Saturday, June 04, 2005

Still Driving with 'Driving Rain'

Driving Rain CD on PMEn
Today, while cruising between commitments, I had Paul McCartney's Driving Rain, his most recent studio release, playing loudly.

There are so many good rockers on this disc! It's more organic than a lot of Macca's releases, resulting from his decision to record this one Beatles-style, that is, he booked studio time and largely wrote the material as he went along. His current band loves to rock and it shows. From the opening bass notes of the hard-driving Lonely Road, with its overdubbed belted-out harmonies, to the last-minute addition, the anthemic, post-9/11, Freedom, McCartney holds nothing back, making this one of his most passionate and fun releases ever!

But as is true of the last two U2 releases, I've played the snot out of Driving Rain and so, I can't wait for his new studio release to come out later this year. I understand that on this one, as on McCartney and the less satisfying, McCartney II, he plays all the instruments as well as doing all the vocals. But he will be backed by his current band for the tour that's coming up. I probably won't be able to take in this tour: the tickets are too expensive for me to handle. But if you get a chance to see him, as I did in 1990 and 1993, don't miss it!

[For my mostly tongue-in-cheek invitation to Sir Paul, offering him a gig playing at my daughter's wedding on his birthday, June 18, look here. Macca still hasn't responded. Imagine that! And I offered him a whole thirty-four bucks, too!]

An Exciting Movement to Fight Global Poverty

Billy Graham, Brad Pitt, Rick Warren, Bono, Michael W. Smith, Michael Stipe...

What do these disparate public figures have in common?

They're all part of The ONE Campaign to end global poverty.

This is not a political movement, although it is an effort to convince political leaders that we all need to get serious about preventing poor people from starving to death.

We have the capacity to help the world's desperately poor out of the anguish that so many endure. How do we do it?

First, we all commit ourselves to the basic ONE Campaign declaration:
“WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget. WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all.”
Second, we join millions of others in signing an email to President Bush that you can find on The ONE Campaign web site. It reads as follows:
Dear President Bush,


* ONE billion people around the world live on less than ONE dollar a day;
* The US government spends less than ONE percent on overcoming global AIDS and poverty;
* Citizens are uniting as ONE across political and religious divides to support action to overcome the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty.

At the G8 leaders meeting on July 6th we urge you to:

* Help the poorest people of the world fight poverty, AIDS and hunger at a cost equal to just ONE percent more of the US budget on a clear timetable;
* Cancel 100% of the debts owed by the poorest countries;
* Reform trade rules so poor countries can earn sustainable incomes.

We urge you to lead an historic deal with other nations to help Africa and the poorest nations overcome global AIDS and extreme poverty. Together as ONE, we can Make Poverty History this July.

You, Your Email Address, Postal Code, and Country
In the Old Testament, God instituted Jubilee Years in which creditors forgave the indebtedness of all who owed them money.

What a spark to economic development and goodwill declaring a Jubilee would be today! In purely selfish terms, it clearly would be beneficial to America and establish a firm foundation for the US economy in the future, fostering the creation for US goods and services in places that currently can't afford them because of their debt.

But beyond selfish considerations, it's just right. We can set generations free of poverty by the actions in The ONE Campaign program. That's why people like those listed above and millions of others have endorsed its aims.

So, please click The ONE Campaign link right now and start playing your part in ending global poverty. You'll be glad that you did!

[To learn more about The ONE Campaign, clock here.]

UPDATE: Tod Bolsinger and Rob Asghar have both linked to this post. Tod became a signer himself. I hope that you will do the same!

Is Blogging Essentially Negative? If So, Can That Be Changed?

Nearly finished reading Hugh Hewitt's little book, Blog, I've been wondering about what the most prominent pracititoners of this new technology really want to do with it. Early on, Hewitt cites four incidents in which bloggers played a pivotal role in bringing down media or political stars. In other words, blogging's greatest fame thus far has come from playing a negative role--and, many would say, constructive--role.

Now, there's interesting BBC coverage of the part played by bloggers in the no votes on the European Constitution in both the Netherlands and France:
The French newspaper dubbed Marseille law teacher Etienne Chouard "Don Quichotte du non".

Mr Chouard did not much care for the EU Constitution, but instead of simply voicing his upset to his neighbours, he wrote an essay and set up a blog to explain why he was voting 'Non'.

Just ahead of the vote, his blog was getting 25,000 hits a day and his anti-constitution broadside had been photocopied, faxed and blogged about across France.

Despite overwhelming support for the constitution by the governments of both France and the Netherlands and a huge media campaign by political leaders in both countries, voters have rejected the constitution.

And just as the media and political establishment in the US found during last year's presidential election, European elites have now felt the sting of these online upstarts, the bloggers.
Frankly, this bothers me a bit. There are of course, times when it's appropriate to say, "No." But I hope that the blogging world can be a place where we say, "Yes."

It seems to me that the primary biases of the mainstream media aren't political in nature. Rather, their biggest bias is against reporting on anything other than the bad, the ugly, and the dishonest. "If it doesn't bleed, it doesn't lead," is still a mantra in many newsrooms.

I'm not an advocate of Pollyannish reporting. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that that without God's reconstruction of our characters, I think that we human beings are inclined to do selfish, hurtful things.

But in a world with so much negative stuff going on, the real news may be the positive, helpful, caring, sincerely-motivated things that people do day-in, day-out. Maybe we bloggers could take it as one of our roles to showcase that!

I'd rather be known as Mister Yes than Monsieur Non, even when I'm opposed to something.

Tough Times for Two Leaders

"Hold me, bitte."

"We will get through this, cherie."

Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder console one another at a meeting in Berlin.

