Saturday, January 29, 2005

Let God Be Big, Mysterious, Other...a Reminder from Craig Williams

Craig Williams doesn't write often on his blog. But everything he does write is authentic, gritty, non-assembly line Christianity, pointing us to our common need for a real, authentic relationship with the mysterious God we meet in Jesus Christ.

Craig is rightly wary of programs and systems that leave us far from God. And I agree with him.

Without intending to, programs can stick God in a box, only to be pulled out, manipulated, and used at our pleasure and our will.

When we do that, we're guilty of turning God into a plaything or even turning God into us. No finite, mortal being can give us hope or purpose or life or joy or any of the things for which we truly long.

In the Chronicles of Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis, which tell wonderful tales of an alternative universe, there is a Christ-figure named Aslan. (Indeed, in one of the novels, Aslan fairly explicitly states that he exists and has a different name in our world, implying that He is the Christ and that here, we must "learn to know" Him.) Aslan is a lion, or as the citizens of Narnia call him, "the Lion." Throughout all seven books, Narnians constantly remind each other that Aslan "isn't a tame lion."

Neither is the One the Bible identifies as the Lion of Judah, Jesus the Christ. He is bigger than we are and beyond our control. Until we acknowledge these realities and let the untamed Savior of the world roam wild and free through the dark jungles, bright glades, chasms, and mountains of our souls, allowing God to direct our steps, we haven't begun to know Jesus.

Getting to know Jesus is less like a system or a plan or a program than it is like getting to know a friend or a lover. It takes a willingness to lay aside other priorities, to spend time with our beloved, and to commit ourselves to plumbing the mysterious depths that reside in another's soul. The soul of our beloved Jesus, though, is infinite, eternal, as you would expect of God-in-the-flesh.

I myself have been guilty of putting God in a box. The result has always been like depriving myself of oxygen or food. Whether as an individual believer or as a pastor, I always search for the "magic bullet" that's going to insure my growth in confident faith or spiritual attainment or impressive attendance numbers.

That's the irony of religious programs pursued as magic bullets: At the very moment we may seem or sound to be closest to God, we are likely very far from Him. Without surrender, or "Your will be done," or the willingness to do the very thing we'd rather not do for God's sake, there is no surrender and Christ is far away from us.

That's why repentance, a willingness to turn away from the sin-boxes into which we shove God so as to forget Him and be our own gods, is a prerequisite for letting Jesus into our lives. Repentance is like unlocking the latches on our souls and inviting the Lion of Judah to do what He will on us, in us, and through us.

That can be painful. In one of Lewis' Narnian books, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a greedy, self-absorbed boy, Eustace Scrubb, finds that the magic of an island works on him, transforming him into a dragon. In that form, he encounters Aslan, who leads him to a stream and says that he must be rid of his dragonish skin before enjoying a dip. When Eustace works at removing his skin, he does succeed in ridding himself of three layers. But he's still a dragon. This, it seems to me, well symbolizes our pathetic, self-directed, self-willed attempts to improve our lives, whether by religion, New Year's Resolutions, or spiritual-sounding programs--self-help regimens with Jesus plastered thinly over top of them. But it's when Eustace submits to the almost-violent tearing of Aslan that he is finally restored and renewed. Aslan rips away all the sinful accretions, the pretense, and feigned goodness covering up a soul intent on being a god unto itself. He strips Eustace down to his elemental self, the self he was meant to be.

The process of ridding ourselves of our sins and self-absorption in order to find and be our true selves, as any veteran of Alcoholics Anonymous can tell you, is hard and painful. But until we let our Aslan, Jesus Christ, rip away our selfish defense mechanisms and truly break our hearts and wills open to Him, we are only playing at faith.

This is what it means to meet Jesus at the cross, the place where the ugliness and savagery of our sin killed the pure, sinless Savior. We must let Jesus tear us open so that He can come inside. I am just beginning to learn what this means. In recent years and months, I have discovered new demons blanketing my true self and I am submitting to the pain of repentance that must precede being a truly new creation of God. (Second Corinthians 5:17) I imagine that as long as I ask God to give me the courage to keep following Christ, I will continue to make these painful, life-giving discoveries for the rest of my life on earth.

Recently our congregation made the decision to go through the '40-Days of Purpose' program. I felt that it would be good for us all to focus together on our relationship with Christ and the program based on Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life, can help foster that. (I know because I've gone through the book three times myself and have always felt closer to Christ for this discipline.) But I warned our leadership about the futility and danger of looking for silver bullets or replacing Jesus with a program.

It's something of which we must always be careful, lest in the name of holiness we become religious and lose our relationship with Christ.

Thanks for the reminder, Craig!

MLB Schedules Announced: I Can't Wait!

The American League begins its 2005 season on April 3 with a game between the defending world champion Boston Red Sox and the archrival New York Yankees, it was announced on Friday.

In revealing the schedules for all American and National League teams, Major League Baseball also said that the NL season will get its start on April 4. That will happen in Cincinnati, home of the very first professional baseball team. The Reds will host the the New York Mets.

Here in the Cincinnati area, hopes are high that the Reds may make the playoffs this year and, with the subsequent development of young pitchers, be contenders for several years into the future. During the offseason, the Reds were fairly active and boosted annual payroll to over $60-million, a widely-acknowledged demarcation point between baseball's contenders and also-rans. The Reds' official web site has a second-by-second countdown to the start of Spring training.

Q-and-A: What Happens to Those Who Die Without Hearing of Jesus Christ?

Someone asked me recently, "What do you think happens to those who die without ever hearing of Jesus Christ?" In other words, can those who haven't had the chance for a relationship with Jesus possibly spend eternity with God?

The New Testament portion of the Bible never specifically addresses this question, although I think we can do some educated speculation. But first, let's consider a few things that we know for certain.

First, we know that God cares about all people. Jesus came into our lives to be the sacrificial "Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world." [John 1:29] "World" is a fairly inclusive term. All who repent and believe in the Good News that Jesus died and rose to destroy the power of sin and death over our lives will enjoy eternity with God.

