A sinner saved by the grace of God given to those with faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Period.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
The Latest from Marty
Will Condi Be Nominated by the GOP in 2008? I Don't Think So, But Not for the Reasons You Might Think
Here's what I wrote in Althouse's comments section:
One would hope that being a woman, single, or African-American would not be reasons for people to dismiss potential candidates for the presidency.
I harbor the same hope for people who've never held elective office. While I think it's wise to elect people to the presidency who've been "around the block" and know politics, it's possible to gain such experience in more than the strictly "political" world.
But I just don't see Condoleezza Rice as a successful candidate for President. We've had a history of electing secretaries of state or former ones to the presidency, of course. But this was early in our country's history.
These days, secretaries of state tend to be persons who've cultivated an expertise in foreign policy through diplomatic service, in academia, or in a combination of those two. Their tenures as chief diplomats for the US give them little time to cultivate ward heelers in places like Dubuque, Nashua, and Columbia, essential for anyone who would be President because there is no such thing as the draft of meritorious candidates. Successful candidates for President must weather the challenges of the primaries and caucuses, particularly in those early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
It should also be said that generally speaking, folks who function well as diplomats must develop ways of thinking and communicating that don't always connect well with the average voter. While it's hard not to have a high opinion of Rice--she's proven herself a capable, tough-minded person in every post she's held, it's hard to imagine her speaking with South Dakotans about agricultural price supports, for example.
On top of all this, the demands of a secretary of state's job are such that it would be very difficult for Rice, in the winter of 2008, to run for the nomination. It's a lot easier for senators and former governors to do that.
I could be wrong about all of this...that's happened before! But I just don't think that she has much of a chance.
Thankfully though, I don't see her gender, race, or marital status making any difference. Isn't it nice that we can say that?
As to Hillary, the most recent polling seems to indicate that the same thing is happening for the Clinton family that happened for the Bushes. When Bush the Elder left the White House, he was disdained as a wealthy pol distant from the concerns and experiences of the average citizen and a failure as president. Within a few short years--and some would say, owing in part to the experiences of the Clinton Administration--people looked back on him with appreciation and nostalgia. Much of George W.'s early support stemmed from the positive feelings people had developed for his father.
Now, 58% of the American people indicate a willingness to vote for Hillary, a person not long ago seen as the political equivalent of nuclear contamination, especially in the Red or Purple states.
In the past, I've told people, "There's no way she'll be nominated for the presidency and that if by some happenstance she were nominated, she would get her clock cleaned." Now I don't know.
But if she were nominated by the Democrats, I don't think that her being a woman would matter that much. Maybe I'm being naive, but I just don't.
One other thing. Any speculation about who Rice or Clinton would ask to be their running mates if it came to that? I mean, if we believe that they have deficiencies as presidential candidates, who might they ask to be their veeps to offset those.
Rice would be in a funny position. She would have to give herself both a harder edge to reassure the hardcore NASCAR male and a softer one to placate those more liberal than she on both foreign and domestic issues. Oddly enough, I think that Rice might have to deal with a reverse gender gap: My guess is that her support among men would be stronger than among women.
Clinton's recent speeches have shown what she must do generally: tack to the middle. She would seem to need to pick a centrist Dem male, maybe one who is pro-life, for her running mate. Harry Reid would fit the bill except that as minority leader, he's become a lightning rod, a choice that would risk making Clinton even more controversial.
But in any case, this is probably an academic exercise, as I don't see either Rice or Clinton being nominated. These speculations are always fun for political junkies though.
Some Reading in Case Memorial Day Weekend is Rainy
So, here you go:
Why I Believe Christian Faith is True
Prayer: The Essential Conversation
Habits of the HeartPart One
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent
The Promise and the Perils of Democracy
Friday, May 27, 2005
People Aren't Going to the Movies...Is There Anything Wrong with That?
For 13 weekends in a row, box-office receipts have been down compared with a year ago, despite the blockbuster opening of the final "Star Wars" movie. And movie executives are unsure whether the trend will end over the important Memorial Day weekend that officially begins the summer season.I haven't been to a movie at a theater since the release of Cold Mountain, a movie I hated. But I rarely watch movies at home either. I did catch most of Star Wars II the other night when my wife, daughter, and future son-in-law popped it into the DVD player. (I'd never seen it before. The effects were wonderful, the plot predictable, the acting horrific, precisely what my daughter said about the most recent film after seeing it a few nights ago.) Like many people, I think, I just don't feel like taking the time to sit down and watch a movie, at home or away.
Meanwhile, sales of DVD's and other types of new media continue to surge.
Given the increase in DVD sales, it's clear that people are still interested in movies. But they don't seem very interested in leaving their houses to watch them.
Part of that may be that you can turn off a movie you don't like when you're at home and it's easier to swallow the lower price of a dud you rent from Netflix than it is the cost of a ticket bought at the local theater.
But I also think this reflects a deeper and ongoing trend in our society. It's reflected in the continuing move out to ever-distant rings of suburban housing away from core cities. We are increasingly isolating ourselves from others, eschewing community for individual fiefdoms in the burbs.
Years ago, I became familiar with a county whose natives seldom left its narrow confines and whose new residents wanted nothing more than complete isolation from the rest of the world. The suicide rate and cases of depression were uncommonly high. More than 70% of the population had nothing to do with a church, presumably because that would entail encountering others. A friend of mine, a compassionate and insightful man, observed, "I don't know how to describe the culture of that community except to say that it's weird, Mark." I think that he was right.
We are communal creatures. We need each other. Living in community can be a challenge, but when we do, we encourage each other and we keep one another honest and accountable.
"Going to the movies" is a lot more than sitting silently in a dark theater. There's the traveling to the theater and there's the post-movie conversation. There's the fun of sharing gasps of horror and tears of empathy and joy with strangers.