French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder embrace each other

Politics Endorsed by a Church? I Don't Think So

Tomorrow, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, is signing two pieces of legislation that the right-wing Christians have sought there. He's doing it in the gym of a church.

Says the Washington Post, "One requires parents to sign off on abortions for minors; the other calls for a November vote on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage."

Apart from whatever merits these two new laws may have, as a Christian and a pastor I find the governor's bill-signing venue deeply disturbing.

I wrote about this in the Comments section of Ann Althouse's blog earlier today. [Added comments are in brackets.]
There is no "Christian" political program. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. What is happening is that slowly, many Christians are allowing their faith and Christ Himself to be subordinated to the political philosophies they embrace.

Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for thinking that if they got people to acquiesce to their version of "righteousness," they could stem the tides of faithlessness and irreligiosity. (Coincidentally, they could also trumpet their "moral superiority.") By the Pharisees' program, they unwittingly replaced the teachings of both the Old Testament and later, of the New Testament, that righteousness--rightness with God--is a gift to all with faith in God, not an attainment [that comes from meeting certain] proscribed behaviors.
Although I am deeply interested in politics, I don't push my politics from the pulpit. After all, my politics is just that, my politics. God didn't hand it to me from Mount Sinai. I'm certain that He didn't do that for either James Dobson or Jim Wallis, either.

When I ran for the Ohio House of Representatives last year, I was careful that no reference to my campaign invaded the worship services of our congregation. (One well-meaning person brought it up during the announcements one Sunday morning and after I explained that I deemed that inappropriate, he never mentioned it again. A fund-raiser was also held there. But we open the facility to virtually all community groups and would allow any political candidate not advocating hate to use our facilities. We feel that God has given us our building and we want to share it with others. While the congregation does not charge for the use of its building, my campaign paid the congregation for the building use anyway.) I never would countenance a candidate for public office speaking during a worship celebration at our church or to in any way, use the church for political purposes. Not only is this illegal under federal law, it's inconsistent with the mission of the Church.

Of course, Perry's church bill-signing ceremony may be a desperate attempt to gain the support of the Religious Right from what is probably the second-least popular governor in America. (The least popular is Ohio's Bob Taft. Unlike Taft, who is term-limited, Perry faces an election in 2006.) Be that as it may, the church and the pastor who would acquiesce to allowing Christ and the Church to be used in this way should really second-guess themselves. It's like endorsing the governor. And a church should not be in the endorsing business.

The willingness of congregation and pastor to be used for Perry's political agenda risks subordinating the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a lot more important than two pieces of legislation, Rick Perry's political future, the Republican Party, or even the United States of America, to all of these things.

The purpose of the Church isn't to get cozy with politicians or to pass laws that coerce society into accepting some Christians' notions of morality. The purpose of the Church is to help the world know Jesus Christ, Who we believe is the way to a new life with God, lived here and in eternity. We in the Church need to remember that!

Could We Do with Resurrection of the Art of Persuasion?

Even if you find yourself disagreeing with some of the things Matt Miller says in this piece, please read the whole thing. He asserts that the art of persuasion is being drowned out by the barking flamboyance of mindless sloganeering. He also says that openness to persuasive argument needs to be resurrected.

There is so much wisdom and common sense in what Miller writes that it's almost shocking.

So often today, the shrill purveyors of post-modern politics and of so-called punditry appeal to our preconceived notions rather than our reason. The result is gridlock, widespread disenchantment with politics and politicians, and a general hopelessness about our country's ability to accomplish much of anything. Every time I hear politicians proclaiming themselves to be optimistic, I shake my head in disbelief because their assertions are almost always embedded in mounds of savage attack rhetoric filled with heat and little light. The same is true of their philosophical allies in the mainstream media and in the blogging world.

There is a win-at-any-cost approach to politics by most representatives from both major parties. Their basic modus operandi is akin to Sherman's method in Georgia during the Civil War. Like Sherman, they're good at burning down and destroying, but terrible at building.

That's why the ideologues on both ends of the spectrum could only blast the recent judicial filibuster compromise. Wisdom is seldom popular with people who've got ideological burrs in their saddles. These folks would rather lose in a blaze of futility than actually help the country move forward!

But I'm guessing that the American people, irrespective of their party affiliation or political philosophy would find it refreshing if these infantile pols and the pundits who act as enablers for their bad behavior could grow up enough to undertake more compromises in the future. Government might actually function under such circumstances.

It'd be nice for the grown-ups like John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Mike DeWine, Lindsay Graham, and others to take charge again!

However you feel about what I've written or what Miller says in his columm, I hope that you'll read his piece.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Greater Media Openness Might Lead to Better Decision-Making

On this morning's Diane Rehm Show, one of my favorites, a listener email questioned why the mainstream media is hesitant to show the carnage from the war in Iraq.

The listener seemed to believe that if Americans saw dead US soldiers and dead Iraqi civilians, American support for the war would diminish. Rehm seemed to feel similarly, saying that media coverage of the war in Vietnam--the first US conflict brought into our living rooms, as is often observed--had reduced support for it.

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist, defended the reticence of the media to share graphic portrayals of death, citing the sensibilities of news consumers. Susan Page of USA Today also pointed out that journalists operate under more Pentagon-imposed restrictions in Iraq than did those reporting from Vietnam.

It seems that whether it's the government promoting the war or the people who support it, most prefer a sanitized accounting of it. There appears to be a fear that if people saw the violent consequences of the war, popular support for it would diminish.

But a question crossed my mind when I heard this discussion today: "Where have I heard this argument--the argument between those who want a more accurate portrayal of a deadly event in the media and those who don't--before?" Then it dawned on me!

Who is the most opposed to the portrayal of the grim details of abortion, whether with descriptions, photos, or videos?

