What’s the Next Big FAANG?

You know – FAANG.  Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google!  What’s the next big FAANG, and why should you care?

I wonder if they gathered in the local Brau Haus pondering what would follow Gutenberg’s printing press?  Henry Ford’s move from hand crafted to line produced was a game changer.  Ever think about what will take the place of Al Gore’s invention of the internet?  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates initially helped to automate tasks that might have taken hours or days down to minutes.  The blessings and curses seemed discernable regarding mass production, easy accessibility of goods, accelerated forms of communications and quality of life.  Automation and speed were the name of the game.

I was excited to find I would be required to learn FORTRAN computer programming when attending Gettysburg College, a strong liberal arts college (we also were required to swim).  We ran data on stacks of punch cards to generate results from research.  That beast of a machine automated the data I compiled and fed to it.   I still needed to interpret what the results meant.  Just a few years before 2001: A Space Odyssey was all the rage in the movies.  This 1968 film tells a different story.  HAL (aka IBM) starts calling the shots with astronaut Dave.  HAL was not simply a machine for automation, HAL was autonomous.  Truth be told, I did try to talk to the computer at school but never got a response.

Then there is Joshua, the computer Matthew Broderick, David, used to play War Games in the 1983 film.  Ultimately nobody won and Joshua invited David to a “nice game of chess.”  Joshua, like HAL, was not simply a machine going through its paces.  Joshua, C-P30 and R2-D2 make us feel somewhat comfortable with autonomous machines.  They’re cute in their own way.  (HAL is definitely not warm and fuzzy.)

What’s the next big FAANG?  Boston Dynamics would tell you drones are yesterday’s technology.  They are building “thinking” robots with names like Spot and Sand Flea.  They are leaps above the Jetson’s Rosie the Robot.  While Lyft drivers still get lost even using Waze, smart cars will be perfected and automate driving at some point.  Will a line be crossed for you when you get into the car and the car decides where you are going to go rather than you making the call?

Artificial intelligence (AI), autonomy, goes far beyond automation.  We all want help with our schedules.  We want more time.  Imagine everything you could get done in the passenger seat if the car was in charge of the driving and knows how you like your coffee.  The United States is in a race with other super powers to make lethal action a matter of AI decision making.  Should Siri or Alexa be deciding how nations relate to one another?  (Honestly, Alexa doesn’t always get my music right.)  Currently the U.S. requires at least one human intervention before potentially lethal action is taken by any war machine.  That isn’t true for every nation.  Will human intervention always be true for the U.S.? The next really big FAANGs are not headed to your kitchen and not hitting the road.  AI will begin “deciding” acceptable numbers of human casualties unless we take a deep breath and consider what that means.

We are facing issues requiring ethical thought and socially responsible consideration.  Who decides?  I think Dave would caution us and Joshua would tell us to play chess.  How does our faith inform our thinking?  How do your beliefs inform your thinking?  I don’t have the answers, and I’m not asking Siri.  I do know I’ll continue to ask the questions and look carefully for the next big FAANG.  I hope you’ll join me.

 

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My undelivered stand-up routine for those not likely to come back to church

How is everybody doing tonight? You look great.  You’re less sober than the people I usually talk to.

I’m surprised to be at the Comedy Cellar because — and I know how this sounds — I’m a minister.

Saying that you’re a minister shuts down conversations with barbers, waitresses and the person sitting next to you on the plane. That last one is helpful.

I’m not a minister who thinks he’s cool enough to fit in anywhere. I’m not the Unitarian campus minister at NYU. I don’t wear a tweed jacket and a turtle neck. I don’t run a soup kitchen in Hell’s Kitchen. I don’t do nearly enough of the stuff I tell everyone else to do. I’m not the chaplain for U2 — which is not a real job — but I can dream.

You might be surprised to learn that churches talk about some of you a lot.  How many of you went to church more often when you were 9 years old?  You’re the ones churches talk about. Churches think they can get you back.  Churches are your mother trying to get you to come home for the weekend by promising the beef noodle casserole she insists you loved when you were a kid.