Fortunately, movie theaters aren't the only places where we can experience community with others--there are worship celebrations, small groups, parties, ball games, concerts, not to mention intimate conversations with family and friends.
But I suspect that even within our homes, people often watch movies in isolation, not sharing the experience with others. If this keeps up, our hyper-individualistic culture could start to get really "weird."
When one looks at the troubled youth that my friends in Education tell me about all the time or the general increase in anger and coarseness in our culture, along with the elevation of individual "rights" over against communal responsibilities, I think one has to say that isolation and the weirdness it spawns has a firm and disturbing foothold in our culture.
Can You Say, "Distortion"?
But Oliver can't hold a candle in the distortion game to the government of Egypt. David Bernstein reports on a site maintained by the regime in Cairo that completely distorts the history of Jerusalem. Unbelievable!
As Bernstein points out:
Egypt, remember, is at "peace" with Israel. I'd hate to see what lies and distortions the government's website would come up with if they were still at war.It was Glenn Reynolds who put me onto Berstein's post.
For War's Success, Friedman Says, Gitmo Should Be Shut Down
Why? Says Friedman:
It's not because I am queasy about the war on terrorism. It is because I want to win the war on terrorism. And it is now obvious from reports in my own paper and others that the abuse at Guantánamo and within the whole U.S. military prison system dealing with terrorism is out of control. Tell me, how is it that over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody so far? Heart attacks? This is not just deeply immoral, it is strategically dangerous.As Friedman tells it, in the Arab world and even people in nations friendly to the US, Guantanamo is undermining the American case for the war on terrorism, convincing people that we aren't the nation of Jefferson and Hamilton, which they want to emulate, but of imprisonment without due process.
Guantánamo Bay is becoming the anti-Statue of Liberty. If we have a case to be made against any of the 500 or so inmates still in Guantánamo, then it is high time we put them on trial, convict as many possible (which will not be easy because of bungled interrogations) and then simply let the rest go home or to a third country. Sure, a few may come back to haunt us. But at least they won't be able to take advantage of Guantánamo as an engine of recruitment to enlist thousands more. I would rather have a few more bad guys roaming the world than a whole new generation.
"This is not about being for or against the war," said Michael Posner, the executive director of Human Rights First, which is closely following this issue. "It is about doing it right. If we are going to transform the Middle East, we have to be law-abiding and uphold the values we want them to embrace - otherwise it is not going to work."
Food for thought from a fierce advocate not just of the war on terror generally, but of the war in Iraq specifically.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
A Poignant Piece of Writing
A Slightly Different Take on Audio Books
I commented there:
I've probably listened to ten audio books through the years. I don't feel snobbish about reading books. It's just that most of the books I read aren't on CD or tape.
Besides, I have what I guess must be a rare talent, maybe a freakish one.
A few weeks ago, I was out on a brisk walk in my neighborhood, book in hand, reading as I did so. Two women approached me as they walked. I looked up to say hello, but one of them spoke first, saying to me, "Wow! How do you do that? I couldn't possibly walk that quickly and read too."
I even carry a pen with me on my walks, underlining as I read. Until that woman greeted me as she did, it never dawned on me that this was different from what others might do. But now that I think of it, I realize I've never seen anyone else walking, reading, and underlining.
So, perhaps I have less need of audio books than others.
When my family and I take long trips, I usually read to them aloud, being the only one who can read in the car without barfing. Most of the time during these cross-country jaunts, I've read biographies and histories, with an occasional work of fiction thrown in. This may help to explain why our son just graduated with degrees in History and Philosophy, while our daughter has just declared History as her major.
As usual, Ann, you beat me to the punch. I plan, later today, to write a piece on my blog about the NYT article you cite. (But it will look at it slightly differently.)
I hasten to add that I don't read while driving, which would probably be even more fatal than drinking and driving.
My wife happily admits to being a "control freak" who loves being behind the wheel. So, I'm the designated reader for long trips.
For the past twenty-one years, I haven't had a commute between home and work. For six of those years, I lived next door to my office. For most of the past fifteen, my office has been in my home. So, no commuter-time listening to books.
What Audio Books' Rising Popularity May Say About Our World
While my experience with audio books has been limited, I've found that when driving solo on a few long trips to seminars, after I've become bored with the CDs I've brought along and been unable to find a decent radio station, audio books can be a nice alternative. I've listened to novels and to some non-fiction works under these circumstances. Audio books help pass the time and with the right books, engage the brain.
Still, a slow reader, I confess that I like savoring and cogitating over passages and phrases I find in books. I love traditional reading! A pen is obligatory equipment when I do so, as I'm an avid underliner, bracketer, and commenter in the margins. Reading is, for me, inherently dialogical: I'm always talking back to the author, whether to say, "Right on!," "Hmm," or "I don't agree." I also make notes of connections with other things I've read or with experiences and lessons from my own life.
The advantage of an audio book, of course, is that you can re-listen to something repeatedly. Of course, I do traditional re-reading of books that are meaningful to me. But you can re-listen to books more quickly than you can re-read them.
That can have a huge impact on a person. Years ago, I found audiotapes of a bestselling book by a psychologist on a close-out table. I bought the tapes immediately. A young pastor living in a rural area in those days, I often had to travel long distances to big-city hospitals in order to visit parishioners. Those audiotapes became my traveling companions as I listened to and incorporated their lessons into my mind and eventually, my life. To this day, I still draw on those lessons even though it's been several years since I last listened to the tapes.
One major reason for the growing popularity of audio books--although they still only account for 3% of book sales, according to the New York Times article--is that people are so busy these days and the average commuting time for workers is increasing. "Reading" audiobooks can be a pleasant diversion from the monotony of taking the same stretch of Interstate from home to work and back again every day.