It isn't the people who are opposed to abortion as a form of birth control. The opponents of casual abortion policies, whether hard conservatives or those of more moderate belief, want the information out there. They're convinced that when people know what happens to an unborn child in what are called partial-birth abortions, people will be horrified and become opposed to them. Their reasoning is the same as the opponents to the war in Iraq in their desire for more open coverage of the conflict.

The reasoning of advocates of abortion in defending media reticence about realistic portrayals of abortion's consequences is also similar to those who want to squelch realistic war reporting. "It's simply bad taste," I've heard them say.

Both the conservative advocates of the war and the liberal advocates of abortion who might otherwise argue for the importance of openness are, in some cases, perfectly willing to accept the suppression of information when it suits their purposes.

Don't get me wrong. Constant graphic coverage of the war could as easily make us callous about or insensitive to violence. Several studies seem to indicate that's precisely what happens to young people who get constant diets of video games and action movies.

A constant dose of videos of aborted fetuses could have the same effect on us. And I am always relieved when, out of deference to little ones, pro-life folks standing outside of my local polling places, pull down their pictures of aborted children.

But it's generally true that the more information we have, the better our decisions are likely to be.

Watch Out! People Are More Wonderfully Varied Than You May Think

My brother, comedian Marty Daniels, had the host of a laidback Christian radio station in Seattle yucking it up big time this past week.

Marty, who was in Columbus at the time, asked the host to describe the hairstyles and clothing of various staffers at the radio station to him. On the bases of his descriprions, he could tell the host to what denomination each staffer belonged.

Of course, Christian denominational members aren't the only groups that tend to have their own "uniforms" and "do's." People who share tastes or are in the same demographic groupings not only flock together, but tend to look alike.

Nowhere is this more true than it is of young people, desperately trying to find their own niches (i.e., somewhere their parents are absent) by dressing like everyone else close to their age. A few years ago, our son and I checked out a local rock festival. I was looking for a band that might help us do a contemporary worship service that appealed to high schoolers. It seemed that every male in the place was wearing black T-shirts, jeans, tattoos, and piercings. On the way home, my son and I started making up a song that had this for a hook: "I'm so unique! Just like everyone else!"

But we have to be careful about pigeonholing people. Tonight, as my wife and daughter tried on clothes at a store in the mall we were at, I suggested to my future son-in-law that we slip into a Hot Topic. A collector of buttons, I love to rummage through jars stocked in that chain's outlets. Occasionally, I find a gem for my collection.

I didn't find any I wanted to buy and after we left, future son-in-law said to me, "The clerk in there is the first one I ever saw at a Hot Topic who didn't have piercings. He didn't have one!"

Then he continued, "But then, a fifty-one year old preacher..."

"In a grey knit shirt, black Hagar slacks, and SAS shoes doesn't exactly fit their demographic either," I finished.

People are pesky creatures. The minute we think we've got them figured out (and sometimes we do, if only in part), they fool us. Not all our stereotypes are true. Thank God that part of what it means to be created in His image is that our diversity reflects His vast infinitude and complexity! God is a great artist and every human being is a masterpiece.

Jesus and Marx: Brother Philosophers? Uh, No

Two days ago, both Ann Althouse and Richard Lawrence Cohen cited a Human Events list of the most harmful books of the nineteenth and twentieth century. One commenter on Cohen's blog objected to the list's inclusion of The Communist Manifesto, saying that both it and the Bible advocated the same philosophy.

I made this comment:
I don't think that Jesus had a philosophy. As far as I can see, he offered a way of life which consists of turning one's back on sin and selfishness and turning to Him. He taught that we can be made righteous as a gift conferred on those who entrust themselves and their lives to Him.

Marx's ideas are, as far as I can tell, more consistent with those of market capitalism. First of all, both Marx and the capitalist believe that human beings are, in essence, economic entities and that all life is driven by economics. Second, both believe in the perfectibility of human nature from within the human being. Indeed, both seem to believe in the inevitability of human progress, Marx borrowing from Hegel's notions of the dialectic.

Jesus would object to both of these ideas. "Man does not live by bread alone," Old Testament words Jesus quoted during the wilderness temptations must mean, in part, that worldly stuff--like money--is not all that human beings need to be human.

Jesus also reminds us, "Without Me, you can do nothing" and "With God, all things are possible." We improve as a race, Jesus would say, only insofar as we accept His charity (grace) by faith (belief or trust in Him).

What do you think?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

"I've Been Nominated for Membership in the National Geo...I mean, the Coalition of the Chillin'!"

There is a group of bloggers, myself included, who feel that the May 23 compromise on filibusters of judicial nominations was a good thing...for Republicans and the country. We're called The Coalition of the Chillin'. The brainchild of Mark from Decision '08, coalition members are conservatives and/or Republicans who believe that it's good when the Congress functions, statesmanship is exhibited by politicians, and that one's cause is advanced, as happened when the compromise led to President Bush's nominees getting confirmed. Here's the complete list of coalition members:

GOP and the City
Right Side of the Rainbow
John C. A. Bambenek
The Radical Centrist
Decision '08 - Coalition Founder
My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy
Two Dogs
The Strata-Sphere
Right Hand of God
Tempus Fugit
Loaded Mouth
Election Projection
WC Varones
Tinkerty Tonk
The Flag of the World
Little Miss Attila
The Big Tent Blog
The Bernoulli Effect
Professor Bainbridge
The Hole Card
Semi-Random Ramblings
Viking Pundit
Info Theory
Argan Argar
INDC Journal
The Buzz Blog
Dangerous Dan
The Indepundit
State of Flux
Kinder Gentler Machinegun Hand
Lime Shurbet
Country Pundit
Wave Maker
The Politburo Diktat
Mistress Tootie Bell
The Bandwagon
The Anchoress
The American Mind
Navland Rumbling Politico
The Jade Monkey
Say Uncle
Mark Daniels
Vote for Judges
Cavalry Charge
Jim Miller on Politics
Obsidian Wings

Rejection of the EU Constitution in Two Countries: All Politics is Local

"All politics is local." So said the late Tip O'Neill, one-time Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

I think O'Neill was right. People tend to vote for what they perceive to be in their interest and the interest of their communities and countries. The pervasiveness of this local slant is why Americans hate a Congress that spends too much money while loving their congresswoman or congressman for bringing pork back home to their district.

