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I had no problems finding the Daily Grind coffeehouse in Fulton. It’s right across the street from a church where Drea and I have some friends and where we visit occasionally. I showed up around 8:10 to grab a coffee and a good seat before 8:30 when things were to begin. I was half-expecting a sizable crowd, so I was pleasantly surprised when only a handful of people showed up. A few of us figured out that we were there for the same thing, so we introduced ourselves and exchanged the usual friendly small talk before McLaren arrived.

It doesn’t take much more than Google-ing Brian McLaren’s name to realize that he’s one of the most controversial Christians in the public eye today. His books about faith, postmodernism, and the emerging church have stirred the pot, to say the least. His demeanor, however, wouldn’t suggest this. An average-looking, middle-aged, bald guy with glasses, McLaren has a warm disposition; soft-spoken, sensitive, contemplative, the kind of guy you can tell is really listening to you.

A few more have arrived at this point, and McLaren begins by having us introduce ourselves. I realize I’m surrounded by a very diverse group of Christians, including two Lutherans, one Presbyterian, one Jewish-Episcopalian, one Eastern Orthodox, and two Southern Baptists (of which I’m one…technically).

After introductions, I’m thinking McLaren’s just going to open up the floor to anyone who wants to discuss something. Instead, he looks right at me and says something like, “Drew, is it? You look like you’ve got something on your mind.”

Say whaaa…?

Once I get over the fact that this guy who’s been the subject of Time Magazine articles just addressed me directly, I share my questions and reflections, as we all do. While I imagined this would be more of a Q & A, “meet the author” type thing, it was much more informal. The eight of us just kind of sat there talking for like two hours, drinking our coffee as the snow fell outside. It was awesome. 

It’s true (and not surprising) that McLaren’s been called a heretic. We tend to dislike it when a person calls our way of thinking into question, and it’s easy to write that person off if they’re questioning a belief that’s been in place for a long time. I imagine that the religious establishment is irritated by McLaren the same way they were irritated by Luther’s 95 theses, Galileo’s rejection of the earth-centered universe model, or Civil War era Christians who didn’t believe that the Bible condoned slavery. My theory is that Western Christians like myself call McLaren a heretic because he believes that certain beliefs and practices of Western Christianity are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. That’s a pretty bold statement, and while I’ve never heard (or read) McLaren be unkind or self-righteous about it, he certainly doesn’t mince words. That’s the kind of thing that will get you labeled a heretic.

With that said, I myself don’t agree with everything McLaren believes, but I do think he’s onto something good. One thing I completely agree with him on is that we need some “new wineskins” for the Gospel in our postmodern culture, and we may even need to rethink what the Gospel truly is in the first place. After all, can anyone deny that the Church has severely misinterpreted the message of Jesus in the past, and even the present?

I appreciate McLaren’s willingness to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers. He’s been criticized by fundamentalist types for his “ambiguity” and “vagueness”. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but honestly, I don’t think any of us have all the answers, and I think many us pretend to have answers to things we don’t have them for. And, come to think of it, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we relied a little less on pastors and Christian authors to spoon-feed us the truth. I’m just speculating here, but I wonder if McLaren is being intentionally vague not to confuse us, but to pique our curiosity and invite deeper exploration through prayer and Scripture reading?

In any case, there are some things that McLaren is not ambiguous about. In fact, he addresses some issues that Evangelicals seem strangely apathetic to: poverty, racial prejudice, environmental stewardship, post-9/11 Muslim relations, peace, justice. In this vein, he’s making a clear statement: that Christianity isn’t just about going to heaven after you die, that it also matters what happens here and now. Salvation is for reconciliation with God, but also with each other.

For some reason (Christian subculture, perhaps?), these two dimensions of the Gospel seem at odds with each other. If you emphasize only the individual dimension, you’re labeled a fundamentalist. If you emphasize only the social dimension, you’re labeled a liberal. No doubt McLaren’s books address the latter more heavily, but I think it’s worth considering that his target audience might be those of us Christians that have always emphasized the former too heavily. If by laying it on thick from the social side he can bring those on the individual side into a more balanced view, perhaps he will have succeeded.