But I suspect something else is going on.
A few years ago, my mom said, "I have something to give you, Mark" and handed me a packet of seventy to one-hundred old mailings. Those old mailings contained the sermons of a pastor who had served my grandmother's church back in the mid-60s. The church used to send the sermons out weekly to members who were unable to be in worship.
When I read some of those sermons, I was struck by several things. First, the preacher was an intelligent and knowledgeable person. His finely-tuned intellect was adept at making the connections between things going on in the world of 1965 with the message of the Bible and the people in the pew.
But the second thing that struck me was the thought, "Most of this would never fly today." It wasn't that the guy's sermons were objectionable from the perspective of Christian understanding of truth. It was that they reflected a kind of Greco-Roman way of thinking, writing, and arguing. That's not the world in which we live today.
In a book called Inductive Preaching, the father and son team of Ralph and Gregg Lewis talked about learning to preach like Jesus, rather than like Paul, the first century author of such New Testament books as Romans, Galatians, and First and Second Corinthians.
The Lewises weren't slamming Paul. But Jesus, they said, grew up and lived in Judea, the first-century descendant of ancient Israel. As such, Jesus was steeped in Semitic and Hebrew ways of communicating. Jesus' most characteristic form of "preaching" was the parable or story followed, sometimes, by explanations. (Often, he left the stories unexplained, a tribute to the ability of the stories' to carry their points right in the tales they narrated!)
Paul, who grew up in Tarsus, and was tutored by an expert in Jewish law, Gamaliel, and who was also comfortable in Greek philosophy, was much more propositional. Although Paul is notorious for his run-on sentences in the Greek of the New Testament, he's adept at argumentation in the Greco-Roman style. He needed that facility because it was Gentiles (non-Jews) steeped in this cultural milieu that he had been charged to teach about Jesus Christ and the new life Christ offers.
Over time, the Church, especially in Europe and North America, used Paul's usual mode of communication as their model and not that of Jesus. Preaching became propositional.
So long as the prevailing mode of mass communications remained Gutenberg's printing press, that was okay. Western people were, to use McLuhan's phrase, "linear thinkers."
But with the advent of movies, radio, and television, we--like our ancient ancestors sitting around campfires--became less linear in our thinking, more oriented to stories.
I never cease to be amazed at the reactions of people when I tell the story of David's adultery with Bathsheba or his murder of Uriah from the Old Testament or Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son.
And people aren't just intereste in the Biblical stories, either. Last week in my Sunday message, to drive a point home, I told a story about a time when I put my own priorities ahead of God's will in my life. You could have heard a pin drop.
Why is that? Stories have always had power. Someone reminded me on Tuesday evening as a group of us began to delve into the Old Testament book of Genesis. "I think we like to have windows for looking into other people's lives," he said. "When we do that through their stories, we can project ourselves into their situations and consider how we would react."
I think he was 100% on-the-money. One of the things that won me over from atheism to faith in the God of the Bible is that the Bible is so honest about the faults and failings of the people of faith whose stories are told there. And yet, it conveys hope too, as it shows how God was able to love and affirm and use imperfect people when they turned their lives over to him. That message comes through in their stories.
Today, I think, most of my colleagues introduce their propositions with stories, anecdotes, or analogies. Those who don't are losing their listeners.
None of this is to say that I think we've entered a post-literate era. I think it's just a more variegated era. There will always be a place for sitting down and reading a book. There will always be a place for philosophers and theologians and other lecturers presenting propositions. But there will also be times when we pay heed to a story by listening to a book, watching a movie, or viewing a TV show. Each will stir our imaginations and spirits in different ways, I think.
But we are in a different era: The era of the narrative. Audio books fit right in and I think that their popularity will grow.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Althouse Moves Blog Site Temporarily
Carnival of Vanities #140 Provides Lots of Food for Thought
But go to the Carnival and find lots of things to read!
How Minds Are Changed
Here are some links to what's been written already:
Series Ends Prematurely [NOT]
There will be more to come. Rob's a great writer. So click on over to Dimestore Guru and read what he has to say.
By the way, here are some comments I left at Rob's site on the subject of how minds and lives are changed:
I believe that changing people's minds happens more at the personal level. This means that transformation usually goes hand-in-glove with relationships. It's an old saw, but I think it's probably true, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." You can lecture people about the need for changes in their lives and get absolutely nowhere. But if people know that you love or care for them, they're willing to listen to and will actually ask for our advice.UPDATE: Rob's newest piece on changing minds, written last night after I posted this, can be found here. His latest syndicated column, on the new Ridley Scott film, The Kingdom of Heaven, can be found here.
People who help others change without the benefit of personal relationships are rare. In American politics, the two recent figures who may have accomplished this were Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. But it's interesting to note how they did it. Somehow, whether in speeches before hundreds of people or on television or radio, each made a seemingly personal connection with their audiences, employing homely stories and modes of speech.
In spite of being a prodict of the upper crust, FDR made himself one with the little guy. I think of the speech he made advocating the Lend-Lease program in which he claimed this US attempt to provide weapons of war to Britain in its fight with Nazi Germany was a lot like a person providing a length of hose to a neighbor when the neighbor's house was on fire.
Reagan had a penchant for turning the memorable phrase, of course. But as with FDR, it was his demeanor that conveyed so much and created a seemingly personal connection. Reagan was a politician whose "aw-shucks" approach made people forget that he was a politician.
The reason the examples of distant leaders who incite change in others are rare is that the leader who becomes such a change-agent must accomplish a delicate balancing act. They must, on the one hand, convey some competence. People won't follow leaders who don't seem to know what they're doing. But they must also convey a sense of vulnerability, an aw-shucks acknowledgement of their own limitations. Otherwise, they will be deemed arrogant and unable to identify with ordinary people. Few leaders can pull this off, all tending to veer off in one direction or the other.