I suspect that this propensity for voting "local" is the biggest factor behind the rejection of the European Union constitution by voters in France and the Netherlands in recent days. Justifiably or not, there is a real fear of losing their national identities among citizens in the twenty-five European countries that are part of the EU.

Post-referenda interviews with voters in both countries have found many who like the idea of Europe and may even think that increased integration is in their nations' long-term interest, but fear the loss of their national identities and practices.

In France, of course, the no vote may also be partly explained by the generally low regard in which the government of President Chirac is currently held. Chirac's government strongly endorsed the referendum and it may have suffered for that connection.

Any American school superintendent whose district fails to pass an operating levy could tell you all about the mental connections voters sometimes make. Voters, fed up with taxes or inefficiencies in other government agencies, will often take the opportunity to express their displeasure by voting "No" to hapless school districts' requests, even though they have nothing to do with the real object of their ire. France is currently suffering from 10% unemployment and the French are fed up.

In the Netherlands, the prime minister and cabinet were opposed to the constitution, leaving its opponents as the only voices heard in the election run-up and no doubt, helping explain why that country repudiated it by a landslide.

Some in this country wonder if deeper integration of the European Union would be in the interests of the United States or not. Businesspeople may feel that it would be, since it would be easier to negotiate deals with one country than with twenty-five. In an appearance on the Diane Rehm Show today, the EU's ambassador to the US suggested that it would also help in coordinating the war on terrorists between Europe and the US.

Historically, the US has been an advocate of greater European unity. President Eisenhower, with his experience as commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War Two and as first NATO commander, always hoped that the "United States of Europe" would be formed. There was a lot of talk about such a new configuration of the Continent when I was a kid.

But from the US perspective, there may ultimately be a less compelling need for a "USE" or "USE-Lite" these days. Ike was thinking in strategic terms, seeing Europe United as being more able to coordinate a common defense against Soviet aggression. The Soviet Union no longer exists and many of its former satellite nations are part of the European Union in its current form.

Integrating Europe may be an even taller order than the one confronting the founders of this country faced. While the thirteen colonies that declared independence in 1776 were more accustomed to dealing with London than they were with each other, they by and large, shared common institutions and language. Contemporary Europe probably does have a common language--English, but there is wide variation in their traditions.

Even with the advantages enjoyed by the founders of the United States in creating a nation, an utterly unprecedented venture to that point, it still took time for them to pull it off. The Articles of Confederation, the original legal compact for the independent states, found the thirteen colonies pulling in different directions, unable to coordinate economic or foreign policy or provide for their common defense. That's why they came up with that brilliant document, the US Constitution.

That touches on another possible explanation for the rejection of the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands. The average American fourth-grader can read the US Constitution in one sitting if she or he puts their mind to it. It's impossible to imagine that a French fourth-grader could wade through the European document, which runs to 450-pages, in multiple sittings. It's also doubtful that even 2% of the voters in either France or the Netherlands read it, making it easier to reject than accept.

Still, I think the reason for the defeat of the EU constitution is not very complicated. After the election results came out this week, my wife was talking with a British emigre who's lived here a long time. "I can understand how the people of France and the Netherlands feel," she said. "Even though I've lived here for over forty years, I hate the thought of making England any less English!"

In the end, I go back to Tip's wisdom in explaining the defeat of the EU constitution in these two countries: All politics really is local. And it looks like for now that France and the Netherlands want to keep it that way.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What If?

Matt Miller wonders what would happen if Republican and Democratic pols told the truth about their partisan applause lines.

How to Cope with Rejection

[I've written this column as a sequel to this one.]

"Okay," the thirty-five year old woman told me. She said this after I'd explained to her why I thought God allowed both God and us to live with the risk of rejection.

Without the risk of being told "No" by those who might spurn our love, their decision to live in loving relationships with us--to say "Yes" to us--would be meaningless.

"I get it, Mark. I really do," she told me. "I'm ready to accept that it's not God's fault that my parents treat me like dirt. Or that they claim to love me while belittling me with passive-aggressive questions and never calling me. But how do I deal with it? How do I live in the wake of that rejection?"

I had to admire this young woman's healthy attitude. A committed Christian, she wanted to honor her father and mother, but knew that their narcissism would likely not allow a functional relationship with them. Her parents would see her only when it was convenient for them or when the events in the woman's life afforded them an opportunity to bask in her reflected glory. Given those likely perameters, she wondered, how was she to live.

I suggested a few things for dealing with rejection and I suggest them to you now.

First: Prayerfully place the person who has rejected you into God's hands. We human beings are prone to suffer from delusions of grandeur, thinking that if we work at it hard enough, or say the right things, or have the right conversation, we can "fix" other people.

Other people aren't mannequins in our puppet shows, though. Even George Lucas, arguably the most successful director and producer in motion picture history, who created a whole universe with his Star Wars franchise, speaks wistfully of the failure of his marriage.

We can't make others do what we think they should do. But we can prayerfully place them in their Creator's hands, asking God to guide them, help them, soften their hearts, and give them insight. Not even God will force change on the unwilling. God though, is far more persuasive than we are. And the advice and promptings God will give to people through the doorway of our prayers will be vastly superior to any convincing words we might try to muster in personal conversation with them.