I’ve certainly benefited from his books. They’ve caused me to think about things I might not have otherwise; his writings about the kingdom of God have been particularly meaningful and enriching for me. If you’re interested, I would recommend reading them with a lot of prayerful consideration and definitely an open mind. (I loved A Generous Orthodoxy, if you’re looking for a place to start!)

Sorry if my thoughts are little scatter-brained here. Evidently I lack the discipline to better organize them! In any case, I hope none of this is misinterpreted as a full-fledged endorsement of McLaren. I guess my main point is that he’s worth checking out. If you already have, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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A quick “plus and minus” recap of our weekend:

  • Left Valentine’s Day gift for Drea at work. Husband fail. (-)
  • Finished Season 4 of Lost on DVD. So much more gratifying to watch episodes back to back. (+)
  • Contact lens debacle Saturday morning. In half-awake state, rinsed my lenses with disinfectant instead of saline solution. Talk about burn. (-)
  • Nice ride with Tom and Renata up to western MD; enjoyed novelty of driving on Beltway and I-270 without will-to-live-sucking traffic. (+)
  • Skied at Whitetail with Tom. Fulfilled need to ski at least once a year. (+)
  • Drea and Renata shopped at Hagerstown outlets while Tom and I skied. Everyone wins! (+)
  • Tom forgot gloves. $50 at ski shop. (-)
  • I forgot ski goggles/sunglasses. $30 at ski shop. (-)
  • Pretty much got taken for a ride by monopoly-exploiting jerks at ski shop. (-)
  • Multiple skiing fails on my part. Highlights: not going fast enough to make it over ski jump, sliding backwards down ski jump, almost getting taken out by snowboarder behind me, coming to painful grips with shocking degree of my imcompetence, AND skiing into a fence. Not the wooden kind, the orange plastic safety net kind. But still. (-)
  • Later redeemed myself by nailing a double black diamond. Boo-ya. (+)
  • Met up with Smizz in Hagerstown after skiing/shopping excursions. (+)
  • Tried to see Mall Cop. Sold out. (-)
  • Saw Coraline instead. Good, but freaking weird and definitely not for kids, despite PG rating. (+)
  • Smizz took us to a great little place called Cafe del Sol for dinner. Salsa, nachos, Yuengling, and meat-lover’s calzone. Delish. (+)
  • Starbucks for the ride back home. (+)
  • Sore muscles the next day. Self-loathe for not being in better shape and having to groan like an old man every time I stand or sit. (-)
  • Who cares? Our weekend was off the hook. (+)

I tried to ignore the blitzkrieg of Facebook tags for this “25 things” business, but alas! We’ve been blog-tagged, which seems to carry more authority than Facebook. (I don’t know why – it just does.) But as much as I would love to say that I’m doing this begrudgingly, I’ve actually enjoyed reading various people’s entries, so what the heck – why not join the bandwagon?

I’m going to try to make these fairly original and entertaining for you people, none of these obvious crap answers like “I don’t like it when people are mean to me.” So here goes:

  1. I love driving, but only when the route is a new one or one I haven’t done for awhile. I abhor my work commute, for example. And I used to hate the drive to and from Salisbury, but now that I only drive down there once a year or so, I actually enjoy it. (Gasp!)
  2. Our life group is becoming one of my favorite things about life right now.
  3. Hygiene is pretty important to me. It irritates me when someone who has the means to bathe themselves chooses not to and subjects the rest of us to their rancidness.
  4. Drea and I both have lists of people we would date if we weren’t married. If that sounds weird to you, then…well yeah it actually is pretty weird.
  5. I love my family. Ackermanns represent – for real. The older I get, the more I appreciate my parents and the way they raised me and my sisters. I don’t think Drea and I will do everything exactly the same, but I hope our family has the same closeness and healthiness as mine.
  6. I love books. (Yep, I stole this one from both Lammy and Leslie.) I became a reading junkie right after college, and I regret not picking it up sooner. Sometimes it actually makes me sad to know that there are great books I’ll never have a chance to read in my lifetime. My favorites of 2008 were The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, A Generous Orthodoxy, and In a Sunburned Country. I also love getting book suggestions from people, so keep those coming!
  7. Drea and I love our new (used) Prius. We drive it everywhere, and are looking forward to taking it on some road trips this summer!
  8. We used to want to get a family dog once we start having kids. But a few months ago we spent a week dog-sitting a puppy who was cute, but who also vomited and projectile-crapped all over the place. Repeatedly. So, yeah, we’re having some second thoughts about that.
  9. I love Google, and I use them for everything – email, calendar, documents, maps, web browser, news, RSS, even weather. Google is like the official sponsor of my life. Honestly, if they approached me to do a commercial, I’d probably do that crap for free.
  10. I hate to steal another one from Lammy, but here goes! I absolutely loved college. I met some of my best friends at Salisbury and had some of the greatest experiences of my life there. I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything, but sometimes I get hit with a wave of nostalgia for my college years. St. Martins 118/120 – good times.
  11. Casual dating is still something quite foreign to me. Drea and I already knew each other pretty well when we started dating, and I’ve never really dated anyone else, although there’s been an “almost” or two in there! :) I wonder sometimes how I’d be at the casual, get-to-know-you kind of dating. I’m guessing pretty sucky, as I’m generally not so great with the small talk, or, for that matter, the suave, debonair flirtation skills. Drea’s a lucky lady. :)
  12. I’m not much of a sports fan, but I did enjoy watching the Super Bowl last night. Probably like the third football game I’ve ever watched in its entirety. Who knows? Maybe I’ll nonchalantly follow the Redskins if they make the playoffs next year.
  13. My dad took our family on epic summer vacations when we were kids. Some of my fondest childhood memories are playing the license plate game or 20 questions in the car on the way to Colorado, Wyoming, San Diego, Seattle, or wherever. I can’t wait to do this with our kids.
  14. My verdict on the timeless toilet paper debate: over is right, under is wrong.
  15. My other verdict on the timeless toilet paper debate: scrunching is right, folding is wrong.
  16. I’m all about it when people take pride in their work, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Intentionally friendly cashiers, knowledgeable salespeople who actually help you find what you need, fast food workers who make an effort to move the line quickly – I’m all about it.
  17. I would never want to live somewhere that doesn’t get all four seasons.
  18. I tend to remember movie lines as being funnier than they actually are. Like, the part in The Wedding Singer where Adam Sandler’s sister and her husband are getting ready for a date, and the husband’s not ready to go, and the wife sticks her head in the door and yells “BILLY, MOVE YOUR ASS!” That line is hilarious in my memory, but when you actually watch it, it isn’t that funny. (And I don’t think the guy’s name is Billy.)
  19. This one is weird. Sometimes a certain moment of music and lyrics in a song will just blow me away, and I have to hear it again. For example, I love the line “dreaming of the Osaka sun” from the Coldplay song “Lovers in Japan”, and I rewind it multiple times whenever I listen to it. I do the same thing with the line “let us sing one true tune” from Switchfoot’s “The Beautiful Letdown”. Inexplicable, I know.
  20. One thing God has recently brought my attention to is my tendency to think unkindly about people I feel wronged by; a basic disregard of Jesus’ command to love my enemies. Sometimes my attitude just sucks. I’m really trying to work on this.
  21. My first car was my dad’s old ’88 Honda Accord which ran like a champ until it finally died at 264,000 miles. I’m now on my third Accord, and I love it. It gets good gas mileage, is reliable, handles nicely, and I wouldn’t change a thing about the dashboard layout. I’m sold on this car, and will probably keep buying Accords for the rest of my life.
  22. I wish we had a Denny’s in Upper Marlboro so I could get a French Toast Grand Slam anytime I wanted.
  23. I hate having to shave every morning.
  24. A good way to punish me would be to force me to sit and listen to country music for several hours.
  25. I eat breakfast cereal for all three meals, and I freaking love it. I’ll take a bowl of Life or Honey Bunches of Oats just about anytime.

