Beginner's Pen

Jonathan Erdman. Writer. Wayfarer.

Article: Sanders, Trump, and the War Over American Exceptionalism

A big reason that politics interests me is because it reflects cultural trends, and the bonkers way that this election is going suggests that America is changing. The Atlantic has a short article, Sanders, Trump, and the War Over American Exceptionalism. Excerpt:

While grassroots Democrats and Republicans remain divided over the size of government, increasingly, what divides them even more is American exceptionalism. In ways that would have been unthinkable in the mid-20th century, the boundaries between American and non-American identity are breaking down. Powered by America’s secular, class-conscious, transnational young people, Democrats are embracing an Americanism that is less distinct than ever before from the rest of the world. And the more Democrats do, the more likely it is that future Trumps will rise. Continue reading “Article: Sanders, Trump, and the War Over American Exceptionalism”

A Yuge Difference: Is America ready for Bernie?

Bernie was on Saturday Night Live recently, and there’s a skit I love, featuring Larry David (of Seinfeld fame and Curb Your Enthusiasm). The scene is of a sinking ship. “Women and children first!” yells the captain. “Really?” Larry David says, incredulous. There’s a good bit of back-and-forth between Larry and the Captain, as women and children are loaded onto the life raft. Larry can’t seem to convince them to take him on the raft before the women and children, and he worries that he’ll not make it on the raft, so he finally plays his trump card: I’m really wealthy, he says. “I’m worth more than all the rest of you put together.” That’s when Bernie steps in, dressed as a commoner. Continue reading “A Yuge Difference: Is America ready for Bernie?”

The Trump Card

As a kid I remember singing a song about being in the Lord’s army. It was a fun song, probably one of my favorites. It was an action song, I think that was the appeal when I was such a young kid. There were these dynamic movements that had all of us Sunday School kids marching like we were in an infantry, spying on the enemy, and taking aim and firing a gun. That was a long time ago. Tomorrow I go on a meditation retreat. It’s a far cry from the Lord’s army or Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric that flirts so coyly with the idea of a holy war against Islam. I am, quite literally, going to sit on my ass for ten days.  Continue reading “The Trump Card”

It’s a Wonderful Life

By way of a holiday reflection, I wrote a review of It’s a Wonderful Life for Cinema Faith. Cinema Faith is a new film website with thoughtful articles and a reviews written by insightful young Christians.

Here’s a quote from Frank Capra, creator of It’s a Wonderful Life, a quote I discuss in my short review:

Forgotten among the hue-and criers were the hard-working stiffs that came home too tired to shout or demonstrate in streets … and prayed they’d have enough left over to keep their kids in college, despite their knowing that some were pot-smoking, parasitic parent-haters. Who would make films about, and for, these uncomplaining, unsqueaky wheels that greased the squeaky? Not me. My “one man, one film” Hollywood had ceased to exist. Actors had sliced it up into capital gains. And yet – mankind needed dramatizations of the truth that man is essentially good, a living atom of divinity; that compassion for others, friend or foe, is the noblest of all virtues. Films must be made to say these things, to counteract the violence and the meanness, to buy time to demobilize the hatreds…

Keep an eye on that high phone bill you’ve got there..and the cable bill if you’ve got cable

If you were to be inexplicably transformed into a European, perhaps suddenly struck with the strange ability to speak German while munching a sausage in the beautiful city of Munich, or if you lost consciousness and awoke to find yourself sipping wine at a cafe in Paris like it’s nobody’s business, or if one moment you were fighting traffic on your commute home through one of any number of American cities, log-jammed during rush hour, and the next you were standing on a plain in Spain enjoying the rain, then you’d of course notice that the situation regarding your healthcare coverage was much improved; but once the shock of being morphed from an American to a European wore off, once you got used to the idea of better healthcare, and if you were a man and needed time to adjust to snug, form-fitting clothes, at that point you would likely notice something very significant about your cable bill or cell phone charges — they’d be lower. Continue reading “Keep an eye on that high phone bill you’ve got there..and the cable bill if you’ve got cable”

Taste and see

That’s me in the photo, about two years ago. It was the last time I completed an extended meditation retreat. A few months before the retreat, I was sitting in my office, in the village of Sinoni, a few miles from the city of Arusha in Tanzania. I was volunteering as the Finance Manager for a non-profit, and I had discovered that for a little over $300, I could fly to India and back. I couldn’t pass that up. Continue reading “Taste and see”

Being grateful, maybe just for the hell of it

Understanding what it means to be thankful has proved a more difficult task than I would have thought, and I’ve thought a good bit about it over the years. I mean really, I have, I’ve thought about it a good deal more than you might think I might have thought. Being thankful is a pesky problem, actually. Continue reading “Being grateful, maybe just for the hell of it”

