Friday, October 17, 2008

Big Game Tomorrow!

I'll admit it. The combination of Ohio State's lackadaisical offensive line play and the oft-noted tentativeness of freshman QB phenom Terrelle Pryor from last week, along with Michigan State's excellent play thus far this year, makes tomorrow's game between the Buckeyes and Spartans scary. The Buckeyes will have to kick their game up a few notches to come out of East Lansing with the win. But they can do it.

A Buckeye win will be a big boost in Ohio State's quest for a Big Ten championship and may give the squad extra confidence for its meeting with Penn State in Columbus next Saturday.

See here.

Go, Buckeyes!

[UPDATE: I was shocked by the way in which the Buckeyes manhandled the Spartans. It isn't, I don't believe, that I underestimated Ohio State. I simply thought that Michigan State would have a better game. Next up: The Nittany Lions of Penn State, a fantastic team, presently ranked #3 in the country. Go, Buckeyes!]


This Was a Comeback

But Tampa Bay still has the upper hand.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Financial Crisis from One Christian's Perspective (Part 5)

I want to close this series with a few brief, but I think, important points.

First: Let's not lose our heads. A CNN poll of Americans conducted on October 4 and 5, indicated that 60% of the adult population thought that the country was at least somewhat likely to slide into a depression. This is, quite frankly, an example of "chicken littleism." As the CNN article that revealed the poll results noted:
...economists, even many who feel current economic risks are dire, generally don't believe another depression is likely.

"We've been in a recession all year and it's going to get worse," said Anirvan Banerji, director of research for the Economic Cycle Research Institute. "We're going from a relatively mild recession to a more painful recession. But we're a long, long way from a depression."

A survey taken last week by the National Association of Business Economists asked members what would happen if the $700 billion bailout that passed Friday fails to fix frozen credit markets. The consensus forecast of those economists was that, even if continued problems choke off credit to businesses and consumers, unemployment would rise to just 7% in the second quarter of next year .

Other economists recently contacted by said that the unemployment rate could rise as high as 10% to 12% next year if the bailout does not work. While that could be roughly double the current 6.1% unemployment rate, it would be only half of the worst rate seen in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

None of this should be seen as belittling the plight of those who are without work, in danger of losing their work, looking at possible foreclosure, or experiencing the loss of pension value, especially people already retired possessing no way to replenish portions of their losses by generating work income.

But the financial crisis is unlikely to lead to the kinds of long-term financial hardships that came to this country and the rest of the world in 1929.

Even if it does, though, God is still God. Psalm 46, in the Bible's Old Testament, inspired Martin Luther, who lived for decades under the threat of execution on sight, to compose one of the greatest Christian hymns, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. The psalm begins with a statement of faith:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult...
In the intervening centuries, the God Who revealed Himself to a chosen people, Israel, came into the world to extend and expand His rule of love over more than just a single people. In Jesus Christ, God offers forgiveness of sin and new and everlasting life to all who dare to believe in Him.

No matter how dark and difficult life can be, we have the promise of Christ's presence today and the hope of an endless future with God. As the apostle Paul, no stranger to tough times, writes in the New Testament portion of the Bible:
If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?... I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
The God Who voluntarily became human in order to be one with us in living and dying so that all with faith in Him can be one with Him in His rising is not going to abandon us because the Dow has gone down and the economy needs to be shored up.

Keep your dobber up. God is still God. God still cares about you. God will not abandon you. Even if we lose everything--and the value of my pension's investments have dropped by deep-double-digit amounts since the beginning of this quarter, those who rely on God won't lose what is most important: life through Jesus Christ!

Second: Now is the time to put our faith into action. The New Testament book of James, written by one of Jesus' earthly brothers, is a call to Christians to do more than talk about their faith in Jesus, to trust that the Savior Who gave His life for us will support us as we give our lives in service and love to God and neighbor. James upbraided those Christians who seemed to be concerned for those who are deprived, but did nothing about that concern:
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? (James 2:15-16)
Admittedly, James is here referring to the care of Christians for each other. But Jesus makes it clear that love of others is to include more than just those who share our faith.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus demonstrates that a neighbor is anyone who has a need. Jesus doesn't expect us to do more than we can do, but He doesn't want us to do less than we can do either.

In His parable, Jesus talks about three men, each of whom had the chance to give relief and help to the victim of a mugging. Two "religious" people passed the man by. A third, member of an ethnic group hated by Jesus' fellow Jews, helped the man.

In this financial crisis, help whoever you can whenever you can, even if the help you can provide and the help that's needed is just giving a listening ear or a promise of prayer. Many of us will likely be able to do more than that.

