Saturday, May 14, 2005
My son-in-law reported that Delta employees volunteered for the duty of helping take the casket from the plane to an awaiting hearse. Family members and an honor guard stood by. "There were these burly baggage handlers with tears rolling down their faces," he told me. "It was all so sad to see."
Taylor Prazynski graduated from Fairfield High School in 2003. He joined the Marines shortly after that.
The Cincinnati Enquirer today also tells the sad news of a twelfth tristate member of the military killed in Iraq. This young man, Marine Lance Corporal Nick Erdy, 21, was from Clermont County. His cause of death isn't yet known.
As I said earlier, I pray for peace. I also pray that God will comfort all who mourn.
Says the article:
Even the show's comic moments can be violent. In one episode, Fawzi [the male lead] is so busy flirting with Fatin [the female lead] that he fails to notice his car - the hand brake left off - rolling backward downhill. It rolls all the way to an American military checkpoint, where the soldiers, mistaking it for a car bomb, riddle it with bullets.Love and War has come to an end. Its final episode, recently filmed and to be seen in June, shows Fawzi and Fatin, now married, being blown up by a suicide bomber. Such is the violent reality of Iraq. I'm praying for peace.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Today, May 13, Mrs. Korp could be taken off life-support. That's contingent on a Melbourne judge ruling that her status of being in a persistent vegetative state has changed to a permanent state. The court-appointed guardian could then decide to end life support.
Ironically, Mrs. Korp's alleged killers may hope that decision won't be made and that she will not die. Should she die under those circumstances, prosecutors have indicated that they would change the charge of attempted murder to murder.
Purple Kangaroo cites medical protocols indicating that for the court to change Mrs. Korp's status, just three months after she was found, would be premature.
Prayers for Maria Korp and for those charged with making decisions in this matter would be good to offer right now.
UPDATE: Purple Kangaroo has posted information on the difficulty and subjectivity involved in diagnosing someone as having entered a permanent vegetative state (PVS). It's here.
PK has also sent a link my way with background information and a plethora of links dealing with the entire subject. It's here.
I hope that readers find these links informative and will use them as incentive for further exploration of the subjects raised.
But I don't object to being characterized as a Pro-Government Conservative. (That's not the same as a Big-Government Conservative, by the way. Many feel that that's the appropriate designation for the President.)
So, go to Rob's site and link up with the test, then leave a comment with him on your reactions to it.
It seems to me that what you're commending here, Rob, is a humble approach
to faith and life.
Just because we are Christians doesn't mean that we're incapable of being
wrong. Just because George W. Bush is a man of faith who prays doesn't mean that
he can't be wrong. And just because I'm a Christian, it doesn't mean that I know
what ought to happen in our political process.
That's one reason why, when I pray for the President and other foreign
leaders, I tell God, "I have my preferences. But You know better. I just pray
that You open their hearts and, in whatever ways You choose, send Christ to
them. Then, with their hearts (and wills and minds) open to You, help them to do
what You want them to do."
But even then, we must acknowledge that our leaders see through a glass
I've said it before and now I'm going to say it again: Because of the
security we Christians derive from our relationship with Jesus Christ and our
utter dependence on Him, we can feel okay about prefacing all our opinions with
the simple statement of truth, "I could be wrong." In fact, since I am a sinful
human being saved only by God's undeserved act of grace through Jesus Christ and
because I am a finite mortal being, nothing is more probable at any given moment
than that I am wrong, either wholly or in part.
The very first reality any follower of Jesus needs to acknowledge is that,
"I'm not God."
By the way, this acknowledgement can be hard to make. The longer a person spends in the Christian subculture, especially one that encourages the kind of self-righteousness Jesus excoriated in the Pharisees, the more that person "identifies" with God and the tougher it becomes to admit that all my thoughts might not come with the input of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of heaven, or the imprimatur of Jesus.