A few peculiar thoughts


Slavery was called the South’s “peculiar institution.” If you’re like me, then you hear the word “peculiar” and think “strange,” or “weird,” or “ridiculous” in the very worst way. When I hear that slavery was called a “peculiar institution” that makes sense: it was a very strange, a very creepy and an ominous organization that charted the course of our culture into deep darkness, a darkness that continues to cast a shadow over our society. I’d always imagined that the term “peculiar institution” was coined by the Abolitionists or others who opposed slavery. I learned last night that I was wrong. Though you may find it peculiar in an odd sort of way, let me tell you that it was actually Southern thinkers and politicians who first talked about, yes even praised and exalted their peculiar institution. Continue reading “A few peculiar thoughts”

How to avoid smoking nervous cigarettes


One of my favorite discoveries of 2015 is The Elements of Eloquence, written by a chap named Mark Forsyth. Forsyth is a Brit, hence the reason that I’ve picked up the term “chap.” Don’t let the title of the work fool you, because The Elements of Eloquence is by no means a serious or pretentious work. While it’s true that you can’t appreciate it unless you are a writer or have an inner grammar geek, this is a book that’s a good bit of fun. It’s packed with pithy puns and offhand irreverence, it’s a book I’d imagine Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy) might write had he written a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Grammar or something along that line. I’ve had more laughs with The Elements of Eloquence than with any other book this year.  Continue reading “How to avoid smoking nervous cigarettes”

Leanness into their souls

I’m spending the winter in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of the big San Francisco Bay area. I hide in the big redwoods. I hide from the city.

I went on a walk in the redwoods just yesterday. It’s easily one of my favorite activities, and good trails aren’t far. The trees are enormous, rising maybe a hundred feet or more, I’d say, towering above, making me feel a similar smallness that I experience when I look up at high rise buildings in the city. I often find myself smiling, the best kind of smile, spontaneous and unconscious, when my neck is craned, straining to take it all in, the spires ascending and forming a wild and sacred cathedral. Continue reading “Leanness into their souls”

In defense of Facebook minutia

I’m not typically the guy with the Facebook updates sharing what I ate for breakfast. I don’t mind seeing what you or others eat for breakfast, and I certainly don’t have anything against breakfast, per se. Breakfast is a wonderful time of the day, so rich with potential, our bodies are on the verge of great creativity and productivity, if only it were given the fuel necessary to energize it. For my part, I had a bagel with cream cheese. That was my breakfast. And I sprinkled some sugar on it and added cinnamon. That’s not my typical breakfast. Usually it’s just fruit. Fruit and perhaps a handful of almonds. Why is this my normal breakfast? Well, if I told you, then this would start to seem like a story. Continue reading “In defense of Facebook minutia”

For the healing of the nations

Last year at about this time, I attended an Earth at Risk conference, a gathering of committed, aka “radical” activists and leftists that met in San Francisco. It was a two day event, and I was only able to attend the second day. That may have been for the better. When I arrived, the mood was very somber, and one of the early speakers acknowledged as much, making reference to the tone of the prior day — from what I gathered, it had been a heavy load of apocalyptic rhetoric, the end is near, with little or no hope. Continue reading “For the healing of the nations”

Gone like the shadow

We all live with fairly intense blindspots. It is, perhaps, one of those facts about human nature that can be funny, frustrating, and even infuriating. And as our stories tend to go, no one quite seems to know our blindspots like friends, families, and most especially partners, spouses, and boy/girl friends. In a perfect world, our blinspots would be pointed out to us, we would say, “Ah, thanks!” then make a few adjustments to our personality, tweak our persectives, and give ourselves a spiritual tune-up, so to speak. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Continue reading “Gone like the shadow”

Faith of sands, seeds, and seas

It was refreshing to see a nice sunset last night, on the beach of the Pacific Ocean, no less. As the sun went down, it seemed to melt into a pool of orange and yellow brilliance, casting soft dusty pink colors on the far side of the beach. These colors all deepen as the sun slowly sets. Continue reading “Faith of sands, seeds, and seas”

Beginner’s Pen

I’ve redesigned my blog, simplified it a good deal. I’ve always been excited about the Internet, and I realized the other day I’ve been blogging and whatnot for something like more than 15 years now. The first time I really plugged myself into the World Wide Web was while I was working my second corporate gig, a job that had a boat load of inspiration for a satirical writer of comedies like Dilbert or The Office. Continue reading “Beginner’s Pen”

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