And this brings me to my final point: Don't underestimate what you can do. Or more accurately, don't underestimate what God can do through you, if you're willing.

Last night, at our congregation's church council meeting, we read Mark 6:34-44. It presents one of the New Testament's four different narratives of a famous incident in Jesus' earthly ministry: the feeding of the 5000.

What's so interesting about this text is that after Jesus tells His disciples to feed the rudderless, hungry people around them and they protest they don't have 200 denarii* to get the food needed to feed this brood, Jesus tells them to do an inventory. "How many loaves have you?" He asks. "Go and see." They soon report back, "Five and two fish." Jesus miraculously stretches these meager supplies into enough to feed everybody there...with plenty left over.

The point: Give God what you have and God will make more of it. If you have a genuine desire to love God and love neighbor and are willing to stand under Christ's authority, you can bring real help to your neighbor, whether the need is spiritual, emotional, physical, or financial.**

The motto of the state in which I live, a place hard-hit by current economic conditions, Ohio, comes from words spoken by Jesus: With God all things are possible.

I believe that. You can too.

*A single denarius was a day's pay for a common laborer.

**This idea is developed in a book called The Great Permission. It's called a field guide for congregations on using asset based planning. Asset based planning, in the Christian context, is refusing to base planning on needs, but based on what we have and how, if we submit them to God's purposes, God can use them.

[UPDATE: When I realized what was the substance of this post by my blogging friend, John Schroeder, I waited to read it. I didn't want to plagiarize the piece! Its substance was clear from its title: BE CONFIDENT! I knew that his subject there would be a topic I would address in this final installment. I just read John's piece this morning after having written my post here last night. I highly recommend that you go read John's post right now.]

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Our Great Philadelphia Adventure (Part 3)

Funny moments and other stuff...

During the tour of Independence Hall, our guide, an informative and enthusiastic National Park Service ranger, pointed out that in that place in 1776, with the Declaration of Independence, and in 1787, with the Constitution, men from different backgrounds who had little previous experience with one another, found ways to compromise and iron things out to form and perfect a nation. A man called out from the crowd, "Do you think that we could get those guys back here today?"

During a bus tour of the city, we passed an anti-war demonstration. One protester, hat firmly pushed down overhead, bandanna tied to conceal face, held a sign that asked, "I want Congress to bail me out of my student loans."

There was a mix-up on the charge for our room at the hotel where we stayed. The clerk on duty took care of things. I noticed that he had a Phillies shirt, reflecting the excitement we saw in everyone there about the National League playoff series beginning the night of our arrival. I told him that, as a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, which hasn't won a World Series since 1990 and has pretty much lived in the cellar for the past two decades, I envied his excitement. It was pointed out to me that though the guy had worked miracles with our bill, he could do nothing about the Reds!

Philadelphia has one of the most vibrant central cities I've ever seen. On Friday, we were baffled to see so many cars leaving downtown as we breezed along on the Interstate to Independence Park at the center of town. We later found out that more people commute from the central city to the 'burbs in Philly than in any other town in the country. As we walked around the central city exploring, we saw tons of downtown area housing, something that's virtually non-existent in other big US cities. We also met people who live downtown and work downtown, enabling them to walk and bike to work each day.

Of course, it isn't all nirvana, either. We decided to take a surface road, Ridge Avenue, from downtown to our hotel in Plymouth Meeting, a suburb. Poverty is much in evidence. Jesus did say that the poor would always be with us. But He didn't say that to excuse inaction or indifference in the face of poverty. Widespread poverty in places like Philadelphia, the birthplace of the American experiment, should always be unacceptable to us, whatever our party. We can do better!

One bright spot of this part of our tour: There was a gas war happening in Roxbourough, initiated by the owner of a newly-reopened filling station. We found gas for $3.05 a gallon! (Today somewhere in Pennsylvania, we found it for $2.99 a gallon, all of which is reflective of the recent decrease in gas prices generally.)

A bright spot of the entire trip: In spite of the recent financial crisis, all the restaurants we visited were packed and travel on the Interstate and state routes was brisk. A major freight carrier had a huge banner in front of its corporate offices so that travelers on the Interstate could see. The banner announced that the company's employees had just received the largest pay increase in company history.

Our Great Philadelphia Adventure (Part 2)

It wasn't all fun, education, and inspiration on our just-ended trip to Philadelphia.

We also ate. I had to have authentic Philadelphia Cheese Steaks. I got them at two places. The first was in downtown Philly, just blocks from Independence Hall: Sonny's.