Second: Realize that the God Who has gone through the worst rejection anyone has ever endured, is willing to be with you, support you, and encourage you. Jesus promises all who follow Him that He will be near. (Matthew 28:20) When we invite Jesus to be near us, you'll often be amazed at how He sends people or orchestrates circumstances to provide you with the support you need.

Finally: Only God is perfect. We're not. That means that when others reject us, even if 99% of the responsibility for the decimation of our relationship belongs to the other party, we still bear at least 1% of the blame. Healthy people don't make excuses. They go to God and say, "I'm sorry for my part in this break-up. Help me to get healthier, to love more like You love, Lord."

God helps people willing to admit they need His help and are open to taking responsibility for their wrongs. "The sacrifice acceptable to God," Psalm 51 says, "is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."

Praying for the ones who reject us, taking Jesus up on His promise to be with us, and confessing our own sins. These three steps will contribute mightily to our being able to cope with relational rejection when it comes our way.

[Mark Daniels is pastor of Friendship Church.]

Only the Risk of Rejection Gives Acceptance Its Power

[This is my latest column, written for the Community Press newspapers here in suburban Cincinnati. Readers will see that the column, in part, flows from the Bible study I did with members of our congregation last evening. The link to it is here.]

He was distraught. His wife had just announced that she was leaving him and he'd called me, asking if we could talk. When he arrived at the restaurant for our meeting, he looked like a man who had just been picked up by an unexpected twister and set down miles from where he'd planned on being this quiet spring morning.

After recounting the conversation he'd had with his wife just before she got into her Mustang, promising that she'd be back for her things "in a few days," he sat for awhile with his head in his hands. Neither one of us was certain about what to say next. But we conversed haltingly for a time and then he asked, "How could God let this happen? How could God even let my wife consider such a thing, let alone actually do it?"

A similar question, this one not tangled up in grief or pain, came up during a recent Bible study at our church. We were looking at the Genesis account of God's creation of the first human beings, Adam and Eve, and their subsequent rebellion against God, something that happened when they ate fruit God had forbidden them to eat.

"Why," one person asked, speaking for all of us, I imagine, "would God give Adam and Eve this perfect world and yet plant within its midst this tree, the fruit from which had the possibility of ruining it all?" Why, in short, did God let this happen?

I suppose that we've all asked that question and I think that the person who offers facile answers is probably too big for his or her theological britches or else absolutely insensitive to the pain of others.

Let me give a quick, down and dirty response, though.

God made human beings to have an utterly unique relationship with Him. No other creature was created in the image of God, or had the capacity for sophisticated speech, or anticipating the future, or loving him back. All God's other creatures live on instinct. Humans have the capacity to override, control, or militate their instincts. (Granted, our ability to control instinct's power over us is marred by the common human condition of sin. But the power to rise above instinct is there nonetheless, a remnant of our original design.)

God is love, the New Testament tells us, meaning that God delights in nothing more than giving and sharing love. He doesn't need our love for Him. But because God knows what an absolute high it is to give as well as receive love, human beings, as part of being made in God's image, have the ability to return God's love to Him and so, experience all that it means to be fully alive.

But without the capacity for saying, "No" to love commitments to God, to His will for us, to our neighbors, or to our marriage partners, saying "Yes" is a meaningless thing. We aren't animals. We're human beings. God has taken the risk of our rejection, rejection which caused Him suffering on a cross when He came into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ, because of the possible rewards: our fellowship with Him forever.

God lets us live with similar relational risks because without them, saying Yes to God and to loving others would be meaningless. People will say, "No" to our love. But that hard possibility only makes the Yesses we receive from those who allow us to love them all the sweeter!

[You might want to read Genesis 2:4-3:19 for background.]

[Here's the sequel to this piece.]

How Do We Preserve Our Way of Life without Losing Our Way of Life?

At the Orlando Airport about a year-and-a-half ago, all of us boarding outgoing flights underwent extensive passenger screening, including being wanded and having our shoes inspected for hidden weapons or explosives.

I was pulling my shoes on after my inspection, thinking how fortunate I felt that such precautionary measures were happening when a woman, pushing her feet into slip-ons said to me disgustedly, "That was interesting, wasn't it?" Her unspoken message, "Why are they wasting my time?"

I completely disagreed with that woman's disgust. I'm glad for the extra security at airports. And if that entails waiting in a long line as it did when my son and I flew back home from Washington's Reagan International Airport not long ago, so be it. (I suppose I'm a bit weird. When a friend learned that I was driving to Columbus over this past Memorial Day, they said, "There'll be lots of Highway Patrol cars out," all I could say was, "Good. They'll help keep us safe from the speeders." Comments like that cause people to question my sanity.)

Yet, I do hate all the measures we've taken because of September 11. I've been to DC a grand total of six times since I was five years old. The first visit was with my parents in 1959. On that first visit, it was so easy to stroll up to the White House, the Capitol, and the Smithsonian. Now, one must negotiate the barricades, guardhouses, and security checks at most sites in the city. I understand the necessity for these measures, of course. But sometimes they make me feel as though the terrorists won something on that fateful September morning four years ago. They seared fear into our national personality. I hate that!

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman talks about the "need" for a national commission to look at all the different ways in which 9/11 has changed America's personality. I don't think that will happen, but it would be worthwhile for us all to consider that question among ourselves. (You could begin the process here, by leaving your comments below.) Such a conversation might cause us to modify some of the things we're doing now.

