Saturday, June 25, 2005

Limerick for Host-in-Chief?

Patrician Nelson Limerick, in an op-ed piece for today's New York Times, suggests that disputants in democracies ought to learn a lesson from two American founders who buried the hatchet--John Adams and Thomas Jefferson--as well as her late husband, Jeff Limerick. They should, she says, talk things through and without the impediments of distance with which those in the eighteenth century had to deal, over lunch. Writes Limerick:
When I find myself puzzled and even vexed by the opinions and beliefs of other people, I invite them to have lunch. Multiple experiments have supported what we will call, in Jeff's honor, the Limerick Hypothesis: in the bitter contests of values and political rhetoric that characterize our times, 90 percent of the uproar is noise, and 10 percent is what the scientists call "signal," or solid, substantive information that will reward study and interpretation. If we could eliminate much of the noise, we might find that the actual, meaningful disagreements are on a scale we can manage.
She invites two Christians from the American West, Bill Moyer and James Watt to have lunch at her place in Colorado. The purpose? To discuss their differences--real and imagined--on US environmental policy and to discover their commonalities. (I'll spring for the cost of the lunch if Limerick's lunch materializes, by the way.)

Limerick's notion has broader applicability. Mandatory lunch lockdowns for members of Congress, maybe? Noontime meals involving people like Michael Eisner and Roy Disney or Matt Lauer and Tom Cruise?

But whether, in our cliche-ridden, talk-show infested, blog-heated, spin-saturated world people are actually interested in doing the hard work of democracy and civil society, I don't know.

But we shouldn't despair. The celebrated reconciliation cited by Limerick, that of Adams and Jefferson, took a long time to materialize and only after it was suggested by a mutual friend of both men. Who knows? Hosting lunches may prove to be the very thing to get talented people working together in America.

This is similar to the approach to conflict resolution within the Church that Jesus commends, by the way. He says, in essence, Don't go around blowing off steam about people to others. Instead, go directly to the person with whom you have the beef.

This process can usually be facilitated by a caring person who's willing to serve up salad and burgers and who has sufficient credibility with both parties to cry, "Foul!" when comments become either self-justifying or accusatory.

I nominate Limerick to become America's first Lunch Host-in-Chief.

Trusting What You Can't See?

"You're packing a suitcase
For a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed
To be seen"

The words come from Walk On, a song by U2, written in honor of the Burmese activist, Aung San Suu Kyi. In it, Bono and his bandmates urge the political prisoner to carry on with her life and work, trusting that the free land she envisions, a place far different from the one that keeps her under house arrest these days, will one day come into being.

The lyrics were the first thing to flash through my consciousness as I awoke this morning--odd because I haven't listened to the song in many weeks--and they set me to thinking about the whole phenomenon of trust or faith. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen," a wise person once noted.

"Is that true?," I wondered as I woke. Then I remembered hearing people catalog all the things we do each day as articles of faith, entrusting our lives to numberless, faceless people, circumstances, and things we know nothing about.

Often offered as an example is flying. I love to fly! But boarding a jet entails trust in pilots I've never met, flight controllers I've never seen, ground crews I don't know, engines and other physical components of the plane I've not examined, FAA officials charged with ensuring that all we passengers will be safe, and principles of aerodynamics that, as a post-modern primitive, I frankly don't understand.

And yet, I never think about these things when I board a plane. I trust that all will be well.

The God many believe is revealed to the world in Jesus Christ seemed to enter my life decisively back when I was in my mid-twenties. I sensed Jesus telling me, as He has billions of people down through the centuries, "Follow Me."

Follow a Savior you can't see because He promises you harmony with God, peace with yourself, and a new life that goes beyond the grave? It seemed ridiculous. I was insensitive to all the ways in which I entrusted my life to the unseen and unproven and thought there was no way I could ever surrender my life and will to Christ. Or should. (I still struggle with that trusting surrender. In fact, it's true to say that much of the life of faith, for many of us, is about struggling to trust. I myself am a lot like the man who told Jesus, "I do believe; help my unbelief!")

There were two major impediments preventing me from taking up Jesus' "Follow Me" invitation.

The first was Jesus Himself. In spite of having been brought up in a "Christian culture," I didn't really know Him. Jesus is history's greatest rorshach blot. On Him has been thrust all manner of interpretation and spin, from supposed Christians justifying murder, conquest, and oppression to the ignorant who approach him with what they call faith, but is really superstition.

I decided to get to know Jesus for the first time in my life by reading what His earliest followers said about Him in the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. (I'm reacquainting myself with Jesus right now in a series of blog articles called, Getting to Know Jesus One Chapter at a Time.)

The second and bigger impediment to my following Jesus was His resurrection. I had never met anyone who'd come back from the dead. Still haven't.

Getting to know Jesus triggered a reaction I never would have anticipated: I fell in love with Him. I learned that He wasn't a milquetoast in a bath robe but the ultimate giver of tenacious love. He positively haunted my thoughts and consciousness. I wanted to be with Him all the time.

But a resurrection? A Savior Who died two-thousand years ago, risen from the dead and still living. Even after I became aware of scholars like Pinchas Lapide saying that they bought the historicity of Jesus' resurrection, I still found it hard to swallow.

Maybe you share the skepticism I once had. If so, please ask yourself a few of questions.

First: Do you find Jesus credible? If you do, then remind yourself that the New Testament Gospels find Him repeatedly saying that He would die, taking our punishment for sin, and then, rise again to offer life to all who trust Him.

Second: Why did more than five-hundred people risk their lives to avow that they had seen the resurrected Jesus? That's how many the New Testament reports having seen and talked about Him.

And: What's the likelihood that a conspiracy to back such a lie or in service to what some have suggested was a mass hypnotism the likes of which have never been seen, if the resurrection were a lie, would stand the test of time? There was simply no good reason for these people to risk supporting a Savior Who had been executed. It exposed them to the possibility of the same fate. But they did, many giving their lives in the cause.

Okay, you may say, "I'm ready to accept the possibility of following Jesus. I'd even like to do it. But I find it hard to trust."

The Bible understands this. It insists that we can't believe without the help of God's Spirit. So, if you'd like to trust Christ, please tell God this. The God Who came into the world to experience all that you go through and to go to a cross for you is more than willing to meet you where you are. Just say something like, "God, I want to believe that Jesus has come into the world to change my life forever and that He has risen to give me this blessing. Help me to believe."

If you do that, I know that it will be the beginning of many changes in your life.

Let me know if you've offered that prayer and I'll try to provide some pointers for how you can open yourself to a relationship of deepening trust with Jesus Christ.

He Didn't Have Me at Hello

I've seen portions of a grand total of four Tom Cruise films--Rain Man, Top Gun, Jerry MacGuire, and one of those John Grisham things. So, he isn't one of those celebs to whom I would turn for medical advice anyway. (Actually, there aren't any celebrities to whom I'd turn for medical advice, except maybe for Tennessee senator Bill Frist, to whom I probably wouldn't turn for political advice.)

But in seeing the clip of him with Matt Lauer in a Today Show interview, my family and I felt no motivation to buy tickets for War of the Worlds, his newest movie. We all groaned.

The guy, who seems to be in the business of rapidly collecting as many starlets as possible for his trophy case, probably could use a good regimen of Ritalin. Maybe it would calm him down.

What's amazing is that he didn't even intone, "I'm not a doctor, but..." (Has he ever played a doctor in the movies?) I can honestly say, "He didn't have me at hello."

Praying for Graham and His New York Evangelistic Campaign

Brian Williams did a great job in a report on Billy Graham's final New York evangelistic campaign tonight. I'm praying for Graham and for the response of millions to the message of hope that comes from Jesus Christ!

My participation in the 2001 Cincinnati-area Billy Graham mission was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life!

For more information, click here.

DeWine, Voinovich Stand in Proud Ohio Political Tradition

Ohio Republicanism has a sound and pervasive strain that I would describe as practical, honorable conservartism. Its practitioners would include, among others, the late James Rhodes, who served as governor for four-terms in the sixties and seventies and William Saxbe, the Mechanicsburg native who served as Ohio attorney general, then as US Senator, and later as US attorney general.

Falling into that category today are our two current US senators, Mike DeWine and George Voinovich.

All four of these men have been consistent fiscal conservatives who believed that, consonant with principle, government is above all obligated to get good things done. This means that they have sometimes perturbed their fellow Republicans by eschewing mindless idolatry of ideology.