There's nothing fancy about Sonny's. It's simple, in your face fare. (The ambiance reminds of me my all-time favorite pizza place, Tommy's, in Columbus.) You can eat inside or, if you can find a spot on beautiful fall day like we enjoyed two days ago, out on the sidewalk. According to Sunny's, authentic Cheese Steak uses Cheese Whiz. I couldn't go there. Provolone suited me fine. You could tell that the cut of meat was high quality. It was great, although there's no indication that Sunny has found a way to remove the cholesterol from the sandwich.

Yesterday, we were in Chadds Ford, a suburb of Philadelphia. A little spot called Hank's Place, which we later learned is frequented by local Andrew Wyeth, appeared from the outside to be a good place for lunch. Little did we know that we'd found a gem. The restaurant was packed. Regulars waiting in line told us that everything on their menu was great. Their Cheese Steak, which used an even better cut of meat, was outstanding.

We were in Chadds Ford to visit the Brandywine River Museum and the home and studio of Andrew Wyeth's father, N.C. Wyeth. The museum had displays that included the works of various illustrator/artists, people who, like the first Wyeth, have done both commercial art for magazines, advertisers, and books and what's called "fine art." Among the artists represented in the display are Maxfield Parrish and Howard Pyle, the latter being Wyeth's mentor. The tour of Wyeth's home and art studio is informative and fun.

In Philadelphia on Friday, in addition to seeing Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, we also took in a display of the portraits by Charles Wilson Peale and other of his late-eighteenth, early-nineteenth century contemporaries of important historical figures of that period. Peale was a showman, part Da Vinci, part Walt Disney, part P.T. Barnum, part scientist and historian. His museum in Philadelphia was a way for ordinary folks to not only see samples of the world's animal and plant life, but also to look at the faces of the celebrities and heroes of their time. Peale's portraits in particular, now in what was the Second National Bank in Philadelpia, appear not only to faithfully render the faces of his subjects, they also seem to convey something of who they were. One of his portraits of John Adams, for example, seems to catch the second president in mid-sentence, about to turn to you with a clinching argument. His Jefferson seems duly aloof, yet ready in an instant, to employ his vaunted charm when necessary.

And if all of this weren't enough for our family obsessed with history, we also went to Valley Forge, where Washington and his battered army wintered in 1777-78, and what's now called Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, where the miraculous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas, 1776, took place.

Also worthy of mention and a visit: Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge and Christ Church in Philadelphia.

Our Great Philadelphia Adventure (Part 1)

I've been away for a few days. We went to Philadelphia, my first trip there in thirty-nine years. What a great city!

Of course, we went to Independence Hall. It is amazing to be in the room where the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution came into being.

But I got goosebumps when we walked into another chamber of what was, in Colonial days, the Pennsylvania state house. I recognized the room instantly from portrayals in books and film. It was where the US House of Representatives met for ten years and was the place in which our second president, John Adams, was inaugurated. As Adams delivered his Inaugural Address on March 4, 1797, Thomas Jefferson, the incoming vice president, was seated to his right, and George Washington, the outgoing president, was two seats away.

This event is important because it represents the first time in world history that the chief executive of a nation voluntarily and peacefully stepped down to allow a duly elected successor to take that same position.

We take this for granted these days. But we shouldn't.

After all, up to that point in human experience, power was taken, wielded, and maintained with violence. It was ceded by force of death or by surrender. Here was a leader who could have, had he chosen, held onto executive power until he died. But Washington happily turned the presidency over to Adams and retired to his Mount Vernon estate.

It's a tribute not only to the honorable characters of Washington and Adams that this peaceful transfer of power happened. It also spoke volumes about the other framers of the US Constitution, ratified just eight years before.

The Declaration of Independence trumpeted people's right to be free. But the Constitution, created to replace the weak, ineffectual, and naive if well-intentioned Articles, understood that even free people must opt for mutual responsibility and accountability.

The basic underlying insight of the Constitution is that free people are people, meaning that they're imperfect. The Constitution, imperfect in itself, reflected the hard-won wisdom of pragmatists who saw that human nature being what it is, you can't allow a nation, dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal--paraphrasing Lincoln--to destroy the promise of equality by leaving everything to chance or to people's good will.

Liberty without accountability and freedom without a government strong enough or active enough to prevent the strong and powerful from running roughshod over the humble or constrained enough to prevent it from running roughshod over everyone, is anarchy. The Framers understood this.

Of course, having a philosophical understanding of an important truth about humanity is one thing. Acting on it is another. The Framers did that.

Fortunately for we Americans and for people from every other country who have taken heart from the example given in 1797, Washington believed in the twin principles of the United States--liberty and mutual accountability--and acted accordingly.