So there you have it. My 25 things. I’m sure that with enough harassment, Drea will post hers as well. :)

If you get a chance, check out Andy Merrick’s blog. This guy just quit his computer programming job to pursue writing. (How cool is that?) I came across his blog a few weeks ago through another blog buddy of ours, and have since checked back regularly. The guy’s an honest-to-goodness fantastic writer – full of heart and wit and a love for Jesus.

Mad props to you, Andy. Here’s hoping you get at least a few hits from our rinky-dink blog here. God bless!

We’re always trying to expand our music library, and Christmas music is no exception! Hence, we’d like some recommendations. What is your favorite Christmas album? (My current favorites are Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God and James Taylor At Christmas.)

Go.

Jim Wallis is a Christian I deeply respect. In addition to writing several books on faith and politics (which are still on my list of to-reads), he’s the founder of Sojourners, a Christian organization that promotes social justice from a biblical perspective. I read his blog frequently, and I particularly appreciated one of his more recent posts in which he lists his personal “faith priorities” that will guide his vote in this election. His insights are thoughtful and worth considering, especially for those Christians who are still undecided on who to vote for.

At the end of his post, he invites us readers to examine our own faith priorities and make a similar list for ourselves. Over the past few months I’d had numerous friends and family members ask me why I’m voting for Obama in light of my Christian faith. I thought this might be a good opportunity to discuss the faith priorities that have guided my decision.

Consistent life ethic. This is probably the most significant of my faith priorities. Since God is the author and giver of life, I believe He alone has the right to decide when to end it. I believe our job then is to defend and preserve life “from womb to tomb.” This belief guides my position on a few issues (in no particular order)…

Foreign policy. Since I believe life is sacred, I think war is something to be considered with a great amount of caution. While I don’t believe all war is wrong, I do believe that there are certain criteria for a “just war.” While there are various “just war theories”, here is a short list of things I personally consider important criteria:

  • The intent is to leave our world a safer and more peaceful place than when we began, and has nothing to do with economic or political gain.
  • Every practical non-violent solution has already been tried without success.
  • There is a real, legitimate threat to our security if military action is not taken.
  • Benefits of success are proportionate to measures necessary for success.
  • The intended outcome is sustainable after troops are withdrawn.

To me, justification of war is just as much a life issue as anything else. I cannot support a candidate who so disregards the sanctity of life as to send our soldiers to risk their lives in an unjust war. I’m interested in a candidate who “chooses life” whenever possible in this regard. To me, this approach is not only more honoring to God, but also more consistent with the values of life and liberty that America is supposed to represent.

Abortion. Continuing in this consistent life ethic, I also believe in the sanctity of life in the womb. I believe abortion is more than an unfortunate reality of our time, but a brazen rejection of sacred life. Whatever our different spiritual beliefs are about when life begins, I think we can all agree on a goal of reducing the abortion rate as much as possible.

While there was a time when I wouldn’t have even considered voting for a pro-choice candidate, I’m now convinced that this issue demands a deeper look than simply a candidate’s position on Roe v. Wade. Given the implications that financial status, availability and affordability of health care, economic assistance, and other social services have on the abortion rate, I’m interested in a candidate’s stances in these areas. I believe that if a candidate truly cares about the welfare of the unborn, it will be reflected in his policies, not just his words.

Obama’s support of the 95-10 Initiative, in addition to his health care plan and other economic policies that will aid lower and middle class women, indicate to me that he offers (whether intentionally or as a by-product) a pragmatic, realistic plan to reduce the abortion rate in this country. While I commend John McCain’s verbal opposition to Roe v. Wade, he has not backed up his words with the kind of policies that have proven to be effective in reducing abortions. In short, I value a plan of action more than lip service, which is why I enthusiastically support Obama on this issue.

While there are other important issues I believe a consistent life ethic applies to (world hunger, genocide, social security, veteran care, capital punishment, tax policy, etc.) I will pass these over for brevity’s sake in order to discuss some other reasons why my Christian faith leads me to vote for Obama.