Rhodes, while enthusiastically cutting taxation, was a tireless promoter of state development, including bringing an airport to all eighty-eight Ohio counties and dramatically expanding our vocational education. He worked with Democrats as well as Republicans to make things happen. His partnership with Democratic Speaker of the House Vern Riffe was legendary.

Saxbe fearlessly stood up to the corruptions of the Nixon Administration, even while serving as Nixon attorney general.

Among the current crop of these practical conservatives, Voinovich has been an unperturbable "deficit hawk" in the face of profligate overspending by his own party. He also has been unafraid to speak out against the appointment of John Bolton to be UN ambassador in spite of vicious assaults by some fellow Republicans. He did so because he actually has concerns about Bolton and acts on that belief.

DeWine has endured similar mistreatment for his role in the compromise on judicial filibusters which has now resulted in the confirmation of six of President Bush's nominees for federal judgeships.

Irrespective of how one feels about these folks' positions on specific issues, I think that Ohioans can be justly proud of them and other politicians would do well to follow their examples. They aren't political cliches or human talking points. They actually think and consistently act on the bases of their political principles.

Recently, I wrote to DeWine, applauding his role in the judicial filibuster compromise. I received this generic emailed response, which I think states his position well and compellingly:

June 24, 2005

Dear Mark:

Thank you for contacting me regarding President Bush's federal judicial
nominees. I appreciate knowing your views on this very important issue.

Recently, the Senate confirmed six of the President's judges for the
federal bench -- Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor, David
McKeague, Richard Griffin, and Thomas Griffith. These confirmations are
the result of an historic, bipartisan agreement that I helped negotiate,
along with 13 of my Senate colleagues. I became involved in the
negotiations because too many circuit court judges were not being voted on
in the Senate and the filibuster was being abused to block these

While we clearly needed to change the way the Senate was conducting
business, I also felt that it was really not in the best interests of the
Nation or the Senate to completely change the rules and totally eliminate
the filibuster, though I was prepared to do that if nominations continued
to be blocked. We needed, instead, an alternative that could restore the
Senate to where it was when I entered the Senate a decade ago -- a Senate
where the possibility of a filibuster for judicial nominations was there,
but rarely used.

That is what our agreement achieved. We agreed that a filibuster for a
judge should not be used unless it was under extraordinary circumstances.
Furthermore, we made sure the agreement included a provision that, if the
terms of the agreement were violated and a judge were filibustered in
circumstances that an individual Member considered not to be
extraordinary, then that Member has the right to pull out of the
agreement. That Member has the right to go back and use what has been
called the constitutional option to change the practice and the precedent
of the Senate. I insisted that this be part of the agreement.

As evidenced by the judges the Senate confirmed recently, the agreement,
so far, is working. It has cleared the field for the President's judicial
nominations, some of whom had been waiting over four years for a vote in
the Senate. Not only that, the agreement also has allowed the people's
agenda to move forward. Already, since the agreement was reached, the
Senate Judiciary Committee has passed out of the committee the Asbestos
bill, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has passed the
Energy bill, and the full Senate is debating it.

Enclosed to provide further details is a copy of a speech I gave on the
Senate Floor recently regarding the Senate's use of the filibuster
regarding judicial nominees. Again, thank you for informing me of your
views. If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free
to contact me.

Very respectfully yours,

United States Senator


JUNE 9, 2005

Mr. DeWINE. Mr. President, we have just seen a major accomplishment in the
Senate in the last several weeks -- and that is the confirmation of five
nominees to serve on the Federal bench. These confirmations were achieved
after an historic agreement was reached in the Senate -- an agreement that
allowed us to proceed. We have seen five individuals confirmed by the
Senate -- Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor, David
McKeague, and Richard Griffin. The majority leader has indicated that
Thomas Griffith will be on the Senate Floor shortly, and we will take up
that nomination.

This represents a major accomplishment and a major change in the way the
Senate has been doing business. This shows bipartisanship. This is a step
forward. It is progress.

As one of the 14 Senators involved in negotiating the recent compromise
agreement on the use of filibusters to block judicial nominations, I am
very pleased to see this progress and to see what has happened since this
agreement was reached. As everyone knows, of these five nominations,
several of them have been held up for years. I have a particular interest
in two of these nominations, as they come from the Sixth Circuit from the
states of Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. These two come from the
State of Michigan, but are part of the Sixth Circuit, which has had
vacancies for many years. Now we have these two positions filled.

I am pleased to see the progress we have been making the last two weeks on
nominations, but also the progress we have been making in the Senate on
other matters, as well. It is good for the country. The agreement that
we entered into not only cleared the field for the President's judicial
nominations, some of whom, as I have said, have been waiting for over four
years, but by avoiding confrontation, it also allowed the people's agenda
to move forward -- and that is a very important matter. Already, since the
agreement was reached, the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed out of
the committee the asbestos bill, and the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee has passed the Energy bill.

Now, as someone who was in the room for the negotiations of the filibuster
agreement, I would like to take just a few moments to talk about what
happened, why I was involved, and where we go from here. Candidly, I
became involved in the negotiations because I was not satisfied with what
I had seen in the Senate over the last few years. Everyone got in the
negotiations, I am sure, for different reasons. I am just speaking for
myself. I believed that judges were not getting voted on in the Senate,
that the circuit court judges were not being acted upon when they should
have been, and that many of them were being denied an up-or-down vote. I
believed the filibuster was being used in excess to block their
nominations. I felt that the status quo was simply not acceptable -- that
we could no longer continue down that path.

Well, what was the solution? How were we going to get judges voted on in
the Senate? The status quo abuse of the filibuster, which I felt clearly
was an abuse, was not acceptable to me. I was prepared to take action to
deal with that. Yet, I also felt that it was really not in the best
interests of the Nation or the Senate to totally change the rules and
totally eliminate the filibuster, if we could avoid that. I felt what we
needed basically was a resolution to this crisis -- a new option or
alternative that could restore the Senate to where it was when I entered
the Senate a decade ago. That was a Senate where the possibility of a
filibuster for judicial nominations was there, but hardly ever used.

I believe that is exactly what we were able to achieve with the agreement.

During our negotiations, we agreed that a filibuster for a judge should
not be used unless under extraordinary circumstances. Furthermore, we made
sure the agreement included a provision that, if the terms of the
agreement were violated and a judge were filibustered in circumstances
that an individual Member considered not to be extraordinary -- in other
words, if Mike DeWine or any Member considered that another Member was
filibustering a judge under a circumstance that was not extraordinary --
that any Member or I had the right to pull out of that agreement and to go
back and say: I am going to use the constitutional option to change the
practice and the precedent of the Senate.
That was my right. I insisted on that when I entered the negotiations. I
felt that was important and that was the only way I could be a part of the
negotiations. So, let me make that very clear. The constitutional option
was on the table, and it does remain on the table today. There was never
any question in my mind about that. In fact, let me repeat exactly what I
said at the press conference that the group held

on May 23rd, right after we had reached our agreement. This is what I said
that evening at that press conference when everyone -- at least 12 of the
14 people who had reached the agreement -- were there. This is what I

"This agreement is based on good faith -- good faith among people who
trust each other. And, it's our complete expectation that it will work.
Senators have agreed that they will not filibuster except in extraordinary
circumstances. We believe that will, in fact, work. Some of you who are
looking at the language may wonder what some of the clauses mean. The
understanding is -- and we don't think this will happen -- but if an
individual Senator believes in the future that a filibuster is taking
place under something that's not extraordinary circumstances, we, of
course, reserve the right to do what we could have done tomorrow, which is
to cast a yes vote for the constitutional option. I was prepared to do
that tomorrow if we could not reach an agreement."

Mr. President, let me also quote from the May 30th, Washington Post
article by Dan Balz. He wrote the following about the agreement:

"[Senator] DeWine, Senator Lindsey Graham have disputed the assertion ...
that the nuclear option is off the table. DeWine said he explicitly raised
the issue just before the group announced the deal."

Balz then quotes me:
"I said at the end, 'Make sure I understand this now, that ... if any
member of the group thinks the judge is filibustered under circumstances
that are not extraordinary, that member has the right to vote at any time
for the constitutional option.' Everyone in the room understood that."