Second, we know that Jesus is the exclusive means by which all people can have a relationship with God. Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.' [John 14:6]

We also know that Jesus' concern for the eternal destinies of all people was still on His mind after He had died and risen. Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus commissions His followers, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." [Matthew 28:19] It's the job of Jesus-Followers to keep telling others about Jesus, whether through our words or our lives. Jesus wants His followers to keep producing new members of His family.

But there are millions of people who haven't heard of Jesus or who, because Christians lack either compassion or a sense of urgency to fulfill Jesus' commission, have never experienced the true love and goodness of Christ.

Now, I shift from what we know to what I think: I don't believe that God will hold the failures of Jesus-Followers to share Jesus against those who haven't heard of Him.

In the New Testament book of Romans, the evangelist and preacher Paul speaks for a moment to his fellow Jews, the people God first designated as His own, the bearers of His message of love and hope for the world, and the nation that would birth the Savior Jesus.

Many of Paul's fellow Jews thought that their ethnicity or religious affiliation would gain them free passes into eternity with God. But Paul writes that, "When Gentiles [non-Jews], who do not possess...[God's] law, do instinctively what the law requires," because the reality of God and the purity of God is written on their hearts, they are in effect, surrendering to the God we know through Jesus Christ. [Romans 2:14-16]

I once read the true story of a missionary who told an elderly Chinese man about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection and how Jesus had done this just so that this elderly man and all of us could live with God forever. After a time, tears came to the man's eyes as he said, "All these years, I knew that He was there, but I didn't know His Name."

That man no doubt represents millions of people who, in their hearts, know there is a God like the One we meet in Jesus and Who, out of the gratitude they feel to this unknown God, seek to serve and love others. But they haven't yet met Him.

Knowing the God I know through Jesus like I do, I can't imagine that God will turn such people away from eternity.

I also can't imagine why we who claim to be Christians won't move heaven and earth to let the whole world know Him and all the love, hope, and power He brings to those who follow Him!

Now I Know Why Saint Bernards Carry Little Barrels of Whiskey Around Their Necks

My brother, comedian Marty Daniels, who apparently spent yesterday evening using a snow shovel to chase a bird that had gotten into his house, found an even stranger story on the Internet, which he posted on his blog. Remember this tale the next time you're caught in an avalanche with a crate of beer in your car. It could save your life...although it might kill your kidneys and liver!

Before and After Pictures of Tsunami Destruction

These stunning pictures are before and after shots of portions of Sri Lanka and India devastated by the tsunami. Some of the photographs are simply overwhelming. Imagine if the same thing happened in your community.

I found the link to the pictures here.

Please remember to donate what you can to reputable relief agencies like those listed below:

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision

Friday, January 28, 2005

'Success" in Iraqi Elections?

Andrew Sullivan, a liberal who supports the war in Iraq, wonders what criteria should be used to count this week's elections in that country a success. His suggestions are rather grim, in a way, but perhaps realistic:
HOW DO WE JUDGE SUCCESS? How do we tell if the Iraqi elections are a success? That they happen at all? Surely we should have a higher standard than that. Here are my criteria: over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered. Any other suggestions for relevant criteria? Am I asking too much? I'm just thinking out loud. But it makes sense to have some guidelines before Sunday so we don't just fit what happens to our pre-existing hopes or rationalizations.
I'm praying that the entire process will be free of disruptions, that American troops sent there will be safe, and that Iraqis will decisively participate. No matter what one's politics or view of President Bush's foreign policy, I think it's imperative that Iraq's transition to democracy be successful.

Should Hatred Be Accepted in the Name of Academic Freedom?

Apart from the issues of academic freedom raised in this piece, how can any reasonable person, even one who has issues with the United States' economic, political, and military elites, defend the indefensible attacks of September 11, 2001?

How can any college, no matter how devoted to the free interchange of ideas, countenance the appearance on its campus of a person who has called the innocent occupants of the World Trade Center on that fateful day, "Eichmanns"?

Whether these reprehensible opinions are the hollow words of a provocateur searching for his fifteen minutes of fame or the genuine sentiments of one taken with radical chic, they lack credibility.

The entire business raises the question of, to what extent hatred should be countenanced in the name of academic freedom, if at all?

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit put me onto this item.

From Tsunami Relief to Rehabilitation: How We Can Help Over the Next Ten Years

It's been more than a month now since the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami took over 280,000 people, leaving thousands of orphans and causing unbelievable destruction. The rebuilding will take a long time.

Our donations to relief organizations can help people rebuild their lives. Lately, I've been linking to stories about tsunami relief from the four reputable organizations I've been recommending almost since the disaster struck. Please consider donating to tsunami relief efforts by one of these agencies or other reputable organizations. The four agenices are:

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision

Yesterday, Lutheran World Relief published a report on where relief efforts are one month after the disaster. It included a projection of what would need to happen over the next ten years. The report is here.

What I admire about LWR and all these agencies is the way they team up with local organizations and with other relief agencies. Here's an interesting quote from the report:

“It’s an instance like this when LWR’s approach to partnership truly pays off,” says Kelly Bauer, one of the LWR team that visited India. “We’ve worked with these partners for years, strengthening their capacities and building trusting relationships. When disasters hit, our partners are strong, capable organizations ready to provide the immediate relief and long-term rehabilitation services affected communities so desperately need.”

Bauer continues, “For example, we’ve worked for years with CASA, an LWR partner in India, and now they’re one of the most effective relief and development organizations in Asia. They are so capable that they’re influencing the way relief is conducted in India. They initiated the ID card system that many NGOs and government agencies are increasingly using during relief distribution. They are also helping coordinate the work of NGOs and advocating to the government for sound, respectful disaster response policies and practices.”

So with a ten-year picture guiding its work, Lutheran World Relief is being deliberate. “The relief phase is drawing to a close and we are already moving into rehabilitation,” adds Barbara Wetsig, LWR Associate Director for Asia, discussing the life cycle of a disaster and the phases that follow. “We will continue to work with existing partners and expand our outreach to new local organizations, with whom we will follow the same deliberate process of both helping them deliver much needed services to affected communities while at the same time ensuring they have strong organizational systems in place.”