Some churches think they’ll get you to come back with bad drummers.  They believe there are 20-year-olds who wake up early on Sunday mornings and say to themselves, “I feel like singing along with a 60-year-old drummer playing 18 century hymns.”

Some churches have started meeting in pubs for “Theology on Tap,” where they drink beer and talk about God. They hope you’re looking for an inebriated minister to explain the meaning of life.

Some churches have changed their names with you in mind. If a church has a name that sounds like a ’70s band — Journey, Passion, The Bridge — you’re the target audience.

We know the church can be disappointing, but we also know the church can be wonderful. If you decide to give us another chance, we’ll try not to act cooler than we are. We’ll learn your name and ask how you’re doing. We’ll find gracious ways to say that we find hope in believing in something bigger than we are, and think you might, too. You can help us with hard questions about meaning and purpose. You can help us do things rather than just talk about them. You might find that you enjoy being part of a group of friends trying to live better, more authentic lives.

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Youth Group Shenanigans

On Sunday nights a small group of teenagers and adult volunteers gather together in the Plymouth Church gym. Sometimes we eat pizza and talk about prayer. Sometimes we have burritos and play basketball. Sometimes we dine on spaghetti and do a service project.  No matter what we eat or what we do, the Plymouth Church youth group meets regularly to know God, grow together and live out our faith.

I have enjoyed being with the Plymouth’s youth each week. Teenagers are entertaining people. We laugh a lot. We share stories. We make memories.

Here are some of my favorite memories from our youth group so far:

  • James teaching me how to play Stratego at The Brooklyn Strategist (and watching him revel as he proceeded to kick my behind in the game)
  • Holding hands in silent prayer with Brian, Freja and Aaron in front of the Reception Room fireplace
  • Cason playing corn-hole with Edith Bartley
  • Wilsie making slime with Dick Yancey
  • Amelia giving a thoughtful, spirit-filled answer to “Why should we still pray if it doesn’t change our circumstances?”
  • Clay teaching me how to play basketball
  • Melanie making a ginormous Christmas cookie which took forever to bake in the church oven
  • Anaya and Daisaya talking about the ins and outs of middle school as we walked down Cranberry Street
  • Noah enthusiastically collecting trash in Harry Chapin park
  • Starr and Martin’s kindness and patience when I stressed out over our dinner order not arriving
  • Being envious of Ayo’s boundless energy walking back from the movie theater
  • Natalia, Lulia and Charlie leading the Christmas Eve family worship
  • Everyone asking “Where’s Calder?” and cheering when she comes to youth group late from swim practice
  • Lulu patiently helping her sister when her orthodontics malfunctioned at our Christmas party
  • Being inspired by Lucy’s passion for gun safety in America
  • Bringing the entire youth group to Avery’s house after her surgery
  • Robert doing a cartwheel in Beecher Garden
  • Being moved by Owen’s intelligence and honesty
  • Living vicariously through Kalia’s recent adventures
  • Kai’s agility and strength on the ropes course at the church retreat
  • Paul and Matthew asking difficult theological questions (which I am still unable to answer)
  • Coming to know Emily’s deep desire to own fuzzy slippers during our White Elephant gift exchange at Christmas

Adult Christians often ask the question “What impact does the church have on the lives of young people?”

My experience with the Plymouth youth group has me asking different question: “What impact do young people have on the life of the church?”

Thanks be to God for the youth group here at Plymouth. These young people make the church a better place, and me a better pastor.

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Stop Making Sense

If our phone counts the number of steps we take, then we need to carry our phone everywhere we go in order to get credit.  Before we pick a movie we have to check the scores on Rotten Tomatoes.  As we read bedtime stories to our children we skip unnecessary paragraphs.