Friedman recounts several conversations with overseas acquaintances in which foreigners that something fundamental about the American character--our traditional openness--was being lost in all the security measures. He mentions a conversation with a man from India:
In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They "make you feel so unwanted now," said Mr. Das. America was a country "that was always reinventing itself," he added, because it was a country that always welcomed "all kinds of oddballs" and had "this wonderful spirit of openness." American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. "If you go dark, the world goes dark."
America has always had to fight with itself whenever it has been threatened by foreign enemies in the past.

It was true during the First World War. I once interviewed a second-generation German-American for an article I did for the Columbus Monthly magazine. He'd grown up during the Great War and remembered vividly the danger to which he and his family and friends in Columbus' German village were subjected then. Once, in 1918, a young German-American, marching in a parade in Columbus, was gunned down by people who hated Germans. As I recall, the newspaper accounts I later looked up indicated that his murderer was never found.

During World War Two, of course, many Japanese-Americans were subjected to unjustifiable internment in camps.

The dawn of the Cold War brought irrational and un-American witch hunts for Communists and "fellow travelers."

Keep in mind that in each of these wars, America was truly threatened. But we had to figure out how to preserve our way of life--freedom within the context of mutual responsibility--without losing our way of life.

So, tell me what you think: How do we do that now?

UPDATE: Ann Althouse doesn't like a run-on sentence that appears in Friedman's column.

Random Stuff from Our Genesis Study, Part 1

I'm talking about the first book of the Old Testament here, not the band formerly fronted by Peter Gabriel and later, Phil Collins. The book came before the band.

On Tuesday nights, I have a small group Bible study for whoever wants to show up. It's called, Tuesdays with Markie. Last week, the group present decided to proceed on a path we've dubbed, GAG, for Genesis, Acts, and Galatians. These are the three books we intend to read and discuss together.

Over the next weeks then, I intend to present some things that come up in our discussion of Genesis. So, here's some of what we discussed tonight...

First: You don't have to be too smart or a liberal (which I'm not) to notice that the book begins with two different accounts of creation. One, which starts at Genesis 1:1, portrays creation happening over a seven-day period of time, culminating in the creation of human beings. The other, starting at Genesis 2:4, begins with the creation of humans.

Second: Neither account says that God created the world ex nihilo, out of nothing. In the first account, God's Spirit (the Mighty Wind) moves over a chaotic ocean and brings about order and life. In the second, God brings life to a desert-like wilderness, even scooping the first human being from the dust and breathing life into him. (The Old Testament Hebrew word for spirit is the same word used for breath and wind; that word is ruach. Interestingly, in the Greek of the New Testament, the word pneuma also has these three different, but related meanings.)

Third: The second point above doesn't deny that God is the single originating agent of the universe. Of course He is. But if we think of the Bible as "God's baby talk," the way an infinite. eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, perfect God speaks to mere mortals like us, God couldn't explain everything to us. After all, if we could understand all that there is to know about God, we would be God...and we are most emphatically not.

Fourth: The ancient Hebrews weren't dumb. (The quality of the writing precludes any such idea!) Because of that, they would not have been unaware of the distinctions between these two creation accounts. In spite of this, they decided to allow both of them to stand side-by-side. Why? Because each gave us a different slant on God's creation of the universe.

Fifth: Old Testament scholars claim to discern different strands of editing traditions in the Old Testament. The famous initials every seminarian learns are: J, E, D, P, for Yahwist, Elohist, Deuternomist, and Priestly editors. These scholars claim to discern the Priestly hand in the first creation account and the Yahwist's in the second. Whether this is true or not or helpful or not is up to the individual student of Scripture. (If you Google the above terms, you'll find different explanations of them, some written by conservative and others by liberal scholars.)

Sixth: The first creation accounts find God delivering the same verdict about His creation on each of the first five days. "Good!" God says. But on the sixth day, after creating human beings, in His own image, God says of us, "Very good!" Literally, in the Hebrew, God says, "Tov! Tov!" That's, "Good! Good!" The Bible has a high view of humanity, of our potential and our attributes, even after we are marred by sin. God thinks highly of us. If He didn't, He wouldn't have sent His Son to die and rise for us!

Seventh: Another thing about the first creation account is that it helps us to make sense of the famous incident in which Jesus calmed the stormy sea of Galilee. After He does this with just a word, the disciples ask themselves, in the Daniels paraphrase, "Who is this Who can cause the wind and the waves to surrender to His will?"

For Jews like themselves or their fellow Jews to whom they told the story, that would have been more like a rhetorical question. Jesus' feat would have been like that of God Himself as He calmed the chaos to make the world. To them, the story would have clearly said that Jesus is God.

Eighth: To be created in the image of God indicates a special relationship with God that is shared by no other creature. Both accounts show this. In the second account, God brings all the creatures to Adam and Adam is given the authority to name them. To name something is, in some sense, to have some dominion over them, framing their existences and roles.

In the second account, we see that part of being human, again unlike the other species, is that they are given the capacity to say, "No" to God. All the other species must act on instinct. But humans have the ability to make decisions, even a decision to eat a fruit that God forbade them from consuming.

Ninth: The intimacy of human relationship, especially in marriage, is seen in the second account's portrayal of the creation of the female. She is taken from the man's rib. He is called ish (man); she is called ishah (woman). The Hebrews' love of puns is shown here. The very names of the man and the woman show that they are linked. Borrowing from Genesis 1:26, they are co-bearers of the image of God.

Tenth: Prior to consuming its fruit, the two human beings had only known good. As soon as they bit into the fruit, the saw that they were naked. This is a metaphorical way of saying that, after eating the fruit, the humans became aware of the sinful uses to which their bodies, minds, and lives could now be put. "Man is the only animal who blushes," Mark Twain said, "or needs to." Adam's embarrassed hiding was the clincher indicating to God that he had disobyed God by biting into the fruit.