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Happy Birthday to My Kid Brother

My kid brother, Marty Daniels, is a very funny and clean comedian, as well as an innovative entrepreneur. His birthday happens on Saturday and he will be thirty-eight years old. Happy birthday!

Check out Marty's web site.

This is his blog.

This is the site of his company, producers of clean comedy shows featuring some of the top performers in the country, people you've seen on Letterman's and Leno's shows.

The Limits of Beach Boy Patriotism

Rob Asghar has posted yet another intelligent, insightful piece on his blog. This deals with his reflections on patriotism (and by extension, other forms of loyalty) spun from the Beach Boys song, "Be True to Your School."

Rob is one of the best writers blogging, thoughtful yet accessible.

Removing the Log from Our Own Eyes

Interesting article on Christian jihad here.

Can Giuliani Be Elected to the Senate...or the Presidency?

If New York's Republican chair convinces former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani to challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton for the US Senate in 2006, it will indicate that Giuliani has given up on running for the presidency in 2008.

Giuliani's peripatetic travels of late indicate that he is testing the presidential waters. If he is going to make a run for the White House, he'll have to begin assembling a campaign team now and a run for the Senate would be at the least, a distraction, and more likely, reflective of a judgment that he can't win in 2008.

Frankly, I suspect that Giuliani is in a no-win situation. In spite of enjoying near-folk hero status akin to that enjoyed usually by generals like Washington, Eisenhower, and Grant, owing to his post-9/11 performance, he's still likely to be a tough sell in Republican presidential primaries. I just don't see how he wins the presidency.

In New York, it appears that Clinton has done a good job of positioning herself for re-election, something that she must secure if she has any chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. (A highly unlikely prospect, too, so far as I can see.) I frankly don't see Giuliani winning there, although I think a win 2006 is more likely than in 2008.

Giuliani probably would have done more to advance his presidential prospects by accepting nomination as Homeland Security secretary than anything he might do now. He would have boosted his stature in an area where he is strong, emphasizing and underscoring his chief asset among Republicans, and he would have avoided the embarrassment caused to him by the Kerik situation.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But if Giuliani concludes that he can be neither President or Senator, it will be interesting to see what he decides to do next, because he is a fascinating guy.

One other interesting element to this is that George Pataki, New York's governor, also apparently wants to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2008. Is the state Republican chair trying to eliminate Rudy as a rival to the governor, allowing the latter to become the state's official and undisputed 9/11 presidential candidate? I think that's highly likely.

McCain and Clinton Nominate Saakashvili and Yushchenko for Nobel Peace Prize

John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton have nominated Viktor Yushchenko and Mikhail Saakashvili for the Nobel Peace Prize. There are good cases to be made for both nominees.

Spring and the Crack of the Bat Can't Be Too Far Off

For those of us who live in the frigid climes of the North, it comes as particularly good news that major league baseball players, like these from the Cleveland Indians, are doing media tours. Spring may get here eventually!

And for those of us in Ohio, whether they're Cleveland fans or like me, followers of the Cincinnati Reds, this offseasons offers a bit more hope of our teams being in post-season play than has been true over the past few years. I can't wait!

Q-and-A: Are Infants Who Die in Heaven?

A friend tells me that she has become acquainted with a young woman whose infant child died not long ago. This young woman wants assurance that her child is with God in heaven. My friend wrote to me, wondering what I would say to her.

The young woman's feelings are entirely understandable. It's difficult to imagine anything more painful than the death of one's child. It seems to violate the natural order of things.

This has always been the case, even in earlier times when the deaths of children were far more common, whether attributable to high infant mortality rates, the dangers of disease and injury in the days before medicines like penicillin, the lack of child labor laws, or the general lack of safety in everyday life.

Today, we may delude ourselves with the idea that children don't die before their parents, making the loss of little ones, when this tragedy does strike, even more difficult to accept.

The young mother's question was no doubt prompted not just by the "unnaturalness" of her loss, but also by her awareness that entrance into heaven is a matter of faith in Jesus Christ. Heaven is the destination of those who repudiate their sin and trustingly embracing Jesus Christ as the hope of their lives.

This is the thrust of the Bible's most famous verse, John 3:16, where Jesus says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life."

So, what does happen to infants incapable of believing or trusting Jesus? Can parents of little ones take comfort in the hope of heaven for their children? The Bible doesn't address this issue directly. But I believe that there is an answer.

The first thing we need to remember, in answering, is that God is no monster. The love that motivated God to enter our world through Jesus and then to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sin and to rise from death to give us life, characterizes God's whole being and personality. God is filled with love for us all.

In the Old Testament's book of worship, the Psalms, one of the songs there, Psalm 136, contains a recurring litany that affirms that God's "steadfast love endures forever." It makes that affirmation no fewer than 26 times!

But God's love for us isn't a matter of words only. Jesus is the living, dying, rising proof of the steadiness and certainty of God's love for us. God doesn't just speak of His love for us, He actively and sacrificially gives it to us. This loving God wants us to be with Him!

We also should remember that God has a special place in His heart for children. Once, when Jesus' closest followers tried to keep children from "bothering" Him, Jesus became adamant. "Let the children come to Me," He insisted, "and do not stop them..." [Luke 18:16]

A third thing we should remember in considering this young mother's question is that God's intent has never been to trip people up, putting obstacles in their paths to heaven. Jesus once said that God hadn't sent Him "into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him." [John 3:17]

Because we know God's character and about His passion for us, I'm confident that children who die before they are able to understand or choose to accept or reject Jesus as their God and Savior, are ushered into eternity with God.