Efficiency is ruining our lives, and we are looking for more of it.   Every day is an exercise in logic.  We have found more efficient ways to do most things—electric toothbrushes, electric razors, driverless cars.  Buying a Big Mac is simpler than cooking a hamburger on the grill.  Permanent press makes all kinds of sense.  We find one pair of shoes we like and order multiple pairs online.  We may never go into a shoe store again.

Why spend an hour making dinner when we could microwave lasagna in nine minutes?  Why vacuum when we can check our email as the rumba wanders around the living room?

How long will it be before we live like “The Jetsons”—calling for Rosie the robot maid to bring our coffee and Astro the robot dog to fetch our slippers?  We just need more moving sidewalks.

What do we lose when we do only what is most efficient?  What are we doing with the time we are saving?  Do the Amish have a point?

Our commitment to convenience keeps us from thinking about what we really want.  When we have a dishwasher, washing dishes by hand feels silly—even if we like washing dishes.  We ignore what is best in favor of what is easiest, but the fastest way to get where we are going may not be the best way to get there.  When we let efficiency decide what we do, we no longer decide what we do.

Sometimes we need to ignore what is efficient and do what is fun.  Take the scenic route.  Eat a Moon Pie.  Grow flowers.  Sit on the grass.  Play the guitar.  Write a letter.

Go to a school play.  Tell someone that you love them.  Listen to music—and not the music we play when we want people to think we have good taste—the music that makes us smile.  Go to lunch with a friend.  Read an extra story—even if it goes five minutes past bedtime.

My doctor looked at the scale and asked, “How much are you exercising?”

Lying to your doctor is like lying to your mother—she knows.

“I run a little, jog really, saunter.”

“Where do you run?”

“Down the street, across the bridge, to the park and back.”

“Your knees are getting older.  You need to start running on a treadmill.  It’s more efficient.”

I think about my doctor as I jog across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It has to be better for me to see the world at five miles an hour than to spend another hour running in place.  I am confident that I will not come to the end of my life and say, “I wish I had been more efficient.”

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Reading the Obituaries for Lent

Some Christians stop eating meat.  Some give up Facebook.  Some read the Psalms.  When I was a young minister in Indiana, I began reading the obituaries for Lent.  The Paoli News-Republican came out on Tuesday and Friday.  A normal edition included two or three obituaries that were written by the newspaper’s staff.  No family was ever charged for an obituary.

The writers interviewed the deceased’s family, friends, and ministers to help them express their gratitude for the person’s life.  These tributes included sentiments like, “He never met a stranger” and “She laughed every day.”  Reading the obituaries reminded me that people are often good and that I need to make my days count.

The obituaries in The New York Times are different from the ones in The Paoli News-Republican.  Most of the people in Paoli would balk at paying $263 for the first four lines and $52 per line thereafter with 28 characters per line.  Most of the people in my old church would not be able to read the tiny seven point san serif font without a magnifying glass.

But it is Lent, so on Sunday I sat down with my hometown newspaper to look for what matters in that day’s obituaries.  Here is what I found—still in alphabetical order:

Lerone Bennett, Jr., 89, wrote Before the Mayflower in which he noted that the first blacks arrived in the colonies in 1619, the year before the Mayflower.  He worked to prepare students to live in a multi-racial society.

Leonard Gubar, 81, was a dedicated fan of the Mets, Giants, Rangers and Knicks.  He was a nationally ranked Scrabble player and a routine finisher of The New York Times crossword puzzle.

Marvin S. Hans, M.D., 91, was a music lover—especially Frank Sinatra.

Robert B. Hiden, Jr., 84, served as a vestryman and Junior Warden of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Zita Kremnitzer was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1922.  She survived the Holocaust and immigrated to New York in 1947.

Elizabeth Landauer, 80, served as a Girl Scout leader for many years.

Patricia Rashkin, 74, chose a career as a guardian for those unable to fend for themselves—spending more than three decades with the City of New York’s protective services.

William Selden, 70, businessman, philanthropist, sportsman, dog-lover, and innate comedian.  He was a long-time supporter of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind.