Reagan and Roosevelt though, really only accomplished systemic change that touched people at the personal level, enough to win the votes of those who might not agree with their politics overall.
Personal transformation is an altogether different proposition, though. That always happens within the context of personal relationships. It's in a bond of caring that people are persuaded to change their minds.
This is especially true in the realm of spiritual change called "Christian conversion" or being "made new in Christ." You cannot bludgeon people into submission to Christ. Conversion only comes when people, themselves surrendered to Christ and God's Spirit, gently, firmly, lovingly woo others with the Good News of the God Who changes (transforms) the lives of all who surrender to Christ.
No one has shared Christ with more people than Billy Graham. Many scratch their heads at the power he seems to have, in his simple sermons, to cause people to change their lives and follow Christ. But Graham is quick to say that he isn't the change agent. Two other things are going on:
(1) Something like 80% of the people who come forward to make first-time professions of faith at a Billy Graham mission have been prayed for, mentored, and invited to the event by a friend. Their friends, by their lives, have authenticated the truth that Graham proclaims. By the time Graham proclaims it to them again, they've been largely convinced by their friends. This, in fact, is a process that Graham's organization encourages, offering classes on 'Operation Andrew' and 'Christian Life and Witness' to thousands of people in the months before Billy Graham comes to their towns.
(2) The New Testament makes it quite clear that people only change when the Holy Spirit inspires them to do so. "No one says Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit," Paul says. That means that every Christian conversion is the result of prayer, invoking the power of God's Spirit in the lives of those prayed for.
I have a hunch that every positive change that happens in people's lives sees these two elements operating in one way or another. Over the past twenty-one years, I've seen them in evidence repeatedly: in the suicidal addict whose life turns around; in the impossibly prickly husband who comes to appreciate his wife; in the once-flighty woman who finds focus and purpose in her life; and so on. In each case, there were loving friends and family offering tough, authentic love and who, in the desperate realization of their own incompetence, offered prayer for their friend, putting that person in the hands of the premier Change Agent, God.
One other observation: The best human change agents are always changed themselves by reaching out to others in the way described above. When we, who are dust and less than omnicompetent ourselves, dare to help another--not with arrogance or holier-than-thou attitudes, we come up against our own limitations. Speaking for myself, I can say that as a pastor, the only times I've been able to really help people have been when I have come to the end of my rope, so to speak, and ackowledged the simple fact that Jesus once shared with His disciples: "Without Me, you can do nothing." That forces me to rely on Him and when I do that, I'm changed a bit more for the better, as are the people I seek to help.
A Few Lessons from House Vote on Stem Cell Research
(1) All second-term presidents are, by definition, lame ducks. This includes Mr. Bush. In this era of the perpetual presidential campaign, lame duck status descends almost immediately on a re-elected President.
Irrespective of how one may feel about this President's policies and preferences, it can't be good for the country that at the very moment voters endorse the chief executive, his capacity for being persuasive with Congress and the bureaucracies is emasculated.
Congressional Republicans, who might have acquiesced to the President's views on stem cell research during his first term, now feel free to act independently of the President. While the majority by which the legislation passed isn't veto-proof, the Republican Congress--whether it's Social Security reform, Senate filibustering of judicial nominations, or stem cell research--feels safe in voting against the President's positions.
(2) Underscoring the sense of safety Republican legislators feel in differing with the President is the fact that Mr. Bush has thus far, never vetoed a single piece of legislation passed by the Congress during his tenure.
Particularly when it's come to spending, Mr. Bush clearly should have vetoed some of the bills that have come his way. As I've mentioned before, during the eight years of the Clinton Administration, Republican Congresses trimmed $57-billion from budgets proposed by the executive branch. In the first four years of the Bush Administration, however, Republican Congresses have added $91-billion in spending to presidential budget proposals. And that doesn't even include spending for the war on terrorism.
Republican legislators might very well conclude that threats of Presidential vetoes are meaningless.
(3) House members have obviously looked at the poll numbers and determined that they can afford to break with "pro-life" interest groups who insist that further stem cell research is a violation of the sanctity of life. Most Americans are probably like me, fairly ignorant of this subject. But most Americans seem to favor the possible use of stem cells to cure disease. The House, always facing re-election every two years, feels that it's voting with their constituents on this one.
(4) House willingness to, on this issue, break with what has become a key constituency for the Republicans, may tell us something about the 2008 presidential election. Already, the field contains candidates who can be described as conservative, but diverge in their views from some current Republican orthodoxies. In this group would be included John McCain, Chuck Hagel, and Newt Gingrich. Others are flat-out liberal in some of their views. Rudy Giuliani springs to mind.
Major changes may be coming to the Republican Party.
Bainbridge Has Good Insights Into Filibuster Compromise
He makes the valid observation that while the Dems deserve condemnation for threatening to obstruct the President's judicial nominees, the controversy over the so-called nuclear option would not have happened if Senator Hatch, as Judiciary Committee chair, hadn't instituted new procedures that did damage to the traditional "advice and consent" procedures of the Senate.
Hatch also observed that conservatives who advocated doing away with the filibuster for judicial appointment debates were violating a fundamental tenet of conservative thinking.
Sadly, there's a lot of that going around these days. It's an endemic temptation for those who acquire power to violate their principles for short-term gain.
I believe that because elections are supposed to mean something, Presidents should be expected to nominate candidates for the bench who share their philosophies and that the process should assume the President's nominees will be confirmed barring the surfacing of ethical or legal problems.