What You and I Can Do Toward Tsunami Relief...Specific Suggestions

Ever since the tsunami of December 26, I've been urging folks to donate to relief organizations that are working in the south Asian region affected by this massive disaster. There are a number of honest, effective groups providing help throughout the region, helping people to rebuild their lives. I've particularly commended four agencies. I have no affiliation with any of them, although I will confess to being a Lutheran, making me part of the evangelical Christian movement that's behind one of the agencies, Lutheran World Relief. But I've never met anybody from LWR. So, it's not as though I have a vested interest in any of these agencies.

Each day now, I'm providing a link to some newsworthy item from each of the agencies I recommend. Today's focus is World Vision and a very cool page on their web site that offers hints on what all of us can do to be of help in this massive crisis.

Please do seriously consider making contributions to one of the following agencies for tsunami relief:

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision

The Super Bowl: TO, Macca, and New England's Sports Fans

You know that if Terrell Owens gets medical clearance to play in the Super Bowl, it'll be a tremendous boost to Eagles' fans. Given Owens' demeanor during the Eagles' playoff win this past Sunday, you know that he wants to make this game badly. I hope, quite frankly, that he is able to play since he is one big reason that the Eagles are in the game in the first place.

My plan is to make this the first Super Bowl I've watched since the fourth one, when Len Dawson and the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings. The reason? Paul McCartney is playing at half-time, baby. Macca has already promised that this year, there will be no wardrobe malfunctions.

My big question is this: If the Patriots win, in what would be their third Super Bowl victory in four years, will New England sports fans, still gah-gah over the win of their number-one team, the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, care very much? How about if you New Englanders tell me what you think?

UPDATE: Paul McCartney will announce the dates of his North American tour during the Super Bowl half-time show. McCartney and U2 both touring this year. Yeah!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Peggy Noonan's Unexpected Critique of the Inaugural Address

Peggy Noonan, a conservative supporter of President Bush and one-time Reagan speech writer, didn't like the Inaugural Address. Here is her critique.

Here and here are my two posts on the address.

Here is the critique of a liberal Democrat who is also an evangelical Christian.

How Can You Loan a Ball You Shouldn't Even Own?

Maybe I'm completely wrong on this one and if so, I stand ready to be corrected.

But frankly, I don't see how Doug Mientkiewicz can legitimately hold onto a baseball that stayed on the field of play in Game Seven of the 2004 World Series. Under those circumstances, it seems to me that the ball should still be the possession of Major League Baseball.

But about the same time his trade from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Mets was announced, it was also revealed that Mientkiewicz is planning to "loan" the ball he scooped up on the last play of Red Sox World Series win to his former team. The loan will last a year, he says.

What do you bet the BoSox will try to find a way to keep the thing, especially if they fail to repeat as World Series champions this year?

If the Red Sox don't win in 2005, the value of the curse-beating baseball will be enhanced. But two consecutive Series championships could turn winning into such a ho-hum affair in Boston, that people wouldn't care to see Mientkiewicz's souvenir.

Two Bloggers Rail Against Bloggers' Self-Aggrandizement

Joshua Claybourn, of In the Agora, gives kudos to another blogger, Rab at Ramblings, for his criticisms of the pathetic narcissism that has infected many in the blogging medium. I offer kudos to both of them!

Frankly, many bloggers remind me of the fictional Trekkies who, in that famous skit from Saturday Night Live years ago, were excoriated for their pathetic and narrow-gauged obsessions by William Shatner. "Have any of you people ever kissed a girl?" he asked, as he urged them to experience more of life than the slender slice of science fiction afforded by his old TV show.

Many bloggers could use similar advice. Get a grip, folks! Blogs are a great means of communication. Some of them are excellently-written. Some are informative and helpful.

But, let's be honest. Even the best blogs aren't pure as driven snow and are a long way shy of pristine perfection! Sometimes, blogs simply present misinformation, disinformation, and ideological prejudice more quickly than other media.

I left the following comment at In the Agora, directed at both Joshua's post and the original "public service" post that precipitated it:
Thank you! The self-conscious self-aggrandizement of some bloggers and the
incessant trumpeting of the virtue of the "blogosphere," a term I loathe, have
become insufferable.

The last I checked, bloggers were people, as prone to error as the rest of
the human race.

What's more, many of the political bloggers are so ideologically-driven
that they hunker down in unhelpful "don't confuse me with the facts" mode.
They're more biased (and frequently less informed) than the conventional media
outlets, conservative and liberal, against whom they self-righteously

If You're in the Cincinnati Area

I don't often do this on the blog, but if you live in the Cincinnati area, I'd like to invite you to attend this fun concert at our congregation's building this Saturday night. Here are the details...

Captive Free Concert
Saturday, January 29, 2005
7:00 P.M.

Friendship Lutheran Church's building
1300 White Oak Road
Amelia, Ohio
(just one-quarter mile south of SR125 [AKA: Beechmont Avenue],
four miles east of I-275)
[call 513-752-5265 for directions]

Freewill Offering will be received

A Big List of Evangelical Opinion-Meisters

Joe Carter of evangelical outpost is initiator and steward of the list of evangelical Christian bloggers you see below. Many seem to be more conservative in their outlook and it should be pointed out that Christian equals neither conservative or Republican. Neither does evangelical equal conservative or Republican. I've got a quaint notion that Christian ought to only equal Christian.

Another intriguing fact is that so many folks from the Presbyterian and Reformed Christian tradition are active bloggers. Mark D. Roberts, Tod Bolsinger, and Adrian Warnock are just a few. I've run across very few of my fellow Lutherans who've become bloggers.

There are a lot interesting sites here and a lot of sites on which you'll often find interesting things. I salute Joe for his initiative. Here then, is the updated list of evangelical bloggers from him.