Adam's and Eve's fundamental sin, the temptation to which they caved, was the serpent's promise that if they ate the fruit, they would be like God. There are two fundamental facts I ask all of my Catechism students to remember: God is God and we're not. Eve and Adam didn't acknowledge this.

Eleventh: Sin is about wanting good things at the wrong times, in the wrong places, or for the wrong reasons.

There's nothing wrong with fruit, of course, unless there's something harmful about it or there's a time when it's not wise to eat it.

There's nothing wrong with speaking God's Name, either...unless we're using it for purposes other than prayer, praise, or thanksgiving.

There's nothing wrong with the gift of speech...unless we're using it to gossip about others or lie about them or hurt them in some way.

There's nothing wrong with sex...Well, you get the idea.

Twelfth: God wasn't playing games with us when He allowed that forbidden tree to be in the perfect garden where Adam and Eve lived. But God wanted to have a special relationship with the human race, one in which children created in His image could voluntarily return the love He had for them. If we had no choice but to love and obey God, our love and obedience would mean nothing. Without the option of saying, "No" to God, our "Yes" would mean nothing, the moral equivalent of a witless animal loving its master because through him, it received Kibbles and Bits.

Thirteenth: In Genesis, the serpent is called the most subtle of God's creatures. This is underscored by his interaction with the woman. None of the things the serpent said to the woman was literally a lie. He simply told the truth in a lying way. This is why it's always foolish getting into an argument with the devil. As Rick Warren points out, the devil has had a lot more practice at arguing than we've had. Instead, we need to rely on God and on God's Word.

Fourteenth: I do make a connection between the serpent and the devil, the same connection Jesus seems to make in John 8.

To read what we've looked at so far in the group, check out the following links:

Genesis 1:1-2:3

Genesis 2:4-3:19

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


For this, we needed special research?

For more, check out this post.

Just My Opinion...

Some neocons and pundits appear intent on having John McCain make a 2008 third-party run for the presidency, not because they like him, but because they hate McCain. It's hard to figure why they hate the Arizona senator so much.

Not only is McCain honorable, he's also more frugal about federal spending than the President, making him one of the more conservative potential 2008 contenders.

He has enthusiastically supported the President on Iraq and campaigned tirelessly for Mr. Bush in 2004.

He has supported a strong military.

He also has campaigned with dedication for fellow Republicans.

Apparently, this group doesn't like McCain for several reasons:

(1) His role in the compromise on filibuster of judicial nominations. That only resulted in the confirmation of three conservative judges that Senator Frist's threatened use of the so-called nuclear option was doing nothing to advance;

(2) A PR-boost the senator helped give to a Congress that was suffering nearly record-low approval ratings. McCain, Warner, DeWine, and others caused the Congress to actually function. The neocons who despise McCain so much seem to prefer spectacular losses to substantive victories for their cause.

(3) Some neocons and others disdain McCain for his role in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation. Our campaign finance laws have been questionable for thirty years now and reforming them seems to have only made a botched system worse. It's legitimate to criticize the senator's approach to campaign funding reform from that angle.

However, opponents of McCain-Feingold advance the dubious proposition that limits on campaign spending infringe on freedom of speech. But all these people are saying is that their fat cat friends ought to have more freedom to speak and influence the political process because they've got more money. They believe if you've got the money to pay for it, the more "free" speech you can afford. McCain has rejected such faulty logic and for that he deserves applause, not condemnation.

I can't imagine John McCain running on a third party ticket in 2008. I can imagine him being the Republican nominee for President that year, though...and winning with a very Reagan-like majority.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Romney, Mormonism, and the Presidency

Hugh Hewitt posts about a Terry Eastland article on Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's potential run for the presidency in 2008. The article basically asks the question of whether America is ready for Mormon president.

Look, as a Christian, I have real problems with Mormonism. Claiming to be part of the Christian faith, Mormonism nonetheless rejects three fundamental tenets of Christian belief:
1. The divinity of Jesus.

2. The Trinity.

3. Salvation solely by faith in a gracious God and not our good works.
This is why Christian theologians refer to Mormonism as a "sub-Christian cult."

But frankly, even among Christians who take this view of Mormonism, I detect no prejudice against Mormon officeholders or political candidates and see no reason to suppose that Christians or other Americans would spurn Romney because of his religious affiliation.

There have been numerous prominent Mormons in American national life. Ezra Taft Benson was Dwight Eisenhower's Secretary of Agriculture. Romney's father, who was governor of Michigan following a successful career as an auto executive, was the frontrunner for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination until a comment he made about the Johnson Administration "brainwashing" him on the Vietnam War torpedoed his candidacy. By now, in the American context, these two figures represent ancient history and in the intervening years, Mormonism has become part of the American mainstream.

The only way I can see Romney's Mormonism harming his bid for the 2008 Republican nomination is if he gave indications of an intent to give his faith preferential treatment.

Having said all that, I still think that John McCain is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008.

UPDATE: Matt at Stones Cry Out thinks that Romney's Mormonism will be a bigger problem than I do.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt has also linked to this post. Thanks to both you and Matt!

No Throwaway People!

Romans 1:16-17
Romans 3:21b-28
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, May 29, 2005)

It happened about ten years ago. I had a Sunday off, but my family and I were still in town. We decided to worship at the church where a friend of mine pastored. We arrived about ten minutes before the service was to begin. People were in the lobby of the church buidling, enjoying coffee and conversation. Nobody seemed to want to acknowledge our existence.

During worship, the congregation shared the peace. But as I recall, only one or two people made the effort to greet us. I forced a few more into doing so by greeting them myself.