Ending this game of chicken was smart politics on the part of the Republicans who helped craft the compromise. Unfortunately, it appears that the penhcant for going down in a blaze of glory, so often the experience of conservatives for the decades when they were out of power, has become such an established modus operandi that they don't yet know how to win through compromise and statesmanship once they're in power. Happily, people like McCain, Warner, DeWine, and Graham are on hand to remind us all of this.
Who Do I Think I Am? The Confession of an Earnest Amateur
I do a lot of writing. There's this column, for one thing. There are my weekly messages prepared for delivery during our congregation's Sunday worship celebrations. There's a blog (web log) for which I usually compose between two to five entries every day. I also regularly send out emails and notes to people, providing encouragement, information, and, I hope, inspiration.
My writing can be clunky and awkward. But it seems to do what writing is supposed to do, namely, communicate.
Sometimes though, all this writing bothers me. It seems so arrogant, spouting all these opinions and ideas on a hapless world. I ask myself, "Who exactly do you think you are, Mark? Why don't you knock it off?"
One thought usually brings me out of this self-flagellating funk, though. In much of my writing, I try to tell people about the new life that belongs to all who believe in the God-man, Jesus Christ.
These writings come, I believe, from a commission given by Christ to His followers to share His message with the world: All with faith in Jesus have God's free gifts of forgiven sin, everlasting life with God, and lives filled with purpose and joy. Since one of the few skills I have is my ability to write, I use writing to fulfill my commission.
But other things I write are opinions about current events, lessons from history, character sketches, and so on. What justification do I have for all that spouting off?
In his book, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, Peter Robinson records life lessons he learned from the Gipper while serving as a speech writer in the Reagan Administration. At the beginning of one chapter, Robinson quotes the President's son, Michael, on his most vivid memory of his father. It was from the days before Reagan became governor of California. "When I'd get back from school in the afternoon," Michael Reagan remembers, "I'd toss down my books and go into the master bedroom to say hello. Dad had a big desk in there, and he was always at that desk, writing. Not almost always. Always."
At the time, Reagan was a washed-up Hollywood actor, serving as a spokesman for a large company and writing columns, speeches, and radio talks. He wrote about history and current affairs. Robinson, in fact, calculates that prior to becoming President, Reagan had written more than any other US chief executive, including Woodrow Wilson, a prolific writer.
What were Reagan's qualifications for all this writing? Reagan had been an indifferent graduate of a small midwest college, a sports announcer, movie star, and company shill. He was no expert, just a guy who read voraciously, cared intensely, and had the gumption to share his ideals and beliefs. And it's precisely that sort of reading, interest, and courage that keep the American republic going. America is still the place where an ordinary person can say, "Wait a minute, the experts may be wrong. Here's what I think."
I believe that America's openness to earnest amateurs stems from our faith heritage. Christians contributed this openness to our national DNA. Biblical Christianity isn't hierachical. Pastors and bishops are no better in God's eyes or in the eyes of the Church than believing auto mechanics who teach Sunday School or computer programmers who go on mission trips. Christians differ in function, but not in status. All are children of God who bring something vital to the Church and the world.
The apostle Peter told the ordinary Christians in first-century Asia Minor, "...you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." (First Peter 2:9-10)
Who am I to have an opinion, to share it, and even to write about it? I'm a child of God to whom God has given talents, passions, abilities, interests, experiences, and sometimes, a message of hope from God Himself. So are you.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Where to Get a Lift, a Kick in the Seat, or Something to Think About
You can either subscribe to Steve Goodier's 'Life Support System' articles or have them sent to you via email. Go here to learn more and to sample one of Steve's pieces. I've been subscribing for several years now. (And, no, he didn't pay me to write this. He doesn't even know about my doing so.)
Roberts on the Pull of the Dark Side...Good and Helpful Reading!
Monday, May 23, 2005
Bloggers Battle Oppression in China
So where is China going? I think the Internet is hastening China along the same path that South Korea, Chile and especially Taiwan pioneered. In each place, a booming economy nurtured a middle class, rising education, increased international contact and a growing squeamishness about torturing dissidents.
President Hu has fulminated in private speeches that foreign "hostile forces" are trying to change China. Yup, count me in - anybody who loves China as I do would be hostile to an empty Mao suit like Mr. Hu. But it's the Chinese leadership itself that is digging the Communist Party's grave, by giving the Chinese people broadband.
I hope that Kristof is right. But until Mr. Hu renounces his Mao-in-a-Western-Suit approach to governance and Communism dies in China, they threaten, as all despots and despotic regimes in history have, to export their despotism economically and militarily. Containing the Chinese regime must be the highest foreign policy priority of the US government because it is the greatest threat to the US and the world, both economically and militarily.
UPDATE: Both Glenn Reynolds and Tim Worstall have links to Kristof's column. Thanks to Glenn for linking here.
Good to See Senate Compromise on Judicial Nominations
Although, as usual, Senator Byrd's proclamation that through this agreement, the republic has been saved, was wildly hyperbolic, it is a good step away from hyperpartisan gridlock.
UPDATE: Rick of Stones Cry Out thinks the compromise is a good deal for Republicans. I agree and wrote this about it there:
I absolutely agree that this is a smart deal for Republicans and one which I have eagerly anticipated for weeks.
It's smart for both sides, really. It extricates the Democrats from a PR morass they could not win.
But for Republicans, whose position on the nuclear option meant that, at best, they couldn't lose (without necessarily winning), there are several decided advantages.
(1) It acknowledges reality. By the time people get to the US Senate, there's one thing they all do quite well: count. Savvy senators knew that the "nuclear option" didn't have the votes. [The Republicans thus avoided a defeat that could have had a negative spillover effect in other areas.]
(2) This agreement allows an up or down vote on several bottled-up judicial nominations, establishing a precedent for future nominations by the President. The Republican agenda is therefore advanced.