I'm reminded of Irving Stone's book, They Also Ran, which told the life-stories of the defeated nominees of the major parties for President. One of those profiled was three-time Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan, a deeply committed but shallow Christian. Stone described a progression in Bryan's warped thinking that ran roughly through these stages (I'm paraphrasing because I don't have the book in front of me and it's been more than thirty years since I read it in full):
I want to do God's will
I've been anointed by God to do His will
I alone know God's will
I am God
Whether they would admit to making a bald claim of deity or not, many Christians, at a functional level, seem to live as though they think that way. After insisting--rightly, I think--that there are such things as objective truth and right and wrong, they leap to the unfounded claim that they know it all through and through. They claim that God is a certain kind of conservative Republican and won't entertain other notions. They claim that God wants to get rid of Senate filibusters of judicial nominations, wanted us to go into Iraq, and thinks that Tom DeLay is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Others will insist that God wants to preserve the Social Security system as is and knows that the Republicans stole the 2000 election.
Maybe God does want and believe those things, but until people can show me chapter and verse in the Bible that's the case, I think that they ought to willingly label their opinions as their opinions, not God's word. None of this is to say that people with particular philosophies, informed by their own Christian sensibilities, shouldn't be politically active. But humility should inform our forays into political debates. We should be able to say, "I'm as willing to listen as to speak. I'm as willing to admit that I'm wrong as insist that I'm right."
In the case of Robertson, Marty doesn't have to do anything but quote the guy. As is often true of Robertson, what he says is so outrageous and ridiculous that he roasts himself on his own flame.
In the case of the TV series producers and the network airing "Revelations," he quotes extensively from a statement by a Biblical scholar.
An island nation with limited space and limited natural resources, of course, has special incentive for reusing those materials that can be recycled and for incinerating those that would take up precious acreage in landfills.
The Times article talks about communities that have 10 and 44 different refuse categories into which individuals are expected to sort things. This is in many ways, laudable. I believe in recycling and probably no nation on earth is better at organizing themselves quickly and efficiently than the Japanese.
What interested me though, is the role played by societal shame in seeing to it that individuals comply with Japan's complicated trash-sorting rules.
There are what can only be described as "vigilantes" who cruise their neighborhoods, peering at the contents of the required-transparent trash bags to make certain that neighbors have sorted all items properly. When their neighbors fail to do so, the vigliantes are on them, tarring them with bad reputations.
Two vignettes from the article illustrate this use of shame:
Shizuka Gu, 53, said that early on, a community leader sent her a letter reprimanding her for not writing her identification number on the bag with a "thick felt-tip pen." She was chided for using a pen that was "too thin."And this:
"It was a big shock to be told that I had done something wrong," Ms. Gu said. "So I couldn't bring myself to take out the trash here and asked my husband to take it to his office. We did that for one month."
At a 100-family apartment complex not too far away, Sumishi Kawai was keeping his eyes trained on the trash site before pickup. Missorting was easy to spot, given the required use of clear garbage bags with identification numbers. Compliance was perfect - almost.
One young couple consistently failed to properly sort their trash. "Sorry! We'll be careful!" they would say each time Mr. Kawai knocked on their door holding evidence of their transgressions.
At last, even Mr. Kawai - a small 77-year-old man with wispy white hair, an easy smile and a demeanor that can only be described as grandfatherly - could take no more.
"They were renting the apartment, so I asked the owner, 'Well, would it be possible to have them move?' " Mr. Kawai said, recalling, with undisguised satisfaction, that the couple was evicted two months ago.
In America, of course, we've almost done away with anything remotely resembling shame. We do, thankfully, have laws that strive to keep sexual predators away from children and that provide for the publication of these predators' names and faces in newspapers and other media. But by and large, Americans feel little motivation to do or not do things because of the possibility of being shamed.
One day last week, my wife, who works at a local retail establishment part-time in addition to her full-time gig as a school librarian, was approached by one of the young women with whom she works. This early-twenty-something had a look of horror on her face.
My wife soon knew why. A guy perusing the Mother's Day cards, wearing a Hustler ball cap also wore a T-shirt. Across the chest of the shirt was written in bold letters: F**k me, I'm bored.
Neither my wife or I believe in telling other people what to do. We're both squeamish about recent efforts of some Christian political groups to, as we see it, impose their particular brand of Christian morality on society.
But we both believe that when people like the T-shirt guy wear garbage in public where children can read it, people have a right, at the least, to say something.
