look really good this year.  Trading Chavez looks like the best move Beane has made since picking up Holiday a few years ago.

I get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat every time I sing that song, particularly seeing the way citizens over the past few years have really grown into being “the home of the brave”… taking more and more ownership of their families, communities, neighborhoods and cities; becoming less dependent on political or even religious machinery.

That is perhaps the most striking change since the ’08 election: the level of citizen involvement.  Specifically the involvement of large segments of the populace who had previously thought themselves unwanted by or excluded from the process.  I’m not just talking about minorities, although that’s a story by itself.  What has moved me has been the sheer numbers of young people; college, high-school and even younger, who have committed themselves to social and cultural renewal both globally and locally,… man, it’s hard to paint a picture anywhere near as striking as reality.

Of course, the Dems wants to claim this energy for its own but it had roots far deeper than Obama and the DNC.  Admittedly, Obama’s presidency has continued to be a driving force behind public involvement.  After the election, Hope In Action clusters formed all over the US, mainly made up of and led by folks who had volunteered on the Obama campaign originally.  The service programs Obama’s office offered gave some structure and direction to the energized masses, but the heart to serve had been shaped by much more than peoples’ political orientation.

Same Sex “Marriage”
After the uproar in California over proposition 8, there grew a greater and more tragic divide between the homosexual community and the Church, or at least much of the Church.  Court case after court case, protest after protest, the violence (sometimes physical) was embarrassing and damaging to the image of the people of God and to the health of our nation.  Much of the same activity continues to make headlines.  Even this week, a protest outside one neighborhood church turned ugly.  Now, depending on the news source, the story of who started the fighting differs.  What is certain is that this was one more example of a method which soon must pass.

There is still so much healing to be done, but we are seeing pockets all over where this healing is starting. The question many started asking from within the Body was “Is there a more compelling way to make the case for marriage?  Why does this have to look different than the case we make for any other facet of the christian life?”

The fears of some among us that same-sex marriage would “unravel the fabric of our nation” have gone rather conspicuously unmet to date.  Now, while multiple court cases in multiple states have yet to be settled and I am rather certain that this conversation/argument will go on, yet we’ve seen very little evidence that the doomsday scenarios will play out, particularly in public ed, where educators have resisted any suggestion that redefinition of “family” or “marriage” is ever going to be part of the curriculum.

Ultimately, the hope on both “sides” has become the same; that the government would get out of the business of marrying people and dole out “unions” only.  I used to think this was only a matter of semantics, but I’ve learned that words carry deep meaning both culturally and spiritually.

One of the harder aspects of the turn America has taken in this area has been the deep disillusionment among christians regarding the State’s concern for religious matters.  Few recognized how deeply seeded the nationalist sentiment was in the heart of our faith; how closely we had drawn the parallel identity of “American” with “Christian” and how confused our allegiances had become. It has been painful for many to have that seed removed and among them there are those who have abandoned the faith overall.  That said, many have called it an “awakening” of sorts.  I tend to agree.