Alan Lewis Stein, 88, founded the not-for-profit affordable housing entity, Bridge Housing.  Bridge has participated in the development of more than 17,000 units of housing, providing homes for 42,500 people.

Constance Sultan, 84, worked for 30 years at Mt. Sinai Hospital, where she was the charge nurse in the baby nursery.

Reading the obituaries sounds gloomy, but that has not been my experience.  I am glad to be reminded that people are often good.  Being encouraged to make my days count feels like preparing for Easter.

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Ministers Tired of Praying

The first picture many of us saw was of a broken-hearted woman with an Ash Wednesday cross on her forehead holding another woman as they cried together. The tragedy in Parkland, Florida, was the eighth school shooting so far this year—and it is February.

Here is what I was sure would happen next. I was going to get an e-mail from the clergy association. The ministers would organize a prayer vigil where we read the names of the victims. We would grieve for the families of those who died. We would read scripture. We would pray for an end to gun violence.

Here is what actually happened. Nothing. No e-mail. Apparently I am not the only one tired of going to prayer vigils.  We are in danger of growing numb to these horrors and seeing this as the new normal.  We cannot keep feeling the same pain, so one option is to stop feeling it.

But this is the time to work to make it harder to die from gun violence. More than 30 people in our nation are murdered by guns on an average day.

Gun violence is a domestic violence problem. In an average month, 51 women are shot to death by a current or former husband or boyfriend.

Gun violence is a child abuse problem. The number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 126 classrooms of 20 students each.

Gun violence is a mental health problem. There are 21,000 suicides committed using guns each year.

Gun violence is a safety problem. More than 45 people are shot accidentally each day. (Statistics are from faithinpubliclife.org, everytown.org, and childrensdefense.org.)

Gun violence is a faith problem. We have to be broken-hearted by the gun deaths in our country. We cannot pretend we cannot do anything.

We can work to strengthen background checks. Forty percent of the guns sold legally in the United States are bought without a background check. No records are kept. No questions are asked. Criminals buy guns online from unlicensed sellers.

We can insist that background check laws work. Common sense demands we keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers and those adjudicated as mentally ill. We can regulate guns as closely as we do cars.

We can require locks that make it harder to pull a trigger and lower the number of accidental shootings. We can work to ban the automatic weapons that seem to have no purpose other than mass shootings.

We can disagree on how best to address the epidemic of gun violence, but we cannot disagree on the tragic nature of gun violence. Support courageous politicians. Replace the ones who are not courageous. Speak up for common sense gun laws that make our streets and schools safe. Defend the right of children to live without the risk of being shot.

I keep thinking about the cross imposed with ashes on that mother’s forehead.  The sign of the cross calls us to grieve for those who are hurting, confess our apathy, and work for a time when we have no list of victims to read.

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God Listens to Lists

On February 1st, my daughter called to tell me she was thinking about transferring schools. She’s a freshman in college. The news did not come as a surprise to me so I encouraged her to apply.  “Wait,” she said. “First I have to make a list of pros and cons.  I’ll text it to you in a few hours.” “Emily, the application is due tomorrow,” I yelled. “Forget the list- just do it!” We hung up on each other.

I have little patience for the thoughtful planning process. I prefer acting, often reacting. For instance, as strict and formal as my upbringing was at home, in school and at church, my daughter’s was intentionally informal.  I refused to push manners or dress. I wanted my daughter to understand that it’s not about appearances but what’s on the inside. I didn’t care about her grades. I wanted her to value and love learning.  But, most of all, I wanted Emily to know God, God’s unconditional love and grace. I wanted her to have a personal relationship with God. I wanted her to turn to God in times of trouble, in times of joy. I hoped she would get there through prayer; not the rote memorized prayers of my childhood but individual, spontaneous, relevant, daily prayer and I encouraged her as best I could.