When the man came to the cash register where my wife was working, she told him, "That is the most disgusting T-shirt I have ever seen in my life and it's completely inappropriate." The guy chuckled and said something about wishing he could find more like it.
While I'm proud of my wife for calling this guy out for publicly imposing his morality on children he passed by, nothing was immediately changed.
By and large, shame is a poor tool for change in America (or anywhere else, I surmise). We're too individualistic here, so raised on the (questionable) notion that all are born with rights, that we often view any obligation to others as an infringement. That's why, for example, we have people who claim that US courts have no jurisdiction over them and why some refuse to pay their taxes.
But I'm surely glad that I don't live in Japan. Shame is a destructive thing and it seems to be a deeply-ingrained and unquestioned presence in Japanese culture.
A woman I knew, who lived in a close-knit community, lost her job. She had taken a small sum of money from the company for which she'd worked and she was fired. Jobless now, she was reimbursing her former employer and could, in that community, have easily secured another position. But she was too ashamed to ask for a job. Doing so would have entailed the possibility of explaining why she was looking for new work.
For weeks, she went through an elaborate hoax designed to convince neighbors, friends, and family members that all was fine and that she was still working at her former job.
At last, she couldn't take the shame any longer. One morning, she got into the car in her garage, turned the engine on, keeping the door closed, and killed herself with carbon monoxide fumes.
Shame is a lousy motivator for long-term changes in human behaviors, no matter what the culture. It's been my observation that shame held onto for long periods of time can morph in three different ways:
(1) The weight of shame can cause people to simply deny the notion of any accountability to anyone or anything. It will lead, in other words, to a kind of libertinism, what I call, "anything goesism." The easiest fix for the shame that others impose on you is to deny that there are any standards whatever for how we interact with the world. That seemed to be the attitude of the guy with the T-shirt.I'm not a fan of shame.
(2) The weight of shame can crush the life out of its victims, literally causing them to take their own lives. Unable to face or handle their shame, sometimes agreeing with the standards of perfection they sense others imposing upon them and sometimes simply submitting to them, these folks see no way out but death. That was the attitude of the woman who took her life.
(3) The weight of shame can bludgeon people into submission, turning them into furtive creatures, always worried about what the neighbors might say, and doing whatever they can to placate the false god of honor. That appears to be the way of Japanese culture.
But, as I've written more extensively here, guilt can be a good thing.
Shame assaults our personhood. Guilt calls us to accountability for specific actions or ways of thinking.
Shame questions our right to exist. Guilt calls us to make our lives better, affirming our capacity for growth.
Shame believes that we can't change. Guilt can motivate change.
We can learn something from the earnestness with which the Japanese are recycling. But they need to lighten up a little.
And I believe that the only real antidote to shame or guilt is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the God-Man Who accepts us as we are and graciously, lovingly, patiently helps those who surrender to Him to become all they're made to be.
But Althouse is smart and funny and attentive to lots going on in the world. I read her blog every single day...often several times a day.
If you haven't looked at her blog yet, give it a rip.
During one segment, David Schuster reported on an interview he conducted on the Washington equivalent of the red carpet with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist before last evening's gala fundraiser in honor of Nancy Reagan.
Frist's responses to several Schuster questions seemed to indicate that a compromise on getting rid of the filibuster during debates over judicial nominees was pending. Later comments by Senator John Warner, rumored to be one of several Republicans less than enthralled with the so-called "nuclear option," pointed to the probability of a deal of some sort.
Pardon me if I gloat a little. I'm not always the most accurate prognisticator. But yesterday, in an interesting discussion in the Comments section of a post by Ann Althouse, I predicted that a compromise would emerge.
Here is a sample of my reasoning:
As a general observation, I would say that we hold elections for a reason. When we vote for presidential candidate A, we expect him or her to appoint folks to both the executive and judicial branches who are broadly reflective of their views. I expect George W. Bush to appoint pro-life rather than pro-choice jurists to the bench. So, I agree with former Senator Dole, who wrote in the NYTimes a few weeks ago, that the president's nominations ought to get a straight up-and-down vote.Some pro-life Republicans, the kinds who would rather be defeated in a blaze of glory than actually advance their cause, are apt to be disgusted when a compromise is announced. They will accuse Frist, the White House, and other Republicans of being sellouts and of, as they're fond of saying, "lacking cojones." The passage of just a little time may show that another description of them is apt: Smart politicians who stick to their principles and successfully pursue their agendas.
