Out of Egypt: My Four Years Working for a Foreign Government

Celebrations in Tahrir Square on February 11, 2011. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…” – Colossians 3:23 (NASB)

Since I began blogging in earnest, I have occasionally referred to the fact that I spent a period of time in the employ of a foreign government: the Egyptian government, to be specific. It was a fascinating epoch in many ways, and yet thoroughly uninteresting in others. Out of respect for my former employer (and here I mean specifically my first boss), I have said hardly anything about this period in public. However, enough time has elapsed that I now feel comfortable sharing some of my experiences.

In 2009, I completed my Master’s degree and began looking for a job that would pay the bills. I applied to numerous think tanks, congressional offices, and government departments. I even considered joining the CIA. What I did not expect was to see a job listing with the Egyptian Press Office in Washington, D.C., a kind of satellite campus of the Egyptian Ministry of Information. Although I had never been to Egypt and did not speak Arabic, I applied. Shockingly, they invited me to D.C. to interview.

I suspect that there were three things that won me the job: 1) I had a good knowledge of politics and media in the United States, which was what they sorely craved. 2) I demonstrated sensitivity toward their culture and religion. 3) The person who interviewed me had attended the same graduate school as myself.

So it was that on a snowy December day, my parents helped me move all my belongings into an apartment in northern Virginia, from which I would commute to my new position as Assistant to the Director of the Egyptian Press Office. Continue reading

The Perils of Pastoral Power

“A Franciscan Monk Preaching”, by an anonymous painter near Romagna, Italy circa 1500-1525. “I’m very proud of my humililty,” the monk said.

One of the best decisions I made during my undergraduate study was to do a double major in Political Science and Biblical Literature. I had plotted my course in politics from the very first semester, but somewhere along the line, I developed a conscience and chose to study scripture as well. When my new Bib Lit adviser met with me to sign off on the paperwork, he said, “The two things you’re never supposed to talk about: religion and politics!” When my Poli Sci adviser, who had been lobbying for me to attend law school, learned of my decision, his response was, “So are you going to seminary now?”

My choice might have confused these esteemed representatives of two departments that rarely worked in concert (and indeed seemed almost antithetical), but having a background in both areas has helped me to make connections that may not seem obvious to the average person. On the one hand, I am a firm believer in the separation of Church and state, for the sake of the Church even more than the state. On the other, there is no question that my religious beliefs about the nature of man affect my view of what is achievable in politics, and I have recently discovered that there is one particular way that thinking a bit more politically might be beneficial from a spiritual standpoint. Continue reading

Being Female in the Era of Trump

Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Official White House photo

In light of the events of the past few days (here I refer not to the AFC and NFC Championship Games, but to the Presidential Inauguration and Women’s March on Washington), I have decided to share some of my thoughts on what it currently means to be a woman – and more specifically, a Christian woman – in the United States of America.

Donald Trump is the legitimately elected president of this country, and as such, he is entitled to a certain degree of respect. As an American, I believe this to be true because democratic elections, the peaceful transfer of power, and respect for governmental institutions are absolutely essential to the continuation of the American ideal. This is what our country was built on, and if we choose to abandon it because of our disdain for the person who won the election, then our concern for protecting the country will in effect end up hurting the country. Continue reading

The Right to not Vote

Photo by Wikipedia user Lars Plougmann

During the contentious election year that we just experienced here in the United States, it did not seem fitting for me to add to the controversy. A single look at my Facebook feed or glance at the Twittersphere was all it took to convince me that one more opinion was the last thing the world needed. I thus remained mostly silent and only posted my analysis to this blog a week after the vote was held. I think I said everything I needed to say there, and I do not intend to rehash what has already been hashed to death.

However, that election has caused me to return again to some perennial issues involved with voting. One such issue that is unique to the United States is that of the Electoral College, which I addressed a few weeks back. Today, I would like to talk about something else: the right to vote itself.

It never fails that when an election is about to take place, I hear at least one person make mention of the fact that people died to give me the right to vote. This concept is not confined to the good old U.S. of A. Last summer, when the Brits were about to vote on whether or not to leave the European Union, The Independent ran an editorial with the headline “Thousands died to earn your right to vote – now you must exercise it”. Continue reading

The Electoral College Needs to Go (But it’s not Going Anywhere)

This map showing the proportion of the vote that the candidates received in each state was created by Wikipedia user Ali Zifan. Results are for the 2016 presidential election.

This map showing the proportion of the vote that the candidates received in each state was created by Wikipedia user Ali Zifan. Results are for the 2016 presidential election.

The Electoral College needs to go. That I feel very strongly and have for some time.

You may find it interesting that I am posting this article now, after we have just had Donald Trump elected to the presidency not with a majority of the votes nationwide, but according to this somewhat antiquated system that is nonetheless enshrined in our Constitution. You may be thinking that my complaint is due to my personal dislike for Trump rather than any deep seated principle. Well, it’s true that I am not a Trump fan, but I have held this opinion for some time – basically since I found out what the Electoral College was. Here are the reasons why. Continue reading

My Reaction to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

President-Elect Donald Trump meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016. White House Photo by Pete Souza.

President-Elect Donald Trump meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016. White House Photo by Pete Souza.