Personality. OK, pease don’t misinterpret me here; I’m not talking about Obama’s oratory skills or charisma (although these attributes would serve him well as President). I’m talking about his personal demeanor and temperament. Having now watched Obama endure the attacks, smears, and hostile debates that characterize any presidential campaign, I have seen him firmly defend himself and argue against his opponents, but have never seen him lose his cool or react with anger or disrespect. His calm, collected composure and ability to control his temper are in sharp contrast with McCain’s angry, belligerent demeanor. As a Christian looking for attitudes and behaviors that reflect the heart of Christ, I think it’s obvious which candidate stands out.

Racial reconciliation. As our country continues to deal with foreign and domestic racial conflict, I’m looking for a candidate (white, black, or otherwise) who will stimulate progress in this area. To me, racial reconciliation is not just a social ideal for a stronger nation, but a crucial element in a God-honoring worldview.

Barack Obama has helped heal a lot of deep-seated racial tension in this country. Yes, it’s true that he can’t help the fact that he’s black. I believe, however, that his ability to bring racial and ethnic groups together is not just a result of his being black, but of his values and actions in this regard. I believe Obama has displayed one of the most unifying and God-glorifying attitudes toward race that I’ve seen. The speech he gave on race back in March was a great example of this attitude.

I believe an Obama administration would also bring much-needed healing to our relations with the Muslim world, and hopefully diminish the anti-Muslim sentiment that has grown rapidly in America since 9/11. When we make terrorist jokes about Muslims, or when a country singer blares on about how “we’ll put a boot in their ass ‘cuz it’s the American way”, or when a presidential candidate makes a joke about bombing a Muslim country, this brings racial and ethnic bigotry from both sides to a greater level. It does nothing to promote reconciliation, and certainly doesn’t reflect the heart of Christ. I’m not so naïve as to think that Obama will single-handedly solve the problem of racism, but his attitudes and policies indicate a significant step in the right direction.

This is only a short list of faith priorities I’m basing my decision on, and there are many other reasons, faith-related and otherwise, why I’m voting for Barack Obama. I realize that my political views are different than those of many Christians, and that I might catch some flack from other Christians for supporting Obama. I do believe, however, that our differences in this area are very small compared to our common ground of a love for Christ, and I have nothing against those Christians whose faith leads them to check a different box in the voting booth. With that said, I’d love to hear your thoughts, and maybe even some of your faith priorities for this election.

Stay classy. :)

I’ve personally enjoyed watching Coldplay‘s style and musicianship morph and develop with each of their albums.  2000’s “Parachutes” had a raw, understated feel to it.  2002’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head” could probably be considered their break-out album, with radio hits like “The Scientist”, “In My Place”, and “Politik”.  I was slightly disappointed with 2005’s “X&Y”, which was catchy and certainly crowd-pleasing, but a little predictable.

Enter “Viva la Vida”, in my opinion their best effort yet.  It took me some time to get used to it, which is usually a sign of an eventual favorite album for me.  We downloaded it from iTunes in July, and it wasn’t until a bunch of repeat listens on our vacation in August for me to realize that this album is incredible.

“Viva la Vida” manages to incorporate a great variety of moods and textures without seeming schizophrenic or indecisive.  The bright optimism of “Life In Technicolor”, the dark, aggressive “Cemeteries of London”, the sonic hugeness of “Lost!” (and it’s stripped-down piano-led counterpart “Lost?”), the brooding, in-your-face quality of “Violet Hill”, and the lighter-than-air “Strawberry Swing” are all tied beautifully together.

Coldplay also tactfully borrows from Asian musical traditions, using a Middle East-esque hammered dulcimer in “Life in Technicolor”, seductive Arabic-flavored strings in “Yes”, and an East Asian pentatonic theme in “Strawberry Swing.”  This diverse, world music feel seems to work well, particularly with the album’s peace-oriented political messages.  (“I don’t want to battle from beginning to end, I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge, I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends.”)