(3) It has a wise, pragmatic sense of history and of the future. To have exercised the nuclear option would have felt good to many Republicans for a moment. But its implications for the future and its departure from the past would have haunted Republicans for decades to come.
During this confrontation, Bob Dole and others, while advocating an up or down vote for the President's judicial nominations, also counseled restraint in doing away with 200+ years of Senate tradition. (I know, the filibuster has rarely been used in debates over judicial nominations. And I personally would like to see the filibuster in all cases go the way of the do-do bird; it has almost always been used to thwart reform or the advancement of civil rights and is therefore a lamentable custom. But the fact is that the filibuster has been an available weapon for more than two centuries.)
The reason for Dole's counsel: Republicans won't always be in power. When in the minority, they might want to use the filibuster to thwart, bottle up, or provide opportunity to present a case against, the nomination of a Democratic President of a Democratic jurist to a Democratic Congress.
It's wise politics to allow your opponent some shred of dignity so that in a later day, they will reciprocate. More than that, compromising now will give a future Republican minority options for dissent.
(4) It puts the onus on the Democrats. Having agreed to a compromise that calls for up or down votes on several upcoming nominations and having done so to facilitate doing the people's business, the Democrats will appear to be obstructionists and leave themselves no choice but to acquiesce to limits on debates over nominations in the near future.
As Dean Rusk put it during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the US received a communication from Nikita Krushchev backing away from the Soviet Union's hardline stance, "We were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy blinked." The Democrats blinked. Now, they'll have to live with the consequences.
A debt of gratitude is owed by the country and Republicans to people like Mike DeWine, John McCain, and John Warner. They've played an important role in this drama.
ANOTHER UPDATE: For a nuanced and wise analysis of the filibuster compromise, check out this piece by Michael Meckler. As Meckler points out, the compromise preserves President Bush's right to put any nominee forward he wishes. But it is jealous of the traditional Senatorial prerogative of senators being consulted on potential nominees from their states.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge has some interesting things to say about the filibuster deal.
Senator DeWine Showing Courage and Wisdom, I Think
Here's what I wrote to DeWine:
I know that you are taking a lot of heat these days regarding the role that you're attempting to play in the debate over proposals to end the filibustering of judicial nominations. Some regard the entire question as a test of Republican orthodoxy to favor doing away with such filibusters.
As an American, a Republican, and an Ohioan, I applaud what you are doing. I believe that you're trying to help the Senate avert a train wreck that will only further poison debate on judiical nominations and no doubt spill its venom onto other areas.
You are showing great courage and wisdom. Thank you for your service.
Political Parties Held Hostage By Interest Groups?
But it isn't just the Democratic Party that's in the grips of interest groups. So are the Republicans. Here's what I said in the Comments section of Ann Althouse's blog, where the Kos post was referenced:
I just read the piece by Kos and I think that there are at least two problems with it:
(1) He overestimates the extent to which the Republican Party is free of single-interest politics. Whether it's the gun lobby or more radical pro-life groups, the Republican Party is as captive to interests as the Democrats. Winning just makes it appear that the Republicans have more for which they stand and that they stand above the interest group-catering the Democrats do.
Watching Newt Gingrich's appearance before an Iowa group last week, broadcast on CSpan last evening, drove home the point that neither party is talking much about ideas that vault past interest groups' virtual veto power over public debate. Gingrich is talking about ideas and it's refreshing. Yes, I know that there are problems with Gingrich, that he too caters to groups, and that he just wants to ride ideas as vehicles to power. But to advance ideas and not be a political cliche is very rare among politicos of either party. Somehow, Gingrich seems to be content with practicing his politics in this way. (McCain and Hagel stand out examples of such exceptional pols as well.)
(2) Political parties always have knitted together majorities through what I call "coalitions of selfishness." Often, people who end up in a partisan coalition are akin to the lovers in Bob Seger's "Night Moves": "I used her and she used me." [sic] There's no love of party principle, just of advancing one's own agenda.
The game is simple: Tote up enough positions appealing to various interest groups and you get a majority. That's discouraging sometimes and often disgusting. But it's the way things work in a democracy. There have been few exceptions to this usual modus operandi in our history, it seems.
Will Schröder and SDP Confirm My Thesis...or Lose Elections in the Fall?
That's fully one year before they would have normally happened, making Schröder the first post-World War Two leader to call for elections ahead of schedule.
It all happened after Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SDP) lost elections in a German state, North Rhine-Westphalia, in which it had held power for thirty-nine years. This came on the heels of an earlier slighter loss in Schleswig-Holstein.
Back in January, I wrote a piece in which I said that it looked as though Schröder's party would poll well in Schleswig-Holstein and I advanced a thesis: Irrespective of partisan philosophies, democracies with aging voting populations were showing a marked penchant for returning incumbents and incumbent parties.
In spite of widespread misgivings about Tony Blair, the British electorate returned his Labour Party to power a few weeks ago, albeit with a markedly smaller majority in the House of Commons.
My thesis seemed to take a blow with the poor SDP showing in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein in an election seen as an early indicator of what might happen when Schröder's government and his parliamentary colleagues were on the ballot. Losing in North Rhine-Westphalia, once considered a safe place for SDP would seem to disprove my thesis altogether.
That may in fact, prove to be the case. But I'm inclined to think not. In Britain, concerns about the economy trumped misgivings about the war in Iraq, dirty hospitals, immigration policies, and discipline in the schools to contribute to a Labour victory.
A poor economy is also the most significant reason that Chancellor Schröder and SDP are in trouble right now. A glance at the numbers, which you can find at many places online, will demonstrate that.