The article goes on to say:

"Senator Mark Pryor, [a Democrat and] another member of the group [of 14],
concurred, saying that while he hopes the nuclear option is gone for the
duration of the 109th Congress, circumstances could bring it back."
Quoting Senator Pryor, the article continues: "I really think Senator
DeWine and Senator Graham have it right."

Mr. President and Members of the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Frist also
agrees with this assessment. He said in this May 30th Dan Balz article:

"The nuclear option remains on the table. It remains an option. I will not
hesitate to use it, if necessary."

And later, Senator Frist was quoted in the June 5th New York Times from
his comments in a speech at Harvard University, as follows:

"The short-term evaluations, I believe, will prove to be shortsighted and
wrong after we get judge after judge after judge after judge through, plus
at least one Supreme Court nominee and an energy bill ... and we will get

Mr. President and Members of the Senate, as the recent judicial
confirmation votes in this Senate demonstrate, the Majority Leader is
right. We are getting things done. We are getting things done because this
agreement was negotiated in good faith by good people who want to get
things done and proceed step by step. It was negotiated in good faith by
Members working together in the best interests of this Senate and of our
Nation. It is a good agreement -- one that has enabled us in the Senate to
get back to doing the business of the people, for the people. That is what
the American public expects, and it certainly is what the American people

We have made progress. We have been able to confirm judges and bring to
the Floor of this Senate for up-or-down votes three judges who have been
held up for years and two other judges in a circuit, the Sixth Circuit in
Ohio and three other States, that has suffered with a number of vacancies
for years. Today, we filled two of those vacancies. That makes a
difference. We are making progress.

I am not arrogant enough to come to the Floor today and say that
everything is going to work out perfectly. I don't know that it will. I
don't have a crystal ball. I just know that we have come a ways. We have
taken some steps. We have made some progress. I believe we can rely on the
good faith of Members to try to continue to work together, continue to
make progress, and continue to try to exercise good faith.

We have set a bar now, a standard. Seven Members of the Senate on each
side have said they will not filibuster except under extraordinary
circumstances. That is something that had not been set before. That is the
bar. No, it is not specifically defined. I understand that. But, at least
there is a bar. It is an understanding. That is progress. It is a
recognition that the filibuster is not something just to be used; it is
something to be used only in very rare cases. You have to use it after you
think long and hard about it. It is the recognition of 14 people that they
will only use that filibuster after thinking long and hard. That is

What we have seen with these five judges, Mr. President, is progress. So,
tonight we celebrate progress, not total victory. You are never done in
the Senate. We are always trying to move forward. But, at least we should
stop for a moment tonight and say: We have come this far. We know we have
a ways to go, but we have certainly made progress.

I thank the Chair and yield the Floor.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Oh, Boy!

Screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi describes a conversation she had with a New York Times reporter who has just completed a feature appearing this coming Sunday. The article deals with a "vast Christian wing conspiracy" to take over Hollywood, it seems. When it comes to Christian faith, of whatever stripe, it appears that most of the time the mainstream media's attitude can be described in one word: DUH! I'm just trying to figure out it's a DUH resulting from genuine ignorance or a deliberate DUH. Probably, it's a combination of both.

Have Republicans Given Up on John Bolton?

Ambivablog mentions the temporizing and alternative-appointee speculations of Washington Times columnist (and Ambivablog friend) Barry Casselman regarding John Bolton's appointment to be US ambassador to the United Nations.

Three alternatives floated by Casselman: Jeanne Kilpatrick, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Boschwitz.

My reaction to those names: Gingrich may not regard that as a good spot to promote his hopes for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. Kilpatrick and Boschwitz, because of their ages, would be regarded as interim appointments. Boschwitz, given his background, would have the smoothest sailing of the three.

But Tom Friedman had the best alternative suggestion about a month ago: George H.W. Bush, who like Kilpatrick, already served in the UN post once.

Accounts of the Horrors in Zimbabwe

Normblog has a number of apparently eyewitness accounts of the horrors in Zimbabwe. Please pray for this nation and contact the President regarding the need for strong international condemnation. Likewise for what's going on in the Darfur region of Sudan. (I was linked to Normblog through Adrian Warnock.)

What I'm Reading

Right now, I'm reading three books: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which I originally read back in my high school days; another book on prayer by Dr. Larry Dossey, who has written extensively on the scientific study of prayer and healing; and 1776 by David McCullough. I'll probably write more about each one later.

Grant on Audiobook

Over the past year, I've mentioned several books from The American Presidents, a series of books under the general editorship of historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and published by Henry Holt and Company.

The books in this series are short overviews--usually about 150-pages or so in length--of the lives and presidencies of each of our chief executives.

One of the things I love about these books is that Schlesinger has selected interesting authors, often persons you wouldn't expect. Nixon counsel John Dean, a native of Marion, Ohio, has written the book about another Marion native, the scandal-tinged Warren Harding. Robert Remini, known for his biographies of Andrew Jackson, has written the work on John Quincy Adams, who hated Jackson. Garry Wills, an eminent historian noted for his works on Washington and Lincoln, has written the book on James Madison. Journalist John Siegenthaler, who spent time working on civil rights issues in the Kennedy White House, has written about James K. Polk. Novelist E.L. Doctorow is penning the volume on Abraham Lincoln. Roy Jenkins, British pol and historian, who has written massive tomes on Winston Churchill, wrote the entry on Franklin Roosevelt.

The other day, my son and I were having a tire on his car patched and killed some time at the local library. I saw one of the books in this series, been abridged and put on three-CDs. It's Ulysses S. Grant by Joseph Bunting III. This is especially interesting to us here because Grant was from Clermont County, Ohio. The audiobook was read by Richard Rohan, who does a good job.

Grant emerges as a straightforward person who struggled most of his life. Historical circumstances--the Civil War--brought his talents to the fore as commanding general of the US Army at that conflict's end. When elected to the presidency a scant three years after he accepted Lee's surrender at Appomatox, Grant was ill-prepared for being chief executive. Like Reagan, Grant believed in delegating responsibility, to a fault. Like Truman, he was too loyal to friends or perceived friends, to the peril of his presidency. At least, this is how Bunting sees his subject. Nonetheless, he was, it seems, deeply principled personally. Perhaps his greatest achievement was making the best of Reconstruction, in spite of a nation wearied of the whole business.

Bunting is another interesting choice for this series. A former Army officer, he was once superintendent at the Virginia Military Institute. He's written several books on military history and education.

I'm becoming more of a fan of audiobooks. (I've now begun listening to a thirteen-disc rendition of Lord of the Rings.)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

This is a Test (Getting to Know Jesus One Chapter at a Time, Part 5)

(Matthew, chapter 4) (I've been looking at Jesus, one chapter at a time through the eyes of the Gospel of Matthew and personally, using Eugene Peterson's The Message translation to do so. Today, I'm presenting only a portion of the fourth chapter.]

From the high of being proclaimed by the heavenly Voice, " Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life" at the end of chapter 3, Jesus is "taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test" at the beginning of this chapter.

The Test--or the Temptations--would be administered by the Devil. Devil is one of several names given to the leader of God's (and humanity's) demonic adversaries. The name in Greek is Diabolos. (From which we derive, diabolic, of course.) The name literally means Accuser.

Christians today believe that the Devil often accuses them of being evil, with the aim of driving them to hopelessness, long after God has forgiven them, out of regard for His charitable love and their repentance.

The Devil relies on our emotions, seeking to make us disregard facts. God's love is a fact. God's forgiveness for those who seek it in Jesus' Name is a fact. But because we may still feel guilt or even feel shame for our sin or even our contemplation of the possibility of sin, the Devil accuses us of being disingenuine or hypocritical. But our rightness with God depends not on our feelings, but God's actions and God's decisions. Jesus is the definitive sign that God has decided for us.

Gerald Mann, the wonderful Texas Baptist pastor, sometimes is asked by people, "How do I know that I'm not going to hell?" "I don't know who's going to hell," he replies. "But I do know that those who don't want to go to hell aren't going." He has a point: It's only those who are utterly indifferent to the states of their relationships with God who turn a deaf ear to God and are heedless of the Tests that life brings their way.

To prepare for His Test, Jesus fasts. Why? Fasting, when rightly motivated, is one way for us to empty ourselves of dependence on anything but God.