18. (1167)
19. the evangelical outpost (1165)
28. La Shawn Barber's Corner (1019)
32. ScrappleFace (951)
40. World Magazine Blog (912)
64. Parableman (716)
109. Le Sabot Post-Moderne (518)
116. Adrian Warnock's UK Evangelical Blog (506)
149. Patriot Paradox (428)
157. In the Agora (419)
178. Wittenberg Gate (394)
191. SmartChristian Blog
209. Blue Goldfish (361)
227. Evangelical Underground (343)
253. Sidesspot (323)
296. (290)
298. Broken Masterpieces (287)
302. Blogdom of God (285)
314. King of Fools (280)
318. Ogre's Politics & Views
326. Logicus bLogicus (274)
341. CoffeeSwirls (267)
345. Spreading Understanding
369. Philosophical Poetry
372. Wallo World (258)
403. Daddypundit
428.TulipGirl (237)
438. Cadmusings
439. A Physicist's Perspective (235)
447.Sounding the Trumpet (232)
452. Vox Popoli
452. Pajama Hadin
456. 21st Century Reformation
467. Ales Rarus
468. The Dawn Treader
478. Uncle Sam's Cabin (223)
524. (208)
540. Back of the Envelope
545. Challies Dot Com
561. Philosophical Poetry
652. The Minor Prophet
681. Daddy Pundit
682. The Dawn Treader
750. Rebecca Writes
882. Semicolon
923. Reverend Mike's House of Homiletic Hash
1079. Darn Floor
1106. New Covenant
1131. Damascus Road
1153. Proverbial Wife
1153. The Great Seperation
1203. Allthings2all
1239. Every Thought Captive
1242. Marriages Restored
1277. Wesley Blog (119)
1293. Every Thought Captive
1302. Crossroads
1314. Joe Missionary
1356. doubletoothpicks: worldviews behind the news (113)
1383. notes from the front lines
1422. Pete's Journal
1423. the outer...
1430. Antioch Road
1467. Weapons of Warfare
1480. Deep Calls to Deep
1500. a ticking time blog
1593. Fallible
1597. SteelerDirtFreak :: A 21st Century Missional Redneck Geek
1630. Ex Nihilo
1717. Mark Byron (83)
1720. Through a Glass Darkly
1730. prosthesis
1758. Imperfect but Forgiven
1795. The Rooftop Blog
1962. The Wardrobe Door
2121. JivinJehoshaphat
2166. He Lives
2181. Grapevine
2360. Darn Floor
2364. View from the Pew
2422. Church of the Acronym
2452. Stand Up and Walk
2562. The Regulator
2624. Bird of Paradise
2662. Now I don't want to get off on a rant here...
2672. The Happy Husband
2794. Dr. John Mark Reynolds (43)
2969. Wittingshire
2970. Amy's Humble Musings
3156. espresso roast (36)
3441. XBIP
3643. Feeble Knees
3731. It Take A Church…
4607. Eternal Perspectives
4695. AnotherThink
4702. Better Living: Thoughts from Mark Daniels
4840. Off the top
5279. Hill Country Views
5307. TheDuke's Domain
5516. Abide in the Word
5752. lawreligionculturereview
6488. Confessions of a Jesus Phreak
6599. Much (of a which of a) Wind
7404. TRUTH BE TOLD (8)
7441. Happy Mills (8)
7450. Media Culpa
7727. personal trainer (7)
8029. Midwestern Mugwump (mw)2
8108. Revenge of Mr Dumpling
8634. Dunker Journal
8715. The 'Grub Street' Plumber
8910. Pete the Elder
9081. The Wardrobe Door
10151. DM'S Loose Ends
10921. Blogcorner preacher (3)
10991. Proverbs Daily
11228. Tim Thompson . . . Reflections
11555. On An Azure Field of Gratuitous Advice
12365. Sonspot (2)
12578. Procrastinators of the world- Unite! (Later)
14641. Reed's Blogged Ateries
17080. ??? ???
18153. Itsara
NR - Mentor Mark Memoirs
NR - secundum Christum
NR - ChristianHillsblog
NR - Grace Notes 4 Teens
NR - Peacful Chaos
NR - C.H.U.R.C.H.
NR - The Greatest Pursuits
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More on Climbing Kilimanjaro

Nancy Beck, fiance Jim Ball, and friends are going to trek up Mount Kilimanjaro soon. Nancy, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Clermont County, is making her climb for the kids the clubs serve.

On her blog, she's written another post about preparations for this exciting venture, along with some cool pictures.

The blog also provides information on how you can sponsor Nancy as she climbs for kids!

A Site Worth Visiting

Tod Bolsinger writes some of the most thoughtful, interesting, and positively challenging pieces on the web. Here's the link to his blog.

If a Hockey League Falls in the Forest, Will Anybody...

While I know that it has occasioned much anguish in Canada, in the US, few even notice that the NHL isn't playing this season. The longer this goes on, the more hockey is hurt. Apparently, here in the States, that's okay.

Prayers Needed for Hallums

This from the end of Chicago Sun-Times round-up of events from Iraq:
On Tuesday, a video showed an American kidnapped in November pleading for his life as the hostage-takers pointed a rifle at his head.

In the video, a bearded Roy Hallums, 56, said he had been taken by a "resistance group" because "I have worked with American forces." He appealed to Arab leaders, including Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, to save his life.

Hallums was seized by gunmen Nov. 1 along with Robert Tarongoy of the Philippines at their compound in Baghdad's Mansour district. The two worked for a Saudi company that does catering for the Iraqi army. The Filipino was not shown in the video.
I'm keeping Mr. Hallums in my prayers, asking that his safe release will happen soon.

Carson and Loyalty

Nick Clooney has an interesting memory of Johnny Carson. His insistence that Carson wasn't aloof or Howard Hughes-like, simply wary of celebrity, is notable because Clooney, himself a five-star celebrity in the Cincinnati area for decades, has also seen it close-up in the lives of sister Rosemary and son George.

Clooney's column also relates to my post of yesterday on loyalty.

Five Good Reasons

I've begun to highlight on different stories relative to tsunami relief from each of the reputable relief agencies I recommend every day. In this release, Catholic Relief Services provides five good reasons for giving to its tsunami relief efforts.

Please consider writing a check or donating by credit card on line to any one of the following relief agencies.

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Of Rosemary Woods and The Problem of Loyalty

Rosemary Woods, Richard Nixon's secretary from the time he served in the US House of Representatives through the day of his resignation from the presidency in disgrace, died on Saturday evening.