I love moments during an first-time listen to album when I’m caught completely off-guard.  There are many such moments on “Viva la Vida”, where you see that Coldplay has taken a significant risk, and then realize the brilliance of the album because they’ve gotten away with it.  I always feel a little let down when I realize that an album was written and produced for the main purpose of cranking out radio singles and filling arenas.  Not so with “Viva la Vida”.  While I’m sure it will have mainstream commercial success, this album stands out.  Coldplay has outdone themselves.

Go.  Buy.  It.  Now.

…Andrea is still around.  And here I am.

Drew’s been hinting recently that I haven’t posted on this blog for some time and something needs to be done about it.  Relishing in a little extra time today, I’m posting.  (Happy, Drew?)

I have been super busy the past month!  I just launched my photography website and have been trying to keep up with my photography blog, in addition to actually BEING a photographer and doing the duties that come with the job.

I’m at home full-time now and LOVING it.  Having just passed our one year anniversary, I think I may have learned some things about wife-ing.  I think the #1 thing I have learned is that I know nothing of wife-ing.  Oh, this little girl has been wrestling with a lot of things this month, in the BEST WAY.

I am reading the book Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney.  If you are a wife, almost a wife, or have ever entertained the idea of being a wife, you should read this book.  Not only is it excellently written, it is thought-provoking and, more than that, HEART-provoking.  Reading the book, I have been forced to look at myself soberly, all the way down to my smallest motives.  It’s horrifying.  It is sort of like looking at a scary monster in the mirror.  At the same time though, I feel such a hope of change and confidence in God about the kind of woman I want to be.

The book has been one of those life-changing books for me.  You know, the ones that define a particular season of life when you think back.  The kind that speaks directly to the situation you are in.  The one that might as well have been written FOR you RIGHT NOW.

Pair that book with daily visits to the book of Matthew (particularly the Sermon on the Mount, talk about heart changing), day-long listening to Sara Groves (that woman speaks to me), and night-time reading of the biography of Amy Carmichael (the woman who gave up everything – including marriage – to serve as a missionary to the poorest of the poor in India) and you might have a slight idea of how I feel.  Talk about tearing a girl up inside!

It’s difficult, wonderful, overwhelming, frustrating.  But colorful.  And vivid.  Things I have been aching for this past year.  An ice heart melting slowly.  The best kind of life.  I’m back.

This Japanese steakhouse is one of the things we’ll miss most about Annapolis.  It’s about a 45-second drive from our apartment, and we have frequently over-indulged ourselves there.  We used to just go for special occassions, but now we pretty go pretty much every couple of weeks.  And we recently discovered that for $1.50 extra, you can get a double-portion of fried rice.  (A major score, because no joke, it is the best fried rice in the world.)

Sakura is one of those places where the chef cooks all the food on your table right in front of you.  The routine is usually the same: the “volcano” of onion rings, the “egg roll” joke, the twirling and tossing of metal spatulas and knives, and the humorous (I guess) adding of “Japanese” before each noun (i.e. chef pours delicious creamy sauce in your tray – “Ah, Japanese mayonnaise.”  Or chef accidently impales a kid in the face with a kitchen knife – “Ah, Japanese mistake.”)  But the routine never gets old because it comes hand-in-hand with the tastiest Americanized Japanese cuisine money can buy.

We’re pretty much addicted to this place, and I doubt that moving from Annapolis will prevent us from continuing to enjoy it on a regular basis!

DISCLAIMER: This post is long as crap.  Seriously, scroll down and take a look.  Do you really want to read this?  I won’t lie.  If I was just looking for something light and fun to read, I would totally skip this joint.  I’d probably check out this guy’s blog instead (hilarious).  But, if for some reason you’re inclined to read my ramblings about this book, go for it!

OK, end of disclaimer.