Fasting from food for spiritual reasons may be a particularly powerful tool for us in cultivating our relationships with God in America today, when obesity is growing to epidemic proportions. Often, we eat not because we're hungry, but to seek comfort, to occupy time and energy that could be spent on loving God or neighbor, or to fill voids in our souls of which may not even be aware.

It may also be good for us to fast from other things. Fasting from time on the computer could be helpful to some of us. Others might fast from watching television or going to sporting events. It isn't that there's anything wrong with any of this stuff, any more than there's anything wrong with food. But it is possible, as Saint Paul writes in another part of the New Testament, for a perfectly acceptable or good thing to be sin for us because its power over us drives a wedge between God and us.

Think of fasting in this way: It's like tuning out the static that prevents you from hearing the radio station you want to hear. When we fast, we tune out our overdependence on otherwise good things in order to tune in on God.

Jesus fasted for forty days. Then came His three-part test.

First, the Devil told Jesus to turn "stones into loaves of bread." Notice, that Michael Jackson's and Lionel Richie's old song notwithstanding, Jesus did not do this. The test here, of course, was that Jesus would use His power not for others, which is what He'd come into the world to do, but for Himself. Jesus refused.

Second, buttressing his case with a quote from Psalm 91, the Devil urged Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem. (The Devil really is diabolical, quoting Scripture to incite rebellion against God's will.) But Jesus is ready for this assault, reminding the Devil of a passage in Deuteronomy in which we're told, "Don't you dare test the Lord your God." Here, the Devil was testing Jesus' willingness to rely on God the Father in the pursuit of His mission. The Devil was daring Jesus to test and prove God's faithfulness. But Jesus was saying that God has nothing to prove and that besides, "party tricks" prove nothing.

Third, the Devil offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will just worship him. In a way, this is the most diabolical of all the temptations. Jesus had come to bring the kingdom of God into the world. The Devil had these earthly kingdoms to give, booty Jesus could have received without having to go through betrayal, arrest, flogging, humiliation, and death. But had Jesus received the earthly kingdoms without His cross, we all would have died in our sins and separated from God forever. Jesus couldn't accept this. "Beat it, Satan!" Jesus says. (Satan is another name for the Devil, borrowed from the Persians.)

Several points about the temptations:

(1) The fact that Jesus, the perfect sinless Savior of the world, was tempted demonstrates that being tempted to do wrong isn't something for which we should feel guilty. (The Devil, the world, and our sinful selves will accuse us of being guilty, simply because we've been tempted. But it's a big fat lie!) Being tempted is a byproduct of our humanity. When we're tempted, we need to rely on God, knowing full well that He understands and is ready to help us. In Jesus, the New Testament book of Hebrews says, "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of mercy with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16)

(2) What was Jesus' strategy for dealing with temptation? He didn't wait until temptations came His way. He prepared beforehand, knowing full well that they would hit. He prepared in two basic ways: (a) He knew the Scriptures. Notice how He was able to counter the Devil's perversions of the Old Testament with a thorough knowledge of the Bible Himself. Anybody can take isolated passages of Scripture and twist them to perverted, selfish ends. But when you have a thorough knowledge of God's Word, you have a built-in spiritual lie detector. You know more than passages of Scripture, you know the God behind the Scripture. (b) He was dependent on God. That was why He fasted.

(3) One last point. My grandmother used to say that it was easier to "be good" when you're older than when you're younger. That was completely wrong, I think.

If God-enfleshed, Jesus Christ, wasn't exempt from temptation, what makes us think that any of us are so exempted, just because we've attained a certain age?

If anything, the temptations grow the older we become. In our middle years, having either attained a certain degree of success or oppressed by a sense of personal failure, a feeling of entitlement may overtake us. (There are those feelings again!) As we grow older, the sense of entitlement will, if we're not careful, grow.

The phrase, "It's my right..." can be used to justify even the most monstrous of acts and basest forms of dishonesty.

No one is exempt from temptation. No one!

I'll deal with the rest of this chapter in my next installment of this series.

A Dialog in Fiction

Richard Lawrence Cohen posted this fictional vignette, Evening Ritual, on his wonderful blog. I was moved to do a spinoff:

He read Richard Lawrence Cohen's 'Evening Ritual' and he began staring at the screen. He stared so hard that the letters blurred and all he saw was his own evening ritual, similar to the man in Cohen's piece.

He walks through his own neighborhood nearly every night. But unlike Cohen's man, he doesn't wonder what may be happening in the houses he passes. Were they all dark and unilluminated by TVs, chandeliers, or computer screens,
that would suit him fine. So would the absence of barking dogs he feels he must dodge along the way. And while he employs his penchant for gregariousness--whether it's natural or acquired, he doesn't know--to say, "Hello" to every person along the way and even to stop for short interchanges, he'd rather not stop.

He pictures himself being interviewed by Diane Sawyer or Barbara Walters and being asked, "What do you want most from life?" His answer surprises even himself. "I want," he says, "to be left alone."

Alone? But you love your wife and your kids and family. You love your friends. You're a people person. "Yes," he thinks. "But I get tired."

Maybe that's why he walks when he does. He times their starts at about forty-five minutes before sundown. The timing allows him to bury his nose in a book while walking briskly. He goes to a different world and if while there, he
accidentally misses the opportunity to greet a passing jogger or the new homeowner watering his lawn, so much the better. He wants to escape. He wants to be alone.

Usually, for the last fifteen minutes of his walk, the sun sinks too far for him to read any longer.

Sometimes, in the dark, he prays.

Recently, he's taken to counting. Steps. Especially after reading that Amish men take an average of 14,000 steps a day, while the average American takes 5000 daily. In the dark, he counts the steps for the last portion of his walk and then, extrapolating, calculates that his evening ritual involves the taking of about 4800 steps. "I'll catch up to those
Amish," he vows to himself.

He arrives at his house. His wife asks how his walk went. "Fine," he tells her, grateful for his vacation from humanity, grateful to be back home.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

10 Albums For a Three-Hour Tour

In this era of iPods and MP3s, such lists may be rapidly losing their meaning, but Rob Asghar asks what 10 albums (presumably on CD) we'd like to take with us if, like Gilligan (and the skipper, too), we were stranded on an island. Here's my list:

1. Revolver: The Beatles
2. Blood on the Tracks: Bob Dylan
3. The Beautiful Letdown: Switchfoot
4. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: U2
5. Tug of War: Paul McCartney
6. Driving Rain: Paul McCartney
7. All You Can't Leave Behind: U2
8. Abbey Road: The Beatles
9. Jesus Freak: dcTalk
10. 461 Ocean Boulevard: Eric Clapton

That's just the list for now. I'd better publish this post before I start thinking of other LPs I should add.

PS: I was tempted to include Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five,' Sting's 'Dream of the Blue Turtles,' and The Police's 'Synchronicty' in my list. But I was limited to ten.

Hey, wait! I think I'll ask the Skipper and Maryanne if I can include a few of my choices among their ten-CD allotment. I bet they wouldn't mind; they don't seem too musical.

A Cheney Problem? No, a Twenty-Second Amendment Problem: The Perils of Term Limits

In today's New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman laments the aimless drifting, "disconnected from the problems facing the country" which he claims to observe thus far in President Bush's second term.

Whether the President and his Administration are adrift is subject to debate, of course. And it should be said that Friedman has decided ideas on what problems are facing America, ideas that differ from the President's perceptions of America's problems.

But, whether in advancing Social Security reform, getting a new national energy policy, securing the confirmation of long-stalled judicial appointees, or sending a new ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Bush's second term has been marked by ineffectuality. Were it not for the oft-maligned Gang of Fourteen in the United States Senate, whose compromise advanced Mr. Bush's judicial agenda, the President could point to almost no accomplishments in the first six-plus months of his second term.

Why is this? Friedman claims that, "George Bush has a Dick Cheney problem."
It's not the one you think: an overbearing, archconservative vice president
imposing his will and ideas on a less-seasoned president.

No, George Bush has a different V.P. problem. It is the fact that his
vice president has made clear that he is not running for president after Mr.
Bush's term expires in 2008. So Mr. Bush has no heir apparent. And that
explains, in part, why his second term is drifting aimlessly, disconnected from
the problems facing the country.

