Tag Archives: freedom

A Writing November

Cartoon of open newspaper with "Correction" advertisement: "The Downing St memo seems to be at odds with pretty much anything you remember seeing and hearing in the media in the runup to the Iraq war.  Your memory is in error. We regret your mistake."

(c) Tom Toles (2005) | “The First Draft of the Rewrite of History”

I’ve decided to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo 2013), and will be using the 50,000 word-challenge to reboot my research on the British executive branch’s structure, values, personnel, and communications during the 18 months before the UK- and US invaded Iraq.*

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the March 2003 invasion and the 8th year since I began to study how the Blair administration rendered Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “non-compliant” with international protocols on weapons of mass destruction and an “imminent” threat to the UK national interest.

I’ve already written and presented about this case for other communication academics (Popular Culture Association, 2008; Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 2009), and I’ve also written a 150-page doctoral study about it with a bibliography nearly 25 pages long. I may write for these readers again in the future, but not next month.

November is about writing about the British executive branch, weapons of mass destruction, secrecy, freedom of information, and civil servants, not for other academics and not as part of a degree program, but for members of the public: people like you who are savvy and curious, who don’t necessarily know a lot about the details of this case, and who care about good governance and want to read high-quality, engaging content about it.

I’m not going to write and revise next  month, though; I’m just going to write. By the end of the month, I’ll know whether I have it in me to turn this year-old baby into a book in 2014.

My goals for November are simple enough, and I’m declaring them here to increase the risk:

  1. Write ~2,000 words six days each week for 30 days, or a minimum of 1,670 words daily.
  2. Focus on generating these 50,000-50,100 words, rather than fretting about whether they are good words.
  3. Remember how much I love this project and wonder why it’s taken me so long post-graduation to return to it.

If you’d like to track my progress through November, there’ll be a word count widget in the right column of my homepage. And if you have a fiction or non-fiction book in you too, then you still have a day to sign up! As of tonight, nearly 190,000 other writers are waiting for you.

Expect an update on this from me in a few weeks.


* This intention marks me as a NaNo Rebel. Good luck to all the novelists too!

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Faith and Freedom II: Beyond Force

Big Idea: Force and anarchy aren’t the only two cookies our communities can bake. Given all the theories of freedom that religious institutions have produced over the centuries, they should be skilled at cultivating and honoring free choice, not the least skilled of all and not merely average.

At the end of my last post on this topic, I wrote:

I was once taught that the end-game of this human experiment was that right-being and right-doing would be intuitive and internally driven. If that’s more than a pipe dream, shouldn’t religious institutions be the most skilled at honoring and nurturing free conscience and persuasion and teaching all of us to do the same? Shouldn’t they be leading freedom, not limiting it?

The balance of faith and free conscience in religious communities and educational institutions is a recurring debate. Perhaps the biggest mental block isn’t that our definitions of academic freedom vary or that various groups hold mutually exclusive visions of how much denominations should influence schools. Maybe the biggest mental block is that we have unchallenged assumptions about human nature and capacity, and we rarely expose these assumptions to daylight.

Hugo van der Goes's Fall of Man and the Lamentation (1470-1475)

Hugo van der Goes, “The Fall of Man and the Lamentation” (1470-1475) | Google Art Project

Seventh-day Adventist policy about the church’s influence on its colleges and universities through accreditors and conference-level constituents seems to be based on these premises:

We don’t seem to allow for presenting good with sound reasons and without emotional or authority manipulation, though even this allowance assumes that the good we propose has a solid basis to start with.

A system based on the three assumptions listed above has no reason to wait for amazing grace to draw untrustworthy people into a higher moral order, or to leave compliance to the chance and vagary of the Spirit that blows as it will.

So, from universities to international organizations, the religious institutions I’ve observed rarely rely on cooperative rhetoric or community design principles to inspire people to good. [1] Both are used, but neither is indispensable to these institutions’ work or use of authority. Students, staff, or members cannot look in every direction and see trust-based relationships that enliven them. Specific rules emerging from that low-trust context help to keep the system functional, but not flourishing. And alternative modes break through on a small scale from time to time.

I don’t see alternatives to force-and-sanction at work consistently in mainstream society. I see more on the edges, and organizations like the Fetzer Institute, Ode, and Bread for the Journey support and signal-boost examples in their areas. By contrast, the mainstream offers increasing monitoring and multi-system limitation and control, and whether by active lobbying or tepid objections, religion is complicit. We teach that we are “the light of the world” and promote a gospel of grace and mutual submission rather than empire and power-over, yet operate our institutions using “the master’s tools.” So if grace and mutual submission do resonate for students and members now, it has to be in spite of us and not because of us.

A minister recently argued that there are so many things “the world” can do better than “the Church,” so many things from institutional management to community outreach, but modeling the value of grace is the only thing the Church can do better. I don’t know whether that’s true. But if it is true that “the Church” (i.e. us) is supposed to be the planet’s functioning illustration of Christ at work, then my consternation is only heightened. If we are that illustration, then all of our movable parts need restructuring to support our Christ-ing. We can’t get results we don’t build for. And if youth don’t learn alternatives to force and authority-sanctioning from their time in our religious educations, where should we send them to learn? If organized religion drops a ball it claims was made for its hands, who will pick it up?

Three columns and a round tin of M&M and chocolate chip cookies.

Credit: Jennifer Jacobson

I believe in and fully support a healthy, diverse civil society, and I contend that religious organizations are part of civil society but not its master. We have much to contribute to civil society’s common-wealth and will first have to release the urge to dominate it and its people. I think much anti-religious rhetoric is rooted in our peers looking for proof that we-the-religious have released the urge to dominate. Perhaps they’re not yet seeing much.

The burden’s on us to prove our intentions in word, act, and relationship: we all have a lot of cookies to make and eat together.


[1] My current congregation is an exception to this pattern, and that is why I became a member.

The gears of poverty, ignorance, hopelessness, and low self-esteem mesh to create a kind of perpetual failure machine that grinds down dreams from generation to generation. We all bear the cost of keeping it running. Illiteracy is its linchpin. Even if we hardened our hearts to the shame and misery experienced by the victims, the cost of illiteracy to everyone else is severe—the cost in medical expenses and hospitalization, the cost in crime and prisons, the cost in special education, the cost in lost productivity and in potentially brilliant minds who could help solve the dilemmas besetting us.

Frederick Douglass taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom. There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom. But reading is still the path.—Carl Sagan, The Demon-haunted World