Ironically, her passing in an Ohio nursing home came just hours before the death of former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, who got so much comedic mileage from a noted act of semi-contortion on Woods' part.

The word that immediately came to mind when I heard of Woods' death was loyal. She was utterly loyal to her boss and therein lies reason for reflection.

During the 1973 investigations into both the Watergate break-in, perpetrated by employees of Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President and into the subsequent White House-directed cover-up, presidential aide Alexander Butterworth revealed that the Oval Office was equipped with an audiotaping system. Voice-triggered, the system had, it turned out, recorded hours of Nixon's meetings.

This revelation raised a huge furor. Investigators thought that the tapes would provide definitive evidence of Nixon's involvement in the cover-up.

A tussle ensued, but ultimately Nixon surrendered the tapes to the Senate investigating committee.

That's when a discovery was made. A mysterious 18-1/2-minute gap appeared on the tapes, a gap that occurred in a particular conversation in which investigators had good reason to believe that Nixon had unambiguously implicated himself in criminal activities.

How did the gap occur? Some were certain that Nixon, in spite of being technologically-challenged, had made the crude erasure.

But Rosemary Woods said that she herself had been responsible for about five minutes of the gap. That happened, she asserted, while she made transcripts of the tapes and answered a ringing telephone, her foot still depressing a pedal connected to the tape recorder. The photo taken of her demonstrating how this could have happened has become famous.

To this day, many familiar with the incident doubt Woods' explanation and assume that she was simply being loyal to Nixon.

Loyalty is a good thing. But can one be too loyal?

Nixon himself seemed to say this was possible. In his famous interviews with David Frost, Nixon claimed that much of his Watergate troubles were caused by an excess of loyalty to his subordinates, notably Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Dean. "I was not a butcher," Nixon declared a bit self-righteously. (Okay, a lot self-righteously.) He said this to explain why he hadn't cut these people adrift when he discovered their cover-up and knew the potential consequences to his presidency.

President Harry Truman, it's often suggested, caused himself a boatload of trouble by remaining loyal to old Missouri friends who were using their connections to him for certain advantages.

One of Dwight Eisenhower's missteps as President was his continued, ill-advised loyalty to chief-of-staff Sherman Adams even after certain of his misdeeds became known.

Of course, loyalty has caused much tragedy over the centuries. In the last century, virtually an entire nation remained loyal to its government and military as it systematically killed six-million or more people simply because they were Jewish and as it attempted to conquer Europe. Even those in higher positions of authority, who might have done something to change or blunt these evil policies, offered the simple and ultimately unconvincing defense at the Nuremberg Trials, "We were only following our orders."

Still and all, loyalty undergirds good marriages, strong friendships, effective business relationships, and happy nations. Loyalty is what impels married couples to stick it out when the going gets rough. It's what causes family members to forgive one another even after acrimonious disagreements.

The Old Testament portion of the Bible tells the true story of the friendship between two men, David and Jonathan. Jonathan was the son of the sitting king, Saul. David was a powerful young warrior already designated to become the next king by God's prophet, Samuel.

Saul was ferociously jealous of David, favored by God and celebrated by their fellow countrymen. As time wore on, Saul's paranoia and madness grew and his determination to kill David grew as well.

Saul's attitudes and actions toward David must have created a maelstrom of clashing loyalties within Jonathan. He felt loyalty to his father, for one thing. So strong was that loyalty that Jonathan would ultimately die in battle at his father's side.

But Jonathan also felt loyalty to his noble friend David and to the God Who had chosen David for future kingship.

Several times Jonathan thwarted Saul's murderous intentions toward David, once even causing the paranoid king to accuse Jonathan and David of being homosexual lovers.

After Saul and Jonathan were dead and David had become king, it was learned that Jonathan's son, Mephibosheth, handicapped and spurned by much of society, was still alive. Out of loyalty to his dead friend, David raised the boy as his own son.

From this story, we learn a lot about loyalty: its nobility, its place, and its limits.

We learn, for example, that it's a fine thing to be loyal. But when those to whom we are loyal, either overtly or implicitly, expect us to do things that are wrong or hurtful to others, loyalty must give way to higher concerns.

We learn that in the conflict of loyalties, there must be some higher value to which we defer.

Loyalty doggedly adhered to can make monsters of us, as it did of those who "followed orders" in Nazi Germany.

Loyalty can make us oblivious to the deficiencies of those to whom we are loyal.

Loyalty can also cause us to commit or abet crime, as may have happened with Rosemary Woods.

So, are we best advised to forgo loyalty, keep to ourselves, and simply look out for number one?

The greatest true example of loyalty comes from the God-Man Jesus. In spite of temptations to the contrary, Jesus remained loyal to God the Father and His will for Jesus' life. In spite of the abuse to which the human family subjected Him, Jesus also remained loyal to people. Because of that loyalty, He went to a cross, making Himself the perfect sacrifice for our sin and to become, for all who turn from sin and follow Him, the bridge between God and humanity.

And this leads us probably to the final thing to be said about loyalty: Until our highest loyalty is given to the God we know through Jesus Christ, we live in danger of causing untold damage to ourselves and to others.

Each day, I pray that God will forgive me those times in my past when I've been disloyal to Him and give me help in making Him my ultimate loyalty today and in the future.

Today's Tsunami Relief Focus: The American Red Cross

Yesterday, I began to share news items from each of the four reputable relief agencies I've been highlighting since the December 26 tsunami. Because the needs are going to be so immense in the months ahead, I feel that it's important for us to make the effort to keep the crying needs of millions of our neighbors in mind and in our prayers.

On Monday, I shared information from Lutheran World Relief on their Waves of Giving program. Today, a January 7 press release from the American Red Cross on its comprehensive relief program for the victims of the tsunami.

Please consider making contributions to any one of these fine organizations...or other reputable relief agencies.

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision

Monday, January 24, 2005

About Happiness

Mark Roberts, on his excellent blog, has recently finished a series of posts dealing with happiness. Here's the link to Mark's thoughts on the subject.