"If President Bush had a vice president, or someone who was clearly
designated as heir apparent to his administration, [the president] would have a
more immediate incentive to widen his political base, to offer policies that
would appeal more to the center" argued Don Baer, a former senior adviser to
President Clinton. But if one looks at the sorts of policies that Mr. Bush has
chosen, or not chosen, for his second term, it suggests that Mr. Bush "is not
thinking of the bigger implications" for three years down the road, Mr. Baer
Well, maybe. But I think it's more apt to say that the President suffers from a Twenty-Second Amendment problem, exacerbated by a major political miscalculation.

First, to the miscalculation. I've addressed this before and I won't run it too far into the ground now. Basically, I think that Mr. Bush, adviser Karl Rove, and others thought that with a more solid Republican majority in the Congress and the President's impressive November win, the President could advance a big idea agenda and win Rooseveltian or Reaganite legislative victories.

The first big idea the President talked about on the day after his re-election, one on which he said he would willingly expend his "political capital," is Social Security reform, including private accounts. But Social Security reform, so far, has not caught fire. Private accounts seem especially unpopular. (I hasten to add that I like both ideas. But that doesn't alter the politics of things.)

Part of Congress' reticence to go along with the President on reforming the Social Security system no doubt has to do with the powerful interest groups, like AARP, that have lined up against it.

But I believe that the President could have surmounted the opposition by now if it weren't for the pesky Twenty Second Amendment.

My old Political Science professor at Ohio State (who later went to Cleveland State), Jim Kweder, used to point out that this amendment, along with those establishing and abolishing Prohibition, are the only changes to the US Constitution that have limited freedom. All the other amendments have expanded freedom in America.

The Twenty-Second Amendment says:
1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than
twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as
President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was
elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than
once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of
President, when this Article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent
any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President,
during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the
office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such

2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as
an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the
several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States
by the Congress.

A Republican Congress sent this proposed amendment to the states and worked hard to secure the states' ratification of it during the Truman Administration. The Republicans had been defeated in five consecutive presidential elections, the first four at the hands of Franklin Roosevelt and the fifth at those of his successor, Harry Truman. The GOP deemed it unfair and railed against the royalist impulses they claimed to see in the Democrats. The amendment passed in 1951.

In November, 1952, Republican Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency by a landslide, something he did again in 1956. There is no doubt that Ike would have been re-elected in 1960, had he been able to run again. Republicans then lamented their advocacy of the Twenty-Second Amendment. They regretted it again in 1988, when Ronald Reagan would have been a shoo-in for re-election.

Term limits have clearly proved to be bad politics, something that bites their advocates eventually.

They also hurt second-term Presidents. At the moment they're re-elected, they become "lame ducks," eminently ignorable chief executives. Both Congress and the federal bureaucracy can wait out a re-elected President, knowing full well that there is very little lasting harm that he can do to them.

This is why second-term presidents have been notoriously ineffective, even when two-terms of service were simply a custom.

A President may ameliorate the effects of the amendment by touting a successor, as Friedman suggests, but that's far from foolproof. There is no chief executive more able to negotiate with Congress as an equal partner in the legislative process than one who looks to be around for awhile.

Term limits, to put it simply, are a bad idea. They overlook the fact that our system already had term limits in place. They were called elections.

The way to get rid of elected officials who hold onto power like kings and queens, the problem that term limits ostensibly addresses, isn't to disqualify people from running for office or limiting voters' ability to select the most qualified people in the voting booth. It resides in reforming the system so that incumbents aren't given inordinate advantage and so that having more money doesn't give a political contributor more "free" speech.

Term limits aren't just a bad idea for Presidents, they're bad for all elected officials at every level of government.

Whenever I talk with my friends and acquaintances who serve in public office here in Ohio, they rail against term limits. And they're all members of the party--the Republican Party--that was so enamored of this idea and got a state constitutional amendment passed by the voters enacting it for legislators and members of the executive branch.

It has had disastrous consequences for our state. Among them:
Inexperienced legislators, less schooled in the ways of the General Assembly and the bureuacracy, are more than ever, at the mercy of bureaucrats and interest groups.

Without a more thorough knowledge of the workings of government and the Assembly, members have relied more heavily on partisanship than on actually studying the issues at hand.

Scandal and mismanagement are easier to pull off because term-limited elected officials don't know where to look for evidence of wrongdoing. (Ohio is now dealing with a major scandal, by the way.)

In our statewide offices--governor, lieutenant governor,auditor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state--we've seen a game of "revolving doors," in which the same well-known names shift from one office to another, irrespective of the aspirants' qualifications for a specific job.
A recent study by the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron found that while most Ohioans still favor term lmits, most legislators would like to see them modified or ended. Of course, the legislators have a vested interest in such changes to the system. But I believe Ohioans do as well.

Bottom line: Term limits are fatal to elected officials' effectiveness. President Bush would have had a much better start to his second term if it weren't for the Twenty-Second Amendment. But wishing for its repeal for the benefit of the country and some future President's effectiveness is probably too much for which to hope.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Random Stuff from Our Genesis Study, Part 3

[Our group, which took a hiatus last Tuesday as I spent the week helping with preparations for our daughter's wedding, met again this evening. But, with one member anticipating the wedding of her son in September and with our family's celebration this past Saturday, we ended up spending about forty-five minutes gabbing before we prayed and began looking at the next part of Genesis. Consequently, we only looked at Genesis, chapter 6. This chapter presents us with fantastic events, which may seem implausible to us. As you read about them, I ask you to suspend judgment until the end of this post, where I will rejoin this issue of plausibility.]

1. The chapter begins with one of the strangest passages in Scripture. Genesis 6:1-4 seems, in some respects, out of place. It begins with the phrase, "When people began to multiply on the face of the ground..." There is no indication of precisely when the event described happened and it seems a jarring incursion in the midst of the previous chapter's genealogies and the subsequent Noah narrative in chapter 6.

2. The "sons of God," in the Hebrew bin Elohim, is a phrase used of angels. This too is a jarring incursion: as commentator Gerhard von Rad points out, angels play a minimal role in Genesis, so pervasive, close, and accessible is the presence of God. Intermediaries aren't really needed.

3. There is, in the angels' reaction to the daughters of people, a reflection of the Biblical understanding of the angelic creatures. Angels, it should be pointed out, at least in the Bible's understanding, are not former humans. Furthermore, they do not occupy a place superior to human beings.

On the contrary, angels are inferior to human beings. Only human beings were created in the image of God.

Interestingly, though the angels were sent to proclaim the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and later, His resurrection, they don't fully understand Him, His cross and resurrection, or just what He has done for us. In First Peter in the New Testament, we're told:
It was revealed to them [the Old Testament prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you the good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look.
Angels are wispy creatures. Psalm 104:4 (quoted in Hebrews 1:7) says to God of them, "You make the winds Your messengers, fire and flame Your ministers."

The word angel literally means messenger. The ancient rabbis saw them as utterly formless creatures who acted like cosmic tape recorders. When they came to earth in whatever new form God may have had for them, they had specific charges to deliver God's messages and on the angels' return to heaven, they returned to their nebulous, smoky state. (Sometimes in the Old Testament, including Genesis 18, the phrase "angel of the Lord" simply means the "presence of God.")

Satan, once close to God, is an angel who fell into jealousy and rebellion against God, along with a horde of others, designated as demons. It has long been thought that it is this same jealousy of humanity that incites the demonic angels to try tempting humanity away from God.

The narrative of Genesis 6:1-4 would be consistent with this. Angels, sons of God, heavenly creatures, became jealous of men for another reason: the beautiful women they could marry.

For all the portrayals of angels in movies that are inconsistent with a Biblical understanding of them, two movies I can think of have gotten this angelic pining to be like humans right.

One is the Christmas classic, Bishop's Wife. In it, Cary Grant plays an angel sent by God in answer to the prayers of an Episcopal bishop, played by David Niven. During the course of his mission, Grant's angel, Dudley, becomes enamored of the bishop's wife, Julia, played by Loretta Young. Although he never reveals his angelic identity to Julia, Dudley does plaintively ask Julia not to send him away. He's tired he says of never feeling hot or cold, of being a rootless messenger.

In City of Angels, an angel played by Nicholas Cage, follows the example of another former angel, and out of his love for a surgeon played by Meg Ryan, yearns for and finally becomes human. Although the Bible knows of no angels who become human, the angels' desire is definitely there.

In fact, if the reason that humanity fell into sin (and falls into it still) is the desire to "be like God" (Genesis 3:5), the reason that the angels who followed Satan and the angels here in Genesis 6 fell is a desire to "be like humans."