I am not good at praying.  We’ve been working on prayer in Sunday School.  After modeling closing prayers, I started asking for volunteers.  Initially, the same child raised his hand every week.  He was a natural- a hard act to follow.  Finally, in his absence, a different child raised his hand, only to promptly lower it and avert his eyes.  “Think of prayer as a sandwich,” I encouraged him.  “Dear God” and “Amen” are the bread.  All you need is the middle and as long as it’s from your heart, it’s fine.” He still wouldn’t look at me.  Thankfully, another child gave it a shot: Dear God, thank you for today.  Amen. Short and sweet.  Easy and inspirational.

I was certain this would encourage others- and it did!  I had to wait a few weeks for my initially frozen second volunteer to raise his hand again, but it was worth the wait.  Two weeks ago, he closed our discussion with: Dear God thank you for letting children have Sunday School.  Amen.  I was so proud and happy.  This week, a once reserved girl ended class with: Dear God, thank you for your son, Jesus.  Help us listen better to you and Jesus.  Amen.

On February 2nd, I texted my daughter asking if she had submitted her transfer applications.  Yes, she replied, because unlike you God was willing to listen to my lists.  I probably should have felt hurt or guilty, but I didn’t.  I felt good.

Julia

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Eating burgers, sinning boldly

brett-blogIf you are leaving New York to visit Texas, these are socially acceptable comments:

“I could use some warm weather.”

“We’re looking forward to seeing friends.”

“I miss driving more than forty miles an hour.”

“I haven’t seen an armadillo in a long time.”

“I enjoy the jealousy on people’s faces when I say ‘I’m from Brooklyn’.”

This is not a socially acceptable comment:

“I want a Quarter Pounder with fries.”

I know how unsophisticated that makes me sound.  After two years in a culinary mecca, a center for gastronomic delights, and the world’s best pizza, I am supposed to be beyond mass produced fast food, but I am not.  Mine is not a sophisticated pallet.

This is a difficult confession to make.  I know how bad ordering off the dollar menu is.  I saw Supersize Me.  Finger lickin’ good is not good for me.  I can see that the Burger King is creepy.  I have read studies that say that if you eat a bacon cheeseburger, you have a 75% chance of a heart attack before you get to the Frosty.

But I live 250 miles from the nearest Cook Out.  None of the arguments against driving through a drive-thru—and staring at the menu until the guy behind me starts honking—are enough to keep my mouth from watering with anticipation at driving south on IH-35 knowing there are six fast food places at every exit.

Fast food is democratic.  Working people can afford everything that you have to stand in line to order—and you do not have to tip.

There are no surprises.  Every Whataburger tastes exactly like the Whataburger you had five years ago at the Whataburger 500 miles away.  Why have it your way when you can have it the same way every time?

I do not know how to explain to New Yorkers that fast food fountain drinks are better.  Free refills are a right guaranteed somewhere deep in the Constitution.  A liter of Coca Cola from Key Food is a pale imitation of a Cherry Coke at Sonic.  Anyone who has had the pleasure of eating a meal in their car at a Sonic Drive-in knows there is no better ice in all the world.

No one asks, “Are we dressed well enough?” before going to Dairy Queen.  No one worries that their preschoolers might act up at Subway.  Children do not get a toy with their meal at Ruth Chris Steak House.  There is no playground at Del Frisco’s.

As I sat on the plane heading to Texas I thought about the options:  Whataburger’s Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit (sugar and butter make food wonderful); Jack in the Box’s two for $1 tacos, the perfect level of greasiness; KFC’s original recipe anything; the chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-a (the pickle chips are the key); an Oreo blizzard at Dairy Queen (Oreo crumbs are to ice cream what bacon is to everything else).

I ended up thinking inside the bun—a Homestyle burger (an ironic name) and an iced mocha.  This is nothing to write home about—but I’m lovin’ it.  I know that if they served a McDonald’s iced mocha at Starbucks it would cost twice as much.

When Martin Luther wrote, “Love God and sin boldly” he was not in a fast food restaurant, but he could have been.  Luther was calling us to recognize what is important and what is not.  There are times when you should order the salad, but sinning without worrying about it too much is, on occasion, good for your soul.