One thing that Schröder's and SDP's decline in popularity does not reflect is disaffection toward their position on the war in Iraq. With that policy, the German people clearly agree.
For better and worse, voters often base their voting decisions on their financial situations. James Carville was probably right in saying, "It's the economy, stupid." At least in most elections.
I still feel that however, assuming that a national economy is performing adequately, in the western democracies, with our aging populations, we still prefer to return the incumbents we know to power.
If Schröder is able to demonstrate even the slightest uptick in the German economy between now and elections this fall, I feel certain that he, like Blair in Britain, will be returned to office for a third term. Adding to this possibility is that his opposition Christian Democratic Party, like the Tories in Britain and the Democrats in the US, don't really seem to stand for anything.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
I myself probably saw them four times over the years. Once, when playing on a bill with Skillet, I thought that Bleach was a bit off. But every other time I heard them, they rocked memorably, demonstrating a great rapport with their audiences and evidencing authenticity in their humanity and their faith.
This was a good straight-ahead rock ensemble. (Who not so secretly loved country music, too.)
The newest and last Bleach CD is called Farewell Old Friends. Reviewers linked below point out the similarities between Bleach and groups like Weezer, Oasis, Beck, and others. That's all true.
But here's something else that only some of the critics have said with which I agree wholeheartedly: This is the best Bleach album of all! Thanks, Bleach...You did well!
Reviews here, here, and here.
More on the Threat of Chinese Government to World
I don't think that a war between China and the US inevitable. But I do think that the current Chinese regime has hegemonic ambitions and that the rest of the world, especially the US needs to be watchful.
Wall argues however, that the current Chinese regime threatens America more in economic and cyber-terms. There's good reason for this assertion. China is making massive strides economically. That seems to be the Chinese government's primary aim, moving toward involvement in the world economy while trying to maintain its despotic domestic policies.
In their push toward economic growth, they're driving up the price of such commodities as steel and oil, making it harder for an American economy dependent on them to function well.
China is also developing positive relations with nations that are overtly hostile to America and undertaking a massive build-up of their military.
My own view is that whether in economics or in matters military, the US needs to have a strong policy for containment of China. It appears that may be behind recent US decisions to sell fighter planes to India and Pakistan as well as making nice with Vietnam and encouraging the Japanese government to develop more offensive military capabilities.
A few paragraphs from Wall's article:
The U.S. knows that it could not win a military war with China. The nuclear capability of both states is redundant; neither side could use it. A land operation against China would make the current mess in Iraq seem like a tea party. Military capability, on the sea and in the air but not on the land, would only be of use in local skirmishes, such as keeping sea lanes open and weakening the effect of any attempt to blockade Taiwan.I hope that Wall is correct in saying that a military confrontation between China and the US is not inevitable. But a multi-pronged US policy which includes a strong military component may make sense. Such a policy would address not only China, but US domestic needs and include weaning the country off its dependence on oil as an energy source and making certain that the US economy is not so tilted in the Third Wave direction that the more basic First Wave (agriculture) and Second Wave (industrial) elements come to us exclusively from overseas.
Yet, for the foreseeable future, China can do more damage to America through economic policies and through "cyber warfare" than it can militarily. North Korea is said to be training more than 600 technicians in the science of cyber war -- how many more is China training? I am sure the number runs into thousands. They could devastate the U.S. economy, and have a go at destroying a good part of U.S. military capability.
Simply by threatening to sell its holdings of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of U.S. Treasury Bills, China could wreak havoc in U.S. financial markets. By actually selling them and then refusing to buy any more, it would do serious damage. A Chinese embargo on exports to the U.S. would have U.S. consumers in the streets; many of the U.S. companies that have invested heavily in China would find themselves in bankruptcy.
And then of course there is the question of global access to supplies of raw materials, especially the gas and oil that the Chinese are now tying up in contracts.
Yes, it does seem as though war between the U.S. and China is inevitable. Some would say that it has already started. It will not be a military war, however. Apart from some local skirmishes, the real war will be in the economy and in cyberspace. U.S. soldiers need not worry about those bull's eyes. Yet.
Of course, globalization is inevitable and can be a wonderful thing. But wherever there are governments with malevolent designs, other nations must stand for peace and look out for their nations' interests.
The current Chinese regime is the biggest threat to world peace and stability today. I hope that the US government and others recognize the gravity of that threat.
Forty Days of Purpose: Finishing What We've Started
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, May 22, 2005)
An elderly man of some achievement was once asked what the key to his success in life had been.
“That’s easy,” he said. “The key to being truly successful in any sphere of life is the same. First, you refrain from doing the things that don’t matter. Second, when it comes to the things that do matter, you finish what you start.”
I can’t tell you how many good things I’ve started in my life--from exercise regimens to learning to play a musical instrument--and failed to finish or failed to continuously pursue. We can’t achieve anything truly worthy unless we commit ourselves to finishing what we start.
Nowhere is this more true than in our spiritual lives. God gives the gift of new life to all with faith in Jesus Christ. It is free for all who turn from sin and turn to Christ. But in order to finish the life we live on earth with Christ successfully, we must refrain from doing things that don’t matter--the Bible calls these things vain--and we must do those things that allow us to remain close to Christ.
Several years ago, I met a retired business executive. He spent a good deal of his life pursuing what’s sometimes called “the American Dream.” The man told me too, that while he was no alcoholic, he liked to drink a bit too much as well.
Three years before I met him, a change came to his life. He realized that he had invested his whole life in things that won’t last...things like money and houses and perks. So, he quit drinking, got involved in a local church, and surrendered his life to Christ. Today, he’s also using the expertise and experience he gained as an executive to serve others in a variety of organizations. He’s got vital ministries and missions that he’s pursuing, even now in his mid-70s.