4. Angels are immortal. But God made the decision that their human offspring would not live forever. This decision is akin to an earlier one God took regarding the tree of life. God banished Adam and Eve from Eden, including access to this tree, which would abolish death for human beings. But had Eve and Adam eaten the fruit of that tree while still in their sin, they and the human race would have been separated from God forever.

5. Verse 3 says that "their days shall be one hundred twenty years." Check this Google search out.

6. Starting at verse 5, we have the narrative of Noah and the great flood. It begins:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
The narrative ends at Genesis 8:21, with God making a promise:

And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor [of Noah's sacrifice], the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.
Nothing had been changed by the flood, which naturally leads to the question of why God went through the whole process in the first place. I can't answer that question except to say that our sin is serious business in God's eyes.

7. How serious it all is to God is seen in the depths of emotions aroused in God in considering our sin:

And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:6)
Contrary to popular views of God, the Bible doesn't see Him as an impersonal force or a distant watchmaker, but as a personal Deity involved with and concerned for our lives.

8. Noah presumably found favor with God because of he worshiped God with his life and was obedient.

9. How did God communicate with Noah? The Bible says that God almost always uses understated means, often speaking in a "still, small voice." I rather think that this is how God communicates with all of us. If God delivered all His messages with an amplified voice in the timber of James Earl Jones or splashed words across the sky, there would be no "faith" in God on our parts.

God never forces us to do His will. We have the capacity to say No to Him. If He forced Himself upon us, we could not freely choose to live openness to a relationship of love with Him; we would be automatons or animals acquiescing to a superior power. Philippians 2:5-11 speaks of how God, in His ultimate self-revelation in Jesus Christ, set aside perks of heaven to become our Servant and Savior.

Noah, who knew God through worshiping and being in contact with Him, could discern whether this still, small voice telling him to build a ship was God. God didn't have to shout to get Noah's attention. Genesis 6:22 says simply:

Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
10. Okay, is this true? Did all this fantastic stuff really happen? I believe that it did. But you don't have to believe it in order to be a believer in the God made known to us in Jesus Christ. When the ancient Church got together to summarize what Christians believe, they didn't talk about the sons of God intermarrying with women or Noah. They didn't talk about Jonah and the great fish or the parting of the Red Sea. They summarized it in the words of the Apostles' Creed and this, every Christian denomination agrees, is the essential content of Christian belief:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN.

Like John Quincy Adams, Taking a Demotion and Working During the 'Retirement Years'

New York Times columnist John Tierney has written several recent columns on raising the minimum retirement age under Social Security. Today, expanding on that theme, he suggests that older workers should be willing to accept lower-paying, lower-responsibility positions while remaining in the work force. He points to John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, who had an illustrious career in Congress, from age 63 to age 80.

As was true of an earlier Tierney column on Social Security, blogger and law professor Ann Althouse linked to it, tossed in a few cents of her own, and has since let the comments roll in. An interesting discussion has ensued and is worth a look.

Intrigued by Tierney's use of Adams in his piece, I made the following comment:
We had dinner last evening with a couple we got to know when our children were classmates in high school.

We had lots to talk about, including the birth of their first grandchild, the impending births of two more grandchildren for them, and the wedding this past weekend of our daughter.

Toward the end of the meal,my friend made a short and unassuming announcement: He's retiring after forty years as an engineer with Ford. While there had been some thought that with all the shuffling happening at Ford, this might be a possibility, my wife and I were a bit taken aback. (I'm at least fourteen years away from "retirement age," by the way. So, it's coming as a bit of a shock when I hear from my friends that they're retiring.)

As we discussed our friend's retirement, happening next week, he made it clear that his plans include taking a job, as well as travel and learning to play the piano.

He's probably a good example of what Tierney calls "The Adams Principle."

Speaking of Adams, he was undoubtedly more temperamentally well-suited to his years as a congressman from Massachusetts, at the end of his life, than he had ever been for the presidency. Adams was always, to put it charitably, a curmudgeon. A man of towering intellect and no mean skills as a writer and lecturer, he would probably have been well-suited to academia. He was by experience and interest, even more gifted as a diplomat, somehow more able to compromise and strike deals with foreign nations than with his own nation's Congress and other political leaders. But from an early age, he was molded for and encouraged to take up a career in politics, especially by his mother.

Some consider him the best and most effective Secretary of State in our country's history, a contention with which I have little argument. It was a post in which he was able, particularly owing to the tenor of the times, to combine his greatest attributes: that of the academic of extraordinary intellect and that of the diplomat.

In terms of legislative accomplishment, Adams' time in Congress is somewhat undistinguished. But it was a good use of his skills as a propagandist.

Perhaps a corollary of Tierney's Adams Principle then, is that often in retirement, people feel the freedom to pursue their passionate interests in ways they had not before. For the Average Jean or Joe, the constraints of mortgages, kids' educations, health care, and insurance often dictate certain career paths which, in the absence of such constraints, they would have left behind. I myself am contemplating doing graduate work and at retirement age, offering my services to a college somewhere. With extended life expectancies, the post-retirement years can be among the most rewarding and useful of our lives.

By the way, Tierney might as well have called his notion, "The Carter Principle," for another man probably ill-suited to the presidency, but who has had a multitude of useful and interesting careers since the people retired him back in 1980.

I realize of course, that some people's options at retirement may be limited. They may have physical limitations or not have the opportunities for training that I have had. I nonetheless feel that an incremental increase in the minimum retirement age is warranted by current and projected life expectancy increases.
One commenter, Dave Friedman, wondered whether older workers would be willing to be supervised by people younger than themselves. I made this observation:

As to Dave's concern that older workers might blanche at taking orders from people younger than themselves, this may be true for some older folks.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that one group of older workers might welcome this scenario: Those who have been leaders themselves.

I have been a leader in my work for more than twenty years. It has suited me psychologically and spiritually, particularly because I don't take myself very seriously and I wear leadership lightly. But because of this experience, I don't feel the need to be in charge that I may have felt when I was a younger person trying to prove myself. I actually enjoy being in situations in which I'm not expected to be the leader.

On top of that, leaders understand how good it is to work with cooperative people and most resolve that if they ever are in situations in which others are in charge, they will cooperate with them.

Those most likely to chafe under the direction of younger supervisors, I think, are those who never had the opportunity or never possessed the facility for leadership themselves.

Still, the experience of employers seems to be that they like older workers, who tend to be much more reliable and surprisingly flexible.
I suggest going to Althouse's site for the entire interesting--and expanding--discussion. But for now, I'm going to finish my lunch and get on with the rest of my work day.

Prayers Needed for Richard Cohen's Family

Please pray for Richard Cohen's family as they deal with the diagnosis that his mother is suffering from leukemia. You may wish to pray for a miraculous healing and certainly, that Richard's mother and the entire family will be given encouragement, strength, and hope in the weeks and months to come. Richard is one of the finest--and most honest--writers in the blogging world. God bless you, Richard!

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Freedom to Be Weird (Getting to Know Jesus One Chapter at a Time, Part 4)

[Matthew, chapter 3]

Back when I was in seminary, I took a class on world evangelization and missions. I'll never forget a discussion that was triggered by something one of my earnest classmates said there one day.

"You know," he began, "one of the things I've noticed about Christians--really committed Christians--is that they're...weird. On the fringes. They don't act like everyone else."

As much as we all may have recoiled at such characterizations, as much as we would have preferred to blend in with our American culture, we all had to concede our classmate's point.

Now, I don't think that the weirdness of genuine Christians qualifies them for mental institutions. Nor do I thin that they're nerds in la-la land.

Weirdness, in this sense, is simply having the courage to be subversive, to march to heaven's drums, to be comfortable with themselves, no matter what the rest of the world thinks or is doing.

Picture Mother Teresa, willing to hold the wretched dying street people of Calcutta in her frail arms.

Picture Bono, battling the conventions of rock music, which encourages a kind of politically correct iconcoclasm, to advocate for the African continent's poor and to do it in the Name of Jesus.

Picture Rick Warren refusing to become wealthy from a best-selling book and instead, devoting himself to the cause of sharing Christ with the world.

Picture even a million other so-called ordinary people whose relationship with the God they know through Jesus causes them to volunteer at soup kitchens, play it straight on their tax forms, build a Habitat house, and stick with their marriages.