As Lent approaches some of us are deciding whether to give up soft drinks, sugar, or Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme.  We would do better to give up envy, anger, and greed.  We have many things about which we should feel guilty—how little we give to feed hungry people, how quickly we dismiss people who dismiss us, and how much time we spend on our own amusement.  Because there is so much about which we should feel guilty, we can feel free—every now and then—to eat curly fries boldly.

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Marching On

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The crowd was spectacular: fathers donning pink hats with ears, women holding bright signs inscribed with colorful language, and little girls wearing t-shirts that said things like “Future President” and “My daddy is a feminist.” Last Saturday’s Women’s March on New York City drew over 200,000. Women, men, children and even some dogs started gathering at Columbus Circle and lined up all along Central Park West, reaching as far north as 72nd Street.

Going to the March was a last minute decision after receiving an invitation to go with a friend. I hadn’t gone to any of the marches last year, mostly because I am claustrophobic and can’t stand being trapped in a sea of people (the 8 am A Train is my living hell). This year I thought I would brave the crowds and see what this marching is all about.

After getting out of the oh-so-congested subway at Columbus Circle, we were greeted by law enforcement instructing us to walk up Broadway. We walked past the Trump International Hotel and Tower. We walked past Lincoln Center, home of The Metropolitan Opera. We walked past a number of male street vendors selling buttons that said things like “Stay Strong, Stay Nasty” and “Girls just wanna have Fun-damental human rights.” Just when it started to feel like we were journeying on a sexual assault trail of tears, we finally arrived at ABC studios, where we could cross over 66th Street toward the park.

“Is this the march?” I heard one woman ask as we turned the corner.

“No,” said her friend. “We are marching to the march.”

Right before we got to the end of the intersection of 66th and Central Park West, the crowd had come to a stand still. Police kept us from joining the rest of protestors. Stuck and frustrated on 66th, we followed the lead of an elderly woman holding a poster that read “My arms are tired from holding this sign since the 1960s” and busted through a side barricade when the police officer was looking the other way.

We were finally on Central Park West and headed north to find an opening that would allow us to cross the park side of the street. Once we crossed, I felt like I was able to breathe again as there was a bit of elbow room. Now that we were done marching to the march, it was time to stand in line for the march. It was tough for me to find the perfect standing and waiting spot. I needed a place where I could feel a part of the crowd, while still maintaining my personal bubble.

We walked down the sidewalk through the crowd and finally stopped by a stone wall that bordered the park. The journey from the subway exit to this resting place had taken us a little less than two hours. We finally claimed a spot and waited for the crowd to start marching.

As we waited, we took it all in. Looking at all the signs, the t-shirts, the various costumes of lady liberty and female genitalia, I was surprised by how many causes were represented: immigration rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s empowerment groups, disability rights, women’s reproductive rights, women’s and children’s healthcare, peace and reconciliation, environmental protection, science education, anti-human trafficking, domestic violence prevention, sexual harassment and abuse prevention, and children’s rights. There were so many voices shouting in the chorus, “We will not be silent, and we are not going away.”

The intersectionality of the Women’s March was undeniable. People of all races, genders, ages, sexual orientations, religions, education levels and apartment sizes came together as one group to say, “This Matters.”  Yet, in the clamor of it all, I felt lost.

I had journeyed for two hours to this place, only to feel empty. I felt like an outsider, a spectator. It didn’t make sense. I care about these causes. I, too, am angry with the current administration’s negligence towards human rights. I whole-hearted believe in the impact of organizing for social and political change. I am glad we live in a country that gives us the freedom to peacefully protest and speak our minds. But I wanted more. I wanted something that a march just couldn’t provide.