Last summer, I tackled the same topic in a series. Here are the links to each installment of what I called, The Happiness Project:

The Poverty That Leaves You Rich

Good Grief

The People Who Make a Difference

The Diet That Will Make You Happy

What Mercy Does

The People Who See God

The People Who Make Peace

Happy When the World Turns Away

I hope that you find both Mark's and my articles helpful.

Gender Differences and Gender Stereotyping

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has this pithy comment occasioned by a book he's just ordered:
IN THE MAIL: A copy of Leonard Sax's new book, Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, a book that's sure to be controversial. Though it seems that it's okay to talk about sex differences, so long as it's done in a way that reflects badly on men.
Interesting Reynolds makes the comment I've italicized above. My wife, son, daughter, and I often note an ongoing theme in what Marshall McCluhan apparently labeled America's highest art form, advertising. That theme is the stupidity of men and the superiority of women in intelligence, wisdom, and worldliness.

Of course, it's probably only fair that this stereotyping has emerged. For decades and decades, the wise reasonable man keeping the ditzy, scatterbrained, weak woman under control was a staple of American popular culture.

It's just too bad we have to resort to weathered cliches in any case.

It's also about time that we acknowledged that while men and women should be afforded equal opportunities, there do seem to be differences that go beyond our respective plumbing.

Given the recent flap over comments on gender differences made by Harvard University president Lawrence Summers, it's easy to project that this issue is going to be with us for awhile.

I'd be interested in reading comments on what both female and male make of the Summers flap, Reynolds' post, and my family's observations about gender stereotyping in television ads.

By the way, it seems that many radio advertisements, as opposed to the predominating themes of TV ads, still promote the old "male is superior" stereotypes, especially on the sports radio stations I frequent.

One ad for a dandruff shampoo currently running does this in a rather sly, yet still egregious way. A gruff executive wants to know who among his subordinates had the temerity to leave dandruff shampoo among his things. Several males meekly say they weren't the ones. But a female with confidence says that she was the guilty party and the executive thanks her for providing him with something that works.

There is a brief announcer cut-away pitching the product. Then the executive tells the female that he appreciates her taking an interest. In her best Lauren Bacall, she replies, "Oh, I'm interested." Apparently, this female subordinate couldn't resist this newly-dandruff-free example of verile manly exec. This ad seems to promote the notion of male superiority and the one that all a woman really wants is a man. Sheesh!

One Lesson from Johnny Carson's Career

Back in my junior high school days, because my father worked second shift and my siblings included two babies among their number, my mother took up my offer for relief and made the perhaps ill-advised decision to allow me to stay awake each night until my father's 1:00 AM return from his job.

The result was that I became a huge Johnny Carson fan. Always interested in public affairs, I loved his monologues, infused with regular references to the events of the day, as well as his occasional interviews with people like Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Few may remember that he once spent an hour-and-a-half interviewing New Orleans prosecuting attorney Jim Garrison, demolishing Garrison's notions of a conspiracy in the killing of President John F. Kennedy.)

I admired Carson's intelligence and wit and, for a time, fancied myself one day becoming a late-night talk show host. In fact, like one of Robert de Niro's sick movie characters, I even turned my bedroom into a talk show set, my sisters using the boas from their Barbie play sets to act as glamorous guests.

At school, I regaled a small group of classmates with my accounts of the previous night's edition of The Tonight Show, particularly telling them about the slightly naughty things guests like Lyn Redgrave might have said to Carson. Johnny Carson made me feel sort of hip.

I suspect that he had that effect on all who watched his show with any regularity.

In recent years, there's evidence that we, as is our penchant in America, have overdone it a bit. We may be too smart alecky for our own good. Instead of the impish tweaking of those in authority that was Carson's trademark, today's late night talkers are more like character assassins, nightly combatants in a contest to get quoted and video-clipped the next day. This one-upsmanship corrodes our social compact and defaces political debate. It contributes to cynicism.

As entertainment and information consumers, we've also become lazy. In spite of access to tons of information through the 24/7 news networks, newspapers on the web, magazines, and the occasional informative blog, polls show that increasing numbers of us rely almost exclusively on the nightly talk show monologues for news of the day.

Carson, a journalism major at the University of Nebraska and an inveterately inquisitive man, must have been appalled by that development. He himself was a consumer of news and could be thoughtfully reflective on world events.

Carson was certainly not credulous. His humor could be bitingly insightful. But he put limits on himself, never becoming mean.

As such, he's a good example of what Dwight Eisenhower's mentor Fox Connor taught should be the stance of all with authority, power, or influence: Always take your job seriously, but never yourself.

[This is a good overview of Carson's life.]

What Does It Take to Make a Difference for the Poor?

Rob Asghar has an interesting reflection on whether he has the right stuff to make a difference in the lives of the poor. It's a humble and insightful post.

Ideas Worth Exploring

It may be that the ideas Ray discusses here are born of cultural imperialism or religious arrogance, as he concedes. But I suspect that he's a man of humility who really cares about people and works to avoid such attitudes or attributes. Check out this post and in succeeding days, continue to read his reflections on his recent trip to Mexico (to help build housing in an impoverished area) with an open mind.

I haven't formed any conclusions about what Ray raises here...and neither has he.

But his experience certainly should incite some fruitful discussion and hopefully, useful action.

My guess is that if the general squalor in which the world's poor lives was purely the result of not having good examples, there would be no ghettos or shantytowns. US culture, after all, which is unimaginably wealthy by world standards, is pervasive. Even the poorest of the poor see examples of it each day, if nowhere else in the billboards plastered in their cities.

Poverty, I think, immobilizes people through the despair it spawns and the fewer opportunities for economic advancement. In a world often financially-driven, those without are depressed in more ways than one. Their conditions feel like judgments over their lives--judgments, they perceive, that come from God and from others and judgments they come to see as irreversible.