In a sense, all these believers in Jesus are weird by the standards of the world.

Christians tend to be weird in another way. They live in a freedom to live with their own unique, God-designed quirkiness.

"How do you do that?" someone asked me at my daughter's reception.

"Do what?" I asked.

"Get out there on the dance floor..."

"You mean, make an ass of myself?"

"No, I think it's wonderful. How do you do that?"

The answer is easy: When you know that you are forgiven and accepted as a child of God, you are less afraid to be yourself. To just go for it in the living of your life becomes a live option.

C.S. Lewis once observed that among the people he knew who had become followers of Jesus Christ, there was a marked proclivity not toward the sort of clone-like conformity that we often see in today's "Christian" circles, but a freedom to be the weird individual we were made to be.

There is yet another way in which Christians might be said to be weird. The New Testament word for holy can almost be aptly translated as weird. It literally means to be set apart, set aside for a purpose. Christians know that they've been set apart not because they're better than anyone.

Rather, they're set apart because as forgiven sinners, they've been given the freedom to live as their best selves, their God selves.

They're free to live for God and neighbor.

They're free to love the loveless.

They're free from getting caught up in proving themselves to a demanding world.

By God's charity, what the Bible calls grace, they know that they are already accepted by God Himself simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ. That's weird!

John the Baptizer was one of the first people to believe in Jesus, perhaps even before he fully realized that Jesus was the Savior-Messiah-King that he was deputized to prepare the world to receive. And believe me, John was one weird dude. He lived in complete freedom from concern about what others might say against him. He was intent on doing what God wanted him to do.

We're told:
John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem [into the surrounding desert wilderness], Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.
He also excoriated the ruling circles of his Jewish faith when they came around to see and hear him. He reminded them that simply owning a particular religious heritage didn't mean that a person had a right relationship with God. (This is something which in utero Christians ought to remember. Just because we're on the rolls of a church doesn't mean that we're Christians. Only those who have surrendered to Christ are in this category.)

John told people to get ready for the coming of the Savior by turning from sin and turning to God for a fresh start on life. (This is what the Bible means when it speaks of repentance.)

Then, it happened: Jesus showed up. To John's amazement, Jesus wanted to be baptized! At first, knowing that Jesus was sinless, John refused. But Jesus insisted. Why? Jesus explained:
"God's work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism."
How does God make our lives right? By bridging the chasm between Him and us through Jesus Christ. God becomes a human being and goes through all that we go through so that He can incorporate all human experience into Himself, take it to the cross, and destroy all that prevents us from being the wonderfully weird people God made us to be.

[For the next installment, you might want to read Matthew, chapter 4.]

Here are the first three installments of this series:


The 100 Best Children's Books

I'm sure that I will never outgrow my affinity for children's books, a love encouraged by my wife, who is an elementary school librarian. Like C.S. Lewis, an erudite scholar, able satirist, and novelist, who was also the author of the wondrous Chronicles of Narnia, I think that I enjoy children's literature more as an adult because, as he observed, we get more out of them for bringing more to them.

Rebecca, Siris, and The Little Professor have all presented the NEA's listing of the 100 best books for children. Like them, I'm going to bolden the titles of those books I've had the privilege of reading:

1. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White (9-12 years)
2. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (4-8 years) [Beautiful, mysterious, magical]
3. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (4-8 years)
4. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (4-8 years)
5. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (4-8 years)
6. Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch (4-8 years) [One of the best children’s books written for adults ever]
7. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (All ages) [A beautiful tear-jerker]
8. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Baby-Preschool)
9. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (Young Adult)
10. The Mitten by Jan Brett (4-8 years)
11. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Baby-Preschool) [Our children never tired of hearing this story read to them.]
12. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (9-12 years)
13. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (9-12 years) [One of the greatest books in the history of the English language, so far as I’m concerned, and not even the best of the seven comprising the Chronicles of Narnia.]
14. Where the Sidewalk Ends: the Poems and Drawing of Shel Silverstein by Shel Silverstein (All ages) [So much fun...and often poignant.]
15. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (9-12 years)
16. Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (4-8 years)
17. Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss (4-8 years)
18. Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola (4-8 years) [I don’t think that any Tomie De Paola book is bad. I’m not certain that this is his best, but it’s wonderful!]
19. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst (4-8 years) [There isn’t a soul who can’t identify with this book or whose spirits won’t be lifted from reading it.]
20. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin, Jr. (Baby-Preschool)
21. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (9-12 years)
22. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (4-8 years) [This is a fabulous book about how love makes us real. It also serves as a great parable for what happens to people who submit to Jesus Christ and His love. An awesome book!]
23. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (9-12 years)
24. Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (9-12 years)
25. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (4-8 years)
26. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka (4-8 years) [An absolute crack-up!]
27. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by John Archambault (4-8 years)
28. Little House on the Prarie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (9-12 years)
29. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (9-12 years)
30. The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne (4-8 years)
31. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (9-12 years)
32. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (9-12 years)
33. Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks (9-12 years) [I loved reading this one with my kids...several times!]
34. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (9-12 years)
35. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (9-12 years)
36. The BFG by Roald Dahl (9-12 years)
37. The Giver by Lois Lowry (9-12 years)
38. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff (4-8 years)
39. James and the Giant Peach: A Children's Story by Roald Dahl (9-12 years)
40. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (9-12 years)
41. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (9-12 years)
42. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (Young Adult)
43. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (4-8 years)
44. Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner (9-12 years)
45. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (9-12 years)
46. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien (9-12 years)
47. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (All ages)
48. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (Baby-Preschool)
49. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman (4-8 years)
50. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (9-12 years) [This is on my list of all-time Christmas classics. We have read this together as a family probably five times.]
51. Corduroy by Don Freeman (Baby-Preschool)
52. Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg (4-8 years)
53. Math Curse by Jon Scieszka (4-8 years)
54. Matilda by Roald Dahl (9-12 years)
55. Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls (Young Adult)
56. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (9-12 years)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (9-12 years)
58. The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White (9-12 years)
59. Are You My Mother? by Philip D. Eastman (4-8 years) [So good.]
60. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (9-12 years) [The best novels in the English language. Period.]
61. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (4-8 years)
62. One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss (4-8 years)
63. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (9-12 years)
64. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Baby-Preschool)
65. The Napping House by Audrey Wood (4-8 years)
66. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig (4-8 years)
67. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (4-8 years)
68. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (9-12 years)
69. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (All ages)
70. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (9-12 years)
71. Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss (4-8 years)
72. Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus (4-8 years)
73. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (4-8 years) [I heard this story over and over while growing up.]
74. The Cay by Theodore Taylor (Young Adult)
75. Curious George by Hans Augusto Rey (4-8 years) [Still a winner!]
76. Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox (4-8 years)
77. Arthur series by Marc Tolon Brown (4-8 years)
78. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (9-12 years)
79. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (4-8 years)
80. Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (9-12 years)
81. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton (4-8 years)
82. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown (Baby-Preschool)
83. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar (9-12 years)
84. Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish (4-8 years)
85. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (9-12 years)
86. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein (9-12 years)
87. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater (9-12 years)
88. My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (9-12 years)
89. Stuart Little by E. B. White (9-12 years)
90. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (9-12 years)
91. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (9-12 years)
92. The Art Lesson by Tomie De Paola (4-8 years)
93. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (4-8 years)
94. Clifford, the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell (4-8 years) [Clifford always sort of bored me. But I understand why little ones like him.]
95. Heidi by Johanna Spyri (All ages)
96. Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss (4-8 years)
97. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare (Young Adult)
98. The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (9-12 years)
99. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney (Baby-Preschool)
100. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch (4-8 years)

Is John McCain a Conservative? Of Course He Is

Ann Althouse, riffing off of Senator John McCain's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday, speculates on whether the Arizona senator would, if he were unable to secure the Republican presidential nomination, run as an independent in 2008. (I'm sure that he wouldn't for two reasons: 1. He can count and knows that third party candidates can't be elected. 2. He's a loyal Republican.)

Althouse's post has led to a discussion in the comments section of her blog of McCain as a conservative. Several agree with me that McCain is clearly a conservative, as his voting record in Congress demonstrates. (I would argue that he is more conservative than President Bush and certainly advocates policies more in line with Republican tradition than does the President.)