 

Dear Friends: The following contains some genuine political opinions, and while it is not meant to be an attack on anyone or anything, if you have simply had enough of political discussion (here I commiserate with you), consider yourself warned. The second half of the article is more important than the first.

On November 8, 2016, I swore that I would pay as little attention to the election returns as possible, that I would watch none of the television coverage, and that I would go to bed early and sleep through it. I accomplished all of those things but the third one. At approximately 2:00 a.m. EST, I awoke and my mind immediately went to that all-important question: “Who is my president going to be?” I looked at my phone, for I knew I would never go back to sleep otherwise, and saw the following two notifications.

12:14 a.m. Dayton Daily News – “Early election results send Dow futures, global stocks plunging”

1:50 a.m. New York Times – “Donald Trump has won Pennsylvania, all but assuring that he will be the next president of the United States” Continue reading

U.S. Politics Got You Down? Brits to the Rescue!

The leaders of Britain's major political parties (including a seventh not pictured) participated in a TV debate last month prior to the 2015 UK general election. Screenshot of ITV's coverage of the debate taken from YouTube channel of Sky News

The leaders of Britain’s major political parties (including a seventh not pictured) participated in a TV debate last month prior to the 2015 UK general election. Screenshot of ITV’s coverage of the debate taken from YouTube channel of Sky News

As I settle in for a year and a half of non-stop coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I find myself bracing for blistering attack ads, billions of dollars in campaign spending, partisanship capable of offending even the Montagues & Capulets, and the inevitability of a conclusion that is unlikely to satisfy me in any tangible way. It’s enough to make me want to avoid watching the news for the next 18 months, but why should that be?

After all, elections used to be fun, or so I thought. I would take to them much as Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock Holmes reacts to news of a gruesome murder with a gleeful, “The game is on!” Political elections are, after all, both the highest and lowest form of competitive sport. If only it were possible to cut down on all the TV commercials, reign in campaign spending, and force leading politicians to debate with many points of view rather than just one other! If only there was a way to enjoy watching all those glorious campaign gaffes and still know that none of my tax dollars would be negatively affected by the incompetence of said politicians!

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a way, but not in America. Instead, we need to go to a far older country – a kingdom, in fact. Yes, I’m talking about the United Kingdom, where the official campaign period is less than two months long, TV advertising is subject to strict regulations, and voters have some legitimate third (or fourth, or fifth) parties to choose from. Politics here plays out like Shakespearean drama about a mile from the location where Shakespearean drama was first performed. Continue reading

Scotland’s Referendum in Perspective

If I type the word “Scotland”, what pops into your mind? Kilted men playing bagpipes? “They may take our lives, but they can never take our freedom!”? A blurry image of something claimed to be the Loch Ness monster? Beautiful hills covered in thistles? A Scottie dog? Epic tales of Rob Roy? A style of golf that involves howling winds, bunkers capable of swallowing a man, and grass that can hide a ball from even the eyes of an eagle? Sean Connery or Andy Murray? The lovable accent for which Scots are famous? Shortbread cookies?

All of these things form part of the public image of Scotland, but if you look up the word “Scotland” on Wikipedia, this is the first sentence you will read (as of this writing): “Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom.”

This is actually a good sentence with which to begin the article, as it addresses some of the primary questions I receive regarding Scotland. “Is Scotland a country?” “Is Scotland part of Britain?” “Are Scottish people British?” “What all makes up the United Kingdom?” Continue reading

Religious Freedom in the Era of Gay Marriage

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Culture Clash

Religious freedom in the United States is in peril, or so I have been led to believe. Over the past few weeks, we have seen three flash points in the so-called “culture wars”, events that have caused conservative Christians and/or just plain conservatives to once again sound the alarm about the growing persecution they face in this country.

First, there was the short-lived controversy surrounding the non-profit international aid group World Vision, a favorite charity of many evangelical Christians (and others), who in turn for paying about a dollar a day receive a picture of a child in an impoverished country and the feeling that they are making a positive difference in the world. (I should stress that I am not anti-World Vision and have been participating in their child sponsorship program for about a decade.)

Within a day of World Vision announcing that, due to the beliefs of several Christian denominations with which they work, they were not going to discriminate against Christians working for their organization who were married to same-sex partners, the evangelical Christian world was in a frenzy, with some people cancelling their donations to the organization. Continue reading

The Missing Link in the Affordable Care Act

President Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, surrounded by Democratic supporters (except, perhaps, for the boy in the front, who seems a bit too young to have a definitive political ideology). White House photo by Pete Souza.

President Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, surrounded by Democratic supporters (except, perhaps, for the boy in the front, who seems a bit too young to have a definitive political ideology). White House photo by Pete Souza.

The creators of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) overlooked one essential link in the unbroken chain of historical health care service in America: the important role of the insurance salesperson. Call him/her what you will, but here we will use the term salesperson or sales representative.

For the purposes of this article, let us think of the health care chain as containing five main links: 1) patient, 2) sales representative, 3) insurance company (or other payer), 4) health service provider, and 5) patient care.

In the Affordable Care Act (hereafter “ACA”), the second link is either weak or missing. The creators of the ACA have made a fatal mistake by trying to go around the sometimes maligned and unappreciated lowly insurance salesperson. To their credit, they have made lame attempts to furnish substitutes — namely the website (which is a joke), the Navigators, and others. Continue reading