But I also agree with Dole on another point he has made during this debate over judicial filibustering. The majority needs to be smart in how it uses its power. They shouldn't throw out the filibuster on the basis of temporary political exigencies. The nuclear option could blow up later in Republicans' faces. Exercising that nuclear option would then be seen as the act of political suicide bombers.
Quite simply, it's in everybody's best interest that a compromise like that suggested last week by Senator Frist, one that would limit Senate debate to 100 hours, emerges.
If I were a betting person, I would say that a compromise will be worked out. The Dems will have their say. The President will get his judges. The system will work. No one will feel humiliated, licking wounds that will later be the motivation for pushing some other nuclear, all-or-nothing button.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
President Bush's newest exercise craze
The assessment of Bush supporters that Florida Governor Jeb Bush could make
a credible run for the presidency in 2008
The TV-watching obsessions of Washington's high and mighty
Check it out.
Here's what is: Two new carnivals of blogging are up and submitted for your reading pleasure.
Check out the Carnival of the Vanities and the Christian Carnival. I'm looking forward to sampling some of the posts on this lovely day myself.
Putin represents a real threat to peace and stability. While we may have entered a post-state era, replete with globalization, border-hopping terrorists, and the Internet, some haven't gotten the word yet. That includes the leaders in places like Moscow, Pyongyang, and Beijing. They bear watching.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
- Adults and teens are reading Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life, each day.
- Our weekly worship is built around one of the five purposes for life Warren has identified based on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment found in the New Testament portion of the Bible.
- A Mission and Ministry Fair this coming Sunday will encourage members of our congregation to get involved with ministries to the church and mission to the community outside our fellowship.
- Finally, every week during the campaign, small groups gather to learn, pray, discuss, and grow in their relationships with God and each other.
We'd already had a good discussion on what fears and apprehensions we had about dropping our own agendas to serve people whose needs become known to us, about the challenge of moving out of our comfort zones to serve, and about the desire we have to serve others as Jesus has already served us, when we came to this question:
Take a minute and write down some of your gifts and talents. Briefly share them with the group and have the group respond with possible areas of ministry where your gifts would be effective.After I'd asked our group to do this exercise, a silence came over the room and I could feel the apprehension. One of the hardest things in the world is for us to identify or acknowledge our gifts or abilities. Whatever the root cause--fear of appearing egotistical, self-esteem issues, genuine belief that there is nothing particularly noteworthy about us--my years as a pastor have shown me that it's usually a difficult assignment for people, Christians especially, to name their talents.
My wife then made a suggestion. "Mark," she said, "why don't you go around the room and talk about the gifts and abilities you've seen in each person and then we can add our observations?" Whether it was because it got them off the hook a bit or because they thought I was qualified to do this, the rest of the group urged me to proceed in this way.
I told everyone that actually, this appealed to me. I recalled an episode of the old sitcom, Taxi. Louie De Palma is telling Alex Reiger about the gifts possessed by the employees of the cab company, naming each one along with their special abilities. "And Reiger," he says, "do you know what my gift is? I know what everybody else's gift is."
The way I see it, this is the foundational gift for any leader. More than anything else a leader must know what she or he can't do and discern who among the people they lead has the gift to do those things. I believe that the best leaders lead from weakness. They honestly acknowledge their deficiencies and humbly ask those who are more qualified or more able to fill in their gaps.
I may tell myself this because I have so many weaknesses and deficiencies and it consoles me to know that I need so much help in order to be an effective leader. But having them and knowing that I have them has, through my years as a leader in the church and in the community, forced me to do two things:
First, to depend on God. It's to this sort of dependency that Paul was referring when he wrote the seemingly paradoxical statement, "So, I will boast all the more gladly if my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (Second Corinthians 12:9). When weakness compels us to ask God to help, we're calling in more power, talent, inspiration, wisdom, insight, and capacity for meaningful accomplishment than we possess on our own.