After worship ended, there was a line to greet the pastor at the door and guess what? The pastor was the only person who spoke to us the rest of that morning.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, dedicated to remembering all those who, through the past two centuries, have given their lives so that we can live in freedom in America. America is a nation dedicated to the proposition that there are no throwaway people. As a country, we believe, what President Franklin Roosevelt declared in a speech in 1941 that a nation is at its best when it guarantees four freedoms to its people: freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship as we choose, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. When human beings are granted these four freedoms, we believe that even those regarded as trash by the rest of the world prove to be treasures. That’s why that famous poem by Emma Lazarus is etched in stone on the Statue of Liberty, the imposing lady who welcomes so many to our country:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

But if our country believes that there are no throwaway people, our experience at my friend’s church makes me wonder, “What do we believe as followers of Jesus Christ?"

Do we think that there are some people worthy of just being ignored or forgotten because we don’t know them or we don’t like them?” I have my suspicions.

Years ago, a man who traveled a lot wrote to a syndicated columnist to say that in the preceding two years, he had worshiped or attended functions at 195 churches. But in all of them, he said, “I was spoken to in only one by someone other than an official greeter--and that was to ask me to move my feet.”

The mission statement of our congregation says, “Friendship Church is a welcoming and caring people who seek to share the kindness of God so that all metropolitan Cincinnati may grow in the faith, hope, and love of the living Jesus Christ!” Those are more than just words. There’s a reason that we adopted them as a summary of our congregation’s mission.

The fact is, none of us deserves these wonderful gifts God offers us through Jesus. Born slaves to sin, none of us can, by the things we do, ever be good enough to erase its stain from our souls. That’s why Paul, the writer of our Bible lessons for this morning, says, ““All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

But there is good news! The God of the universe offers us a freedom that’s better, more precious, more wonderful, more life-changing, and more enduring than any freedom that a nation could ever offer or that any soldier, however heroic, could win.

It’s freedom from sin and the freedom to be who God made us to be.

It’s freedom from death and the freedom to live forever with God.

It’s freedom from futility and the freedom to live for the purposes God had in mind when He made us in the first place.

Paul writes about the freedom God offers in our first Bible lesson this morning. Let me read it to you in the translation of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel [the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection]; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’
God believes that none of the children He lovingly formed in their mothers’ wombs is a throwaway person.

God believes that every human soul has so much value that He was willing to die for us.

Jesus has come to pull us out of sin and death and pull us close to God for all eternity.

The gospel--the good news--of Jesus, Paul says, has the power to do this. The word in the original Greek of the New Testament that’s translated as power is dunamis. We get words like dynamite, dynamic, and dynamo from this.

Think of that! God can use His dynamic, explosive, infinite power in any way He chooses. When you consider all the ways we hurt and disappoint God with our selfishness and greed, the most natural thing in the world for Him would be to just wipe us out. I certainly think of that when I remember how often I’ve sinned and hurt him. One of the prayers most often on my lips each day is a simple one, “God, I thank You that for whatever reason, You haven’t killed me.” I’m amazed by that because I know what a terrible sinner I am!

But God does amazing things for those who believe in Jesus. He uses His power for us. He pulls them out of the trash heaps of life and saves us to live brand new lives filled with His love forever!

Knowing that, floods my heart with thankfulness to God and sometimes, when I think about God’s love in Christ, even I--big-mouthed, ever-verbal Mark--can do nothing but shake my head or cry from happiness.

I think that Paul felt this way, too. That’s no doubt why he wrote to the Christians in the little church in first-century Rome that we, who have been saved simply because they believe in Jesus, have no reason for boasting or self-righteousness or being judgmental of others. None of us has any reason to regard others as throwaway people. After all, God hasn’t thrown us away although that’s what we deserve!

Years ago, I knew a man--I’ll call him Sam--who befriended a guy--I’ll name Joe. Everybody else saw Joe as a loser. Joe was slowly destroying his life with drink and selfishness. He had been unable to sustain any friendships or dating relationships because of his fierce temper, his workaholism, and a love of money that crowded out everyone and everything. But Sam worked hard to befriend Joe. Sam never preached to Joe, but like Paul in our Bible lesson, he wasn’t afraid to admit that Jesus was the absolute center of his life. One day, Sam invited Joe to hang out with his family for a holiday get-together. (It may have been for a Memorial Day picnic.) On the way home, Joe became silent and asked Sam, “What is it that you’ve got, Joe? You’ve got less money than I do, but you’ve never asked me for a dime. I’ve seen you drink a beer, but I’ve never seen you drunk. You work hard, but you still have room for people in your life. How do you do it?” Sam was able to tell Joe that it was nothing he did, it was the power of Jesus working in his life and, he said, that same power was available to Joe and anyone who dares to believe in Jesus. (Except for a few name changes, that’s a true story!)

The Church is God’s recycling center. Here, everyone is welcome. Here, all are invited to come and let God’s truth be spoken to them--the truth that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, that Jesus wants to save us all, that if we will turn from sin and walk with Him, He’ll change our lives for the better forever, that He will be with us always. God wants to help all the Joes of the world by deputizing you and I to welcome them in Jesus’ Name.

People always tell me that when they visit Friendship Church, one person after another welcomes them. They say, “When I worshiped at your church, I sensed Jesus was there more authentically and more deeply than I have in any church I have ever visited.” That’s good to hear, of course. May I always hear it!

Over these next few weeks, we’re going to explore what it means to be God’s welcoming people. But if you want to know what I’m going to say in a nutshell, it’s this: God has welcomed you and me with open arms; our call is to do the same for the whole world!

God wants us to share the power of the Good News with others so that, like us, through their faith in Jesus, they too will be yanked from the world’s refuse piles and placed in the kingdom of God forever!