One person cited the Lexington column, Who is John McCain?, in the latest issue of The Economist magazine, which just arrived in my mailbox. Here are a few excerpts:
The paradox of Mr McCain's politics is that he frequently clashes with conservative activists not because he wants to advance liberal goals, but because he wants to promote conservative ones. Mr McCain is a deeply conservative man by temperament...The heir to Barry Goldwater's seat in Arizona, he's pro-free trade, pro-small government, and unlike his predecessor, pro-life...
It also argues that in three major areas where McCain departs from current conservative orthodoxy, "there is a good conservative argument for his position." Expanding on the point, the article says:
The campaign-finance system arguably encourages pork-barrel spending. How can politicians champion a conservative goal of a limited but effective government when they are in hock to special interests? Some of the biggest supporters of Mr McCain's immigration reforms are business people who want to bring the laws in line with the global economy, and homeland-security officials who want to be able to focus their resources on real threats to national security. Getting rid of the filibuster would not only have broken with 200 years of Senate tradition, but might also have allowed a future Democratic majority to push through radical reforms.
Given his credentials as a conservative and Republican party loyalist, it's hard to understand why some in his party fume at McCain so.

Three Attributes I Hope Would Always Characterize Christian Faith-Sharing

In yet another well-written piece, novelist and blogger Richard Lawrence Cohen, tells about a Christian coffee house in Midland, Texas, recently discovered by a visiting friend. Richard, who is Jewish, says that he intends to visit the He Brew Cafe the next time he visits Midland.

He concludes the post with this:
Was I upset by the name of the cafe, my friend inquired? Not at all. I’m not one of these contemporary professional ethnics who gets offended at a well–intentioned acknowledgment of my people. I know the difference between hostility and friendship. Sure, they’d like to convert me, but I can take care of myself, and if they ever succeeded -- well, there would have to be a pretty good reason for it, I’ll tell you that.
This got me to thinking about counsel I have occasionally offered the people of our congregation on Christianity and conversion and what Christian evangelism ought to look like. I posted these comments on Richard's site (which he, with customary graciousness, immediately ackowledged, by the way):
There seem to be a lot of these "Christian" coffee houses, some in churches, others in storefronts, cropping up all over the place. Some seem to be high-pressure proselyte-seeking outfits. Others are more gentle places of hospitality and honest conversation.

Roman Catholic groups across the country are holding periodic gatherings, the basic agendas for which are to drink beer and discuss theology. To me, it's an altogether good thing for such discussions to happen beyond the walls of church buildings, to meet the daily realities of people's lives.

But it is true, Richard, that Christians are looking for converts. I hope that this doesn't seem horrifying to people.

I don't think that it should be. After all, when I find a nice restaurant or a good CD or an investment counselor I trust, it's likely that I will tell my friends about them. Over the past few months, for example, I've been telling people about 'Steve and Barry's' and 'Mrs. Meyer's' environmentally-friendly cleaning products and Richard Lawrence Cohen's web site. We "satisfied customers" tend to share our enthusiasms with our friends.

Hopefully though, Christians' sharing of Christ won't be marked by high pressure or the disdain that so embarrasses Christ and the Church.

In fact, one of the things I tell people at our church constantly is that our efforts at "evangelism"--literally, good newsing--should be marked above all, by three attributes.

The first is a sense of humor. This can happen when our efforts aren't rooted in smug self-righteousness or condescending judgments, when we can be honest about our own shortcoming and failings.

My model for this is the apostle Paul. Dragged before authorities, including a royal named King Agrippa, Paul proceeded to tell his own personal story to them, how he, a Pharisee once bitterly opposed to the Christian proclamation, had come to faith in Christ, and the difference this new relationship with God had made in his life. He went on for some time when Agrippa said to him [I'm paraphrasing], "Paul, in so short a time, do you propose to make me like you?" Paul said, "Whether it takes a short or a long time, yes, King Agrippa, I would love for you to be like me...except for these chains." That cracks me up every time I read it.

(By the way, I don't think that this Christian ambition for others to be like us, at least in its authentic meaning, signifies a desire to clone ourselves or make the world over in our images. I readily admit that there are Christians who believe this way and they drive me crazy. I think rather, that Paul is talking about being like him in that he had hope, the sense of God's presence, and the belief that He had what Austin pastor Gerald Mann calls, "God's cosmic okie-dokie" not because he was better than anyone else, but because he surrendered his life to Christ.)

Paul, who had a healthy self-image, could be contentious and cranky, and was apparently an unimpressive, balding physical specimen who could be quite boring when he preached, was absolutely honest about his imperfections. He called himself "the least of the apostles" and one who could not possibly be good enough to earn forgiveness for his sin. No wonder he said what he did to Agrippa!

Another attribute that ought to mark Christian evangelism is an attitude of respect for others. The other giant of early Christian evangelism, like Paul a Hebrew, was Peter. He writes in one of his letters that appear in the New Testament, "Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect..."

In other words, we Christians are to share the Good News of freedom and new life through Jesus not by beating others over the head, but by real person-to-person dialog, dialog in which we are willing to learn as well as which we feel the freedom to say, "I don't know," even as we talk about our best friend, Jesus Christ.

One other element ought to be humility. If Christ was humble enough to wash His disciples' feet and humble enough to submit to a cross He didn't deserve, how can we Christians dare to be arrogant?

I know full well that there are many examples of Christian arrogance in sharing faith. I can be guilty of it myself. But I don't believe that those examples represent Biblical Christianity. The best definition of Christian evangelism that I have ever read says that it's nothing more than "one beggar telling another beggar where to find food." Jesus tells His followers that the "last will be first," which should chasten us when we're tempted to join that chorus John Lennon talked about, all those people hollering "about their own birthday."

Richard, I love it that you say you'd have to have a good reason to convert. My guess is that back in my atheist days, I was a good deal less tolerant than you are. (Tolerance is clearly one of your prominent, and admirable, traits!) But I would have said much the same as you, "I'll have to have a good reason for converting before I'll ever do it." Everyone, in my estimation, should have the same attitude. We have too many genetic religionists, mindlessly embracing the religious attitudes that surround them, whether it's Christianity, hedonism, Judaism, materialism, whatever. What we need are people who don't play at their faith, but approach it with the earnestness and significance it deserves. Good for you!

[I hope that I didn't go on too long with this comment. I read your post and wrote this piece during my lunch break and decided not to edit it significantly. I'm not a good enough writer, I suppose, to shorten it that much anyway.]

A Picture That Doesn't Inspire Confidence

Our church subscribes to a fabulous service, offered by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church of Burnsville, Minnesota, called The Changing Church Toolkit. They provide inspiration for the development of thematic worship and small group materials that can be used in individual congregations. Lately, they've changed their web site. When you first click on it, you see this. Clearly, the intent is to tell the leaders of even small congregations that with their service, they have a crack staff working for them. That's true. But why are four people, presumably part of that crack staff, earnestly discussing the contents of a blank piece of newsprint on an easel?

(By the way, I really do strongly recommend that congregations subscribe to this service. It will prod and prompt creativity and provide many suggested means of conveying Biblical themes in accessible ways.)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Before We Go Off "Half-Cocked" on the British War Memos

While breakfasting before heading for worship this morning, I read an account of those eight top secret memos reflecting concerns at the highest levels of the British government over the Bush Administration for going to war in Iraq. It all seemed pretty damning, as though President Bush and top aides were hell-bent on regime change in Iraq irrespective of the evidence regarding any alleged escalation in Saddam Hussein's program to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

But then, I read this:
The eight memos - all labeled "secret" or "confidential" - were first obtained by British reporter Michael Smith, who has written about them in The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.

Smith told AP he protected the identity of the source he had obtained the documents from by typing copies of them on plain paper and destroying the originals.

The AP obtained copies of six of the memos (the other two have circulated widely). A senior British official who reviewed the copies said their content appeared authentic. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secret nature of the material.
Even granting the attempt to authenticate the documents by the AP, I still couldn't help but wonder whether they're for real. Stories based on copied originals, which have been destroyed? I dismissed this train of thought as silliness. But, apparently I'm not the only one to wonder.

The documents may be authentic. If they are, they truly are damning. But before we draw any conclusions, shouldn't some effort be expended to definitively establish their authenticity?

Glenn Reynolds links to the Captain's Quarters post above.