Last Sunday a group of parents got together at Plymouth Church to learn how to talk to our children about racism. This Sunday a group of Plymouth people will watch a documentary and learn how to end human trafficking in Brooklyn. The first Sunday of February, volunteers will pack food bags to give to hungry families through Brooklyn Delivers. When I think of these and the other Plymouth ministries, I realize that social and political activism doesn’t just happen in the streets. It happens in the pews, in the prayer circles, in the baptismal font, in the pulpit, in the offering plate, in Hillis hall, and in the Sunday School classroom.

Church isn’t just a house of worship. Church is an auditorium for the voiceless, an assembly of protest, an incubator for activism, a forum for forgiveness and a place of peace. The Church is continuously marching. There are no barricades to keep people out. There is no waiting around for things to get started. The march is here and now and always.

 

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If “The Post” was a Church, We Should All Join

Here are 10 reasons to see The Post:

  1. You have already seen Star Wars.
  2. Films set in the 1970s make you nostalgic for better government.
  3. You want to see a movie with old people in the audience.
  4. You want to see a movie with old people in the movie.
  5. You like films that make your wardrobe seem up to date.
  6. You want to see if Meryl Streep can do an American accent (SPOILER ALERT: She can!).
  7. You are relieved that Tom Hanks has finally gotten a good role.
  8. Steven Spielberg needs your support.
  9. You love movies about Robert McNamara.
  10. You want to remember how good the church could be.

As a New Yorker for almost two years, I am happy to point out the movie begins with the Washington Post getting scooped by the New York Times.  (Our hometown newspaper is surprised that a movie about the Pentagon Papers is called The Post.) Daniel Ellsberg, a former aide to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, exposed the government’s decades-long history of lies about Vietnam by sending the long report known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. Each administration knew the war was unwinnable, but kept that fact from Congress and the American people.

After a court order halted the New York Times’ publication, the Post got its own copy and had to decide whether to step up, tell the truth, and defy the court order. Kay Graham, publisher of the Post, got the job after her husband’s suicide. As the movie begins, Graham is hanging on to a naïve faith in American leaders.

The newsroom is filled with idealistic reporters who smoke constantly, pound typewriters, pour dimes into pay phones, and send copy to the printer through those cool pneumatic tubes. You feel like there should be ink on your fingers at the end of the movie.

The old-school editor of the Post, Ben Bradlee defends the freedom of the press: “The only way to protect the right to publish is to publish!”

Ben Bagdikian, an old-school reporter, says, “I always wanted to be part of a small revolution.”

When Bagdikian asks Ellsberg why he is acting so courageously, Ellsberg responds, “Wouldn’t you go to prison to stop the war?”

Publishing the papers could land Bradlee and Graham in prison. The Post’s board of directors does not want to take on the government because they are afraid of losing money.

Graham argues for the board’s position: “We can’t hold [government] accountable if we don’t have a newspaper.”

Bradlee counters, “If the government is telling us what to print, then the

Washington Post has already ceased to exist.”

This would be an unpopular movie if Graham did not find her footing, courage and voice. Putting the good of the country before your own financial interest sounds corny, but it shouldn’t. The mission of a newspaper is the welfare of the people. The Post chose its mission over its security.

Churches should see themselves in this movie. The First Amendment is about a free press and a free church. The church, like the board of the Post, is tempted to focus on survival. When well-meaning Christians worry only about the budget, the church ceases to be the church.  Institutional Christianity, like a bad newspaper, is organized, conventional, and uninteresting.

Martin Luther said, “Churches that preach the gospel, except where it addresses the issues of the day, do not preach the gospel.”

The church has to tell the truth, be a voice for peace, and make it clear that our culture’s values are upside down. Every community has a story which tells them who they are, offers a sense of what made them great, and guides them in their decisions. Americans have the Constitution. Christians have the story of Jesus.

When the Post stood up for truth, they went from being a nice local paper to being an important national one. When the church is brave, the church attracts those who want to live with conviction.

In the Supreme Court’s response to the Pentagon Papers, Justice Hugo Black wrote that America’s founders affirmed freedom of the press “to serve the governed, not the governors.”

The church is to serve the world, not the church.

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