“I wish I had let God into my life years before,” this man tells me. “Living for God is giving me the most fulfilling years of my life!” The quiet passion with which that man tells me that also says that he is committed to finishing what he started.
This morning, we have two celebrations happening at Friendship. We’re celebrating the successful completion of our Forty Days of Purpose campaign for spiritual renewal. We’re also celebrating the successful completion on the parts of three young men--Ian Daniher, Tyler Feine, and Dalton Hart--of three years of Catechism. But this day is about much more than a completion or an ending. It can also be a beginning, a time when we commit ourselves to finishing what we’ve started. I hope that we’ll do just that!
Our two Bible lessons for today, both recounting words of Jesus and taken from the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament, really give us the blueprint for finishing what every person of faith in Christ starts.
In Matthew 22, Jesus gives what’s called the Great Commandment. The person who has been loved unconditionally by God is called to love God completely and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
In Matthew 28, Jesus gives the Great Commission to His followers. In response to what God has done for us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, we’re to share the saving good news that all who believe in Jesus are spared hell’s separation from God and live with God forever.
Over the past forty days, in our daily readings, our small groups, our worship celebrations, and the call we all received through last week’s Mission and Ministry Fair, we’ve been reminded of how desperately God loves us, of how we can be part of what God is doing in the world, and of a simple truth that Rick Warren summarizes in his book, The Purpose Driven Life: “A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will make you a great Christian.”
Very quickly this morning, I want to review three truths I think we’ve learned over the past forty days and, Ian, Tyler, and Dalton, that I hope you’ve learned the past three years.
First: We learned that it’s not about us; life is about God. A few years ago, I shared with some of you the incident that happened when I chaired the planning committee for the assembly of the Northwest Ohio Synod of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It involved planning everything surrounding the annual get-together of about 200 churches and it turned out to be an extraordinary event.
People left the assembly excited. The feedback was almost universal as people told us, “That’s the best and most useful church convention we’ve ever attended.”
In spite of all the good feelings though, I was bummed. The bishop hadn’t taken the time to tell everybody what a wonderful job I had done, or how hard I had worked, or how it had been my vision that had been executed in that convention. (Can you imagine that?)
But one day, as I was sitting in my office, praying, a thought crossed my mind, a thought I’m certain came from God: “Who were you doing all of this for, hotshot, you or Me?”
The world is full of examples of people who live for themselves rather than God. It’s the source of all the misery we see in the world and in ourselves. The quicker we learn that life is about the God Who designed us and wants what is best for us, and not us, the quicker we can get down to living a purpose driven life.
Second: We’ve learned that no matter what our age, sex, income level, geographic location, career, or marital status, God’s will for us is the same.
God has placed us on this planet for five reasons:
- We were planned for God’s pleasure. So our whole lives--24/7--are to be given to worshiping Him. We owe the God Who gave us Himself our first allegiance, our highest priority, our first consideration, and our best efforts.
- We were formed for God’s family. So we’re to live in meaningful fellowship with other believers. That means not just attending worship regularly or having coffee and Danishes at 11 A.M.; it also means getting involved in a small group in which we can pray for one another, study God’s Word together, serve together, and be spiritually accountable to each other.
- We were created to be like Christ. We’re called to what the Bible calls discipleship, the process by which we live with Christ, pray, study God’s Word, and serve in His Name to become more and more like Christ. Being like Christ, which will finally happen for believers in Jesus in heaven, is God’s goal for us all.
- We’re shaped to serve God. God has given us talents and abilities When we became followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit gave us spiritual gifts. God has allowed us to have certain experiences--good and bad, happy and sad. God has done all of this in order to shape us for service--what the Bible calls ministry--in Christ’s Church. In fact, God will most often use the adversity and pain we’ve experienced to give us our ministries. When someone I know has learned they have cancer, I always try to hook them up with someone who has fought that disease themselves. Our pain often gives us the heart we need to help others, which God wants us all to do.
- We’re made for a mission. We’re to do the “e-word,” evangelism, sharing the Good News of Jesus with our spiritually-disconnected family members, friends, classmates, business associates, and neighbors. We want them to enjoy eternity with God along with us.
Some of you may be frustrated with your spiritual life or your relationship with Christ. There can be many reasons for that.
Sometimes though, God allows us to be frustrated because it spurs us on to greater surrender to Him and to placing a higher priority on our relationship with Him. Spiritual frustration--or even indifference to living for Christ--is often God’s way of telling us, “Get real. Get faithful. Get down to the business of actually living for My purposes.”
Can you imagine, for example, a scientist growing in her knowledge of her field if she didn’t actually do research?
Or a football player improving without practice?
I must tell you that throughout these Forty Days of Purpose, although this is the fifth time I’ve read Rick Warren’s book, God confronted me with some unpleasant facts about myself. God has used this time to show me those areas of my life in which I have kept a deaf ear to Him and lived for my short-term desires rather than His long-term purposes for my life.
God has also used these forty days to show me how much He loves me and to show me how I can have a more vital relationship with Him. God has shown me both my need and how I can finish what I started nearly thirty years ago when I became a follower of Jesus Christ.
Ian, Tyler, Dalton, and everyone who has faithfully pursued Christ throughout our Forty Days of Purpose: I beg you to join with me in making it your life’s aim to fulfill God’s five purposes for your life.
Put God first in your life;With God’s help and guidance, let’s resolve that today will not just be the end of our forty days, but a day of commitment in which we promise God, each other, and ourselves, “We will finish what we’ve started. We will live for God’s purposes always!”
Get involved with a small group through the Church;
Pray and regularly consult God’s Word to let Him make you more like Jesus;
Take on a ministry within the congregation; and
Share the Good News of Jesus with at least one spiritually-disconnected person every month for the rest of your life.