———-

Having finished my Bill Bryson book on vacation and having nothing else to read, I picked up Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” at a bookstore on a whim.  I was curious if what Barack had to say in his book was any different from what I’d been learning about him via the media for the past year.  Some things came as no surprise, but some of what I read gave me unexpected insights into the man himself and his values.  Here are a few of my basic observations…

1.  He’s smart.   OK, duh.  He graduated at the top of his Harvard Law class.  But it would seriously be hard to argue against the idea that Obama is a remarkably intelligent guy.  His analysis in the book of national and world issues are clear-cut and detailed when appropriate.  His well-rounded observations signify the high value he places (and has long placed) on educating himself on a broad scope of issues.  His keen familiarity with American history, combined with a commanding knowledge of other cultures, is impressive.

At times, the book actually reads more like a college lecture than a political analysis.  A former law professor, Obama is obviously in his element as he provides thoughtful insights into human history and its implications today.  It’s obvious that he isn’t just some emotion-manipulating rock star preaching an ambiguous message of change (like some of his critics would suggest.)  While he may be a relative newcomer, Obama knows what he’s talking about.

2.  His experience is unique.   I’ve heard few politicians draw such thoughtful conclusions as Barack Obama.  I specifically applaud his blunt but even-handed discussion on race in America.  While he admits that he enjoyed a more peaceful childhood than most blacks, he is also painfully candid about the racial division he’s lived in the midst of in Chicago (and indeed, that exists in most American cities).  In this regard, he has the invaluable advantage of a more experience-informed view of the whole of America (and indeed, the world).

This is particularly evident in the area of social issues.  While most politicians (I would hope) have at least a rudimentary awareness of poverty and injustice, Barack has lived and worked in direct, continued contact with these vices as a community organizer in Chicago.  No doubt he is personally familiar with the nuances and experiences of inner-city life that can’t be fully understood by occasionally driving through a poor neighborhood or watching a TV documentary.  What’s remarkable is that he thrives in the bipolar environments of the low-income working class and the lofty circles of wealthy academia.  He seems to be highly respected by both inner-city families on welfare and Harvard Law graduates with seven-figure salaries.  The vast majority of his political counterparts simply can’t make that claim.

Obama’s relatively brief career in national politics causes some to be concerned, and for good reason.  I certainly understand the desire to have as President a man who “knows the ropes” before taking office.  Conversely though, I also think that for veteran politicians, all those years of increasingly ugly bipartisanship can cause progress-stinting bitterness, making having too much political experience a potential liability.  So, of course Obama’s limited political experience should be accounted for, but not without also seeing the hidden benefits of fresh new talent.

3.  He’s not a raving liberal maniac.   Maybe that depends on your definition of “raving” and “maniac”, but the point here is that while Obama is a true progressive, he’s not an extreme, post-religious, post-moral, hyper-secularist fanatic.  This is particularly evident in the book’s chapters on faith and family.  While most liberals tend to steer clear of these topics in favor of talking about pluralism, tolerance, etc., Obama doesn’t hesitate to express his dismay at the moral degradation of our culture, and his desire that his daughters be raised to hold Christian faith, family, and moral decency in high regard.  He protests greedy consumerism, pleading for a return to the virtues of simple living and “delayed gratification.”  While he remains true to his belief that the government should never exert itself as a moral authority (a belief I share with him), he implores parents to take a more active role in being a positive moral influence for their kids.

While I’m don’t completely agree with all of his policies, I’m excited about the direction it seems he wants to take our country in, and his book left a good impression on me.  Obama is clearly a man with big dreams and big confidence that those dreams can be eventually realized.  Many have criticized his optimism, calling him naive or idealistic.  But I like to think that our country can, in fact, begin to make some fundamental changes for the better.  Of course, I’m wary of those Obama supporters who paint him as a panacea for every problem we face.  (Here are some more of my thoughts on this.)  But if Barack’s values and goals are what he says they are in this book, I believe he has unique and great potential to help push towards “a more perfect union.”

Casting a vote for any candidate is always a gamble (sometimes a costly one as with our current President), and Obama certainly has his share of shortcomings.  But by and large, what I’ve seen and read so far gives me considerable confidence that a vote for the Illinois Senator seems like a pretty solid bet.