Second, to depend on others. "A threefold cord is not quickly broken," Ecclesiates 4:12 in the Old Testament says. The strength of our efforts and the prospects of success are enhanced when those who, by themselves, are weak, band together with others. The New Testament makes it clear that God gives us our abilities and talents not just for our own prosperity or enjoyment, but also to give life, help, support, encouragement, and hope to others, Christians and non-Christians.
I've come to see these dependencies and the weaknesses they represent in us as individuals as gifts from God that help us all be more than we can ever be on our own.
Over the years at our congregation, our members occasionally have given short presentations on "What Friendship Church Means to Me" during our worship celebrations. One of the ongoing themes of those talks, one that has become the source of lots of ribbing and jokes, is, "You don't tell Mark what hobbies, interests, or past experiences you have. He'll turn it into your ministry." There's more than a grain of truth to that.
So, confident that I am our congregation's Louie De Palma, I went around the room tonight, naming the gifts, skills, talents, and tendencies of heart of each person present. Others happily joined in.
As we all shared our heartfelt assessments of one another, we experienced lots of laughter and also a few tears. The bond among our group members was strengthened and a deeper appreciation for the Biblical truth that each human being is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14) was fostered. Our gathering lasted about a half-hour longer than usual--we aim to meet for an hour-and-a-half. But nobody seemed to mind.
It reminded me of an exercise I've done with middle school-aged Catechism students and high schoolers through the years. I write the names of every participant in the group on the top of a piece of paper. Then, I lay the papers out on a long table and tell the kids to write at least one thing they appreciate about the person whose name is on the page.
The first time I ever did this, the kids insisted that a page be made for me as well. I thought that I would get either perfunctory compliments or a few digs. Instead, the kids seemed to take to the project with genuine interest and authentic love, not only toward their peers, but for me as well. I was amazed at some of their comments. One written on my sheet I will never forget: "If you ever do something nice for somone, watch out! Pastor Mark sends out about a million thank you notes." I still have that piece of paper.
Something struck me as we went around the room with the members of our small group tonight, expressing what we appreciated in one another: Pre-teens and teens aren't the only ones who need to be told about what makes them special.
Followers of Jesus are called to be the hands and feet and voice of God in our world. That's what the New Testament is talking about when it calls we Jesus-Followers the "body of Christ." I'm sure that as Christ's body in the world, one of our tasks is to encourage people--whether they're believers or not. Doing so becomes one more way of sharing the love and the Good News of the God we know through the crucified and risen Jesus.
So much about our lives can drag us down. We can provide a real God-honoring service to others when take the time to build them up.
Much success, Rob!
Monday, May 09, 2005
I have a feeling that Huffington is legitimizing the media-of-choice favored by the very bloggers and blog-consumers who are so disdainful of The Huffington Post Blog.
On the basis of just one day, I have three beefs with the blog.
First, there are so many posts from so many different people that it creates content overload. There is no way I'm going to read all that stuff.
Oddly enough, this is precisely what some people say about my blog. Maybe that's an idea for marketing Better Living though: It's the one-person group blog.
My second complaint is that Huffinton's blog seems to be definitely tilted in one direction politically. Are there no moderate or conservative celebs?
Of course, everyone's entitled to their opinions. People wouldn't come here to Better Living and expect me to present positive views of sadism, veganism, Euro-bashing, disco music, astrology, or fascism. I'm not into any of that. But one would think that a blog like Huffington's would represent a wider range of world views than is presently visible there.
Third: Why no Comments lines or contact addresses? If you're going to blog, Ms. Huffington et al, you have to realize that this media is a two-way street. No more top-down stuff, even though I know that's the very form of communication with which celebrities may be most accustomed.
But, after all, it is just the first day. It'll take some time to iron out the problems. Welcome to the Blogging World, Arianna and Crew. Have a ton of fun with it. I hope you link to this site.
UPDATE: Ann Althouse wrote about the Huffington blog today, mentioning Larry David. I had to admit [blush] that I didn't know who this was, although I later realized that I had heard of him.
I console myself with the idea that he probably doesn't remember reading about me either.
ANOTHER UPDATE: After Larry David posted on Huffington's blog, Paul Musgrave of In the Agora is willing to read it again.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Former Bush speechwriter David Frum is apparently the token conservative in AriannaLand.