Having said that, I do believe that when people know that they've been accepted by God, through Jesus Christ, just as they are, and come to believe in Him, there is a radical transformation that starts to happen in their lives. They have hope, something they've never experienced before. Through the witness of the Holy Spirit, people know that they are approved by God and given an imperishable future.

This clearly adds to their industry and gives them the requisite hope necessary to believe it possible to rise from the squalor. Jesus' words in Matthew aren't hollow rhetoric, but a real promise: "With God, all things are possible."

The end of apartheid in South Africa is one prime example of the lie of Karl Marx's assertion that religious belief acts as an opiate, causing people to accept their poverty and await reward in the sweet-by-and-by. In South Africa and in millions of other places, circumstances, and lives, surrender to Jesus Christ and the assurance of heaven haves incited people to throw off the dulling shackles of limited possibilities and to fearlessly confront injustice.

Just my two cents. Go to Ray's site and let's all continue this conversation.

Hurrah! The Orange Revolution Begins to Take Root

It's a wonderful day for Ukraine and for the cause of political and economic freedom!

Today, the reform-minded and committed democrat, Viktor Yuschenko, is president of Ukraine. His first piece of business: a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Putin openly tampered with Ukraine's presidential elections and backed the old guard's attempts to stiff-arm democracy. Because eastern Ukraine has strong bonds with Russia and much of its population waxes nostalgic for the bland certitudes of Soviet dictatorship, Yushchenko needs to placate Russia in order to avoid seeing his country burst in two.

What the experience in Ukraine demonstrates is that democracy can best be achieved and advanced via the following methods:
  • When an aroused people, spontaneously and otherwise, rouse themselves to refuse tyranny and do so peacefully.
  • When the community of democratic nations and international institutions refuse to accept the outcome of elections that are obviously the result of despotic manipulation.
  • When people around the world are mobilized to pray.
These three ingredients were clearly observable in the waning days of Soviet hegemony of Germany as well. (Other factors in the fall of the Soviet Union and the destruction of its empire included the inherent weaknesses of Communism, the rising expectations for freedom created by perestroika and glasnost, and the Soviet Union's enormous economic problems born of too much military spending, especially expenditures for battling insurgents in Afghanistan.)

The Ukrainian model ought to be of interest to the Bush Administration, I think.

Le Sabot-Moderne covers President Yushchenko's inauguration from the ground and includes that site's excellent trademark photographs.

This story talks about Yushchenko's first full day in office. It's important for him, both domestically and in relation to Russia, to play nice with Putin even as he presses for closer and more fruitful ties with the West.

This item, from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, recounts reactions from some of the Cleveland-area's large Ukrainian-American community.

'Wave of Giving' Addresses Long-Term South Asia Needs

Beginning today, I'm linking to some news stories from each of the four relief agencies I've been highlighting since the tsunami disaster of December 26. These four reputable agencies are deserving of our support. The one with which I'm most familiar and which has consistently earned high marks for their efficiency of operation is Lutheran World Relief. Here's a link to a December 29 item from LWR's web site on their Wave of Giving program. It's designed to address the long-term needs of people affected by the tsunami. (Members of Thrivent Financial Services for Lutherans can magnify the impact of their contributions through Thrivent's matching program for Wave of Giving. That's also explained in the link above.)

Below are links to the four different agencies I've been highlighting. I hope that you'll seriously consider a financial contribution for tsunami-related relief work. The need is great and will be for a long time!

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Tribute to People Who Do Right, Even If They'd a Lot Rather Be Skiing

In his eulogy for film legend Stan Laurel, Dick Van Dyke told of an exchange that happened between Laurel and the nurse attending him in the final hours of the comedian's life, when death was clearly imminent. "I'd a lot rather be skiing," said Laurel in that wonderful English accent of his. "Oh, Mr, Laurel," she responded, "do you ski?" "No," he said. "But I'd a lot rather be doing that than this."

Sometimes we simply have to do things that we'd rather not do. Death is the most prominent among these, of course.

But there's also a bevy of less dire obligations that we'd a lot rather not be doing, which we must do, nonetheless. Income taxes come to mind. So does enduring winter cold if you live in the North.

What constantly amazes me is the number of good things that people do that, strictly speaking, they don't have to do.

This week has shown a number of examples to me of people committing acts of unnecessary kindness or helpfulness.

There was Paul, one of the volunteer pianists from our congregation, agreeing to leave work early in order to provide music for a rare Friday evening memorial service.

Tim T. came to the building several times over the past few days in order to make certain that the pavement was free of ice and snow and the building was welcoming for the mourners who came to the service.

This morning, Steve and Aaron spent several hours working on all the problems that arose after our fuel oil ran out and forced us to cancel our Sunday worship.

Others prepared Sunday School lessons and Youth Group activities over the course of the past seven days.

None of these people had to do any of these things.

Nor did the countless other members of our church family have to check up on ill neighbors, make contributions to local charities, send food to the local emergency food bank, mail cards to people going through rough times, or pray for people on our prayer list. But they did these things and more.

Each week, as pastor of Friendship Church, I'm privileged to watch people be kind and considerate, not just to one another, but to neighbors, many of whom are strangers they've never met or never will meet. They've taken to heart the words of Archbishop Temple who said that the church is the only organization in the world that exists for non-members!

And so, these wonderful folks inspire me with their good examples of kindness, even when they might "a lot rather" be skiing or something else.

If I were to publicly recognize any of them or even mention my gratitude privately, they would demure. "It was no big deal, Mark," they'd tell me. One woman I thanked once told me, "I didn't do it for you. I did it for my Lord."

She's right, of course. But sometimes in a bad news world, you want to let people in on some good news. You want to provide a field report on a battlefield on which good is prevailing over evil.

My report is this: Jesus, the once-dead, forever-risen Savior, has made and is making a difference in the lives of one amazing group of people.

To all of my Friendship family, I say, "Of course, you're not perfect. But I'm so glad that you've let Jesus live in your lives. I can tell that you have, because every day I see Him in you! I can see Him in the joyous ways you do things that you might not want to do, but that you know are right to do!"