Thursday, December 30, 2004

End of the Year in Hawaii

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. My wife and I will spend the night at a nearby resort to keep away from all the smoke of the "traditional" Hawaii New Year's Eve celebrations. Two of our children will stay home to keep the dog from losing her mind during the three to four hours of firecrackers, fireworks & sky rockets (which are illegal but, who pays any attention to that!) that begin around 9:00 pm and build to a deafening crescendo at around 11:45 pm. One local tradition is setting off what is called a string of "10,000 firecracker." Actually, these long bundles have only around 7500 firecrackers each but they pack a wallop when they go off. They are strung up in the air on improvised mini-booms and lit from the bottom. Like a long popping, exploding fuse the crackers burn to the top where a small bundle of concentrated gunpowder goes off with a flash and a roar. I have seen the more serious celebrators tie two or more of these together with duct tape to enhance the thrill.

Although this photo was taken in China, you get the idea...

Walking through our neighborhood is like walking through a war zone (minus the lethality, of course). Smoke fills the streets in some places so thickly that cars can no longer see past their front bumper. Personally, I think it's kind of fun, in an antinomian, anarchistic sort of way! Although my three daughters are more of less ambivalent over the fireworks they at least enjoy the evening. My wife, however, finds that the smoke and noise causes her asthma to flare up. So, most years, we find a local resort and spend the night breathing some clean air in a calmer atmosphere.

I guess I'm sentimental but I like the idea of dividing time up into relatively short, yearly increments. In a sort of formal ritual, the past 12 months are relegated to history and the coming year enters with a clean slate, full of empty space and time to be filled with new tragedies and triumphs which will draw out both the best and worst that is within us.

The current crises of Iraq (with the upcoming elections) and the continuing tragedy of the South Asian tsunami will link past and future together in a way that will make the end of this year seem less final than usual. December 31 will slide seamlessly into January 1 and there will be sort of a blurry overlap between 2004/5.

If the past is any predictor of the future, my wife will fall asleep around 10 pm tomorrow night. I will stay up, quietly watching Dick Clark's evil twin, Regis Philbin, provide the necessary incantations to begin the sacred ritual of the "dropping of the ball" in New York's Times Square. Most years I have already seen this five hours earlier due to our mid-Pacific time zone. Instead, at midnight, I will probably be walking around the resort, listening to whatever distant sound of firecrackers are carried on the evening Trade Winds. I will then offer a short prayer of peace and thanksgiving to God, remembering our troops overseas, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the millions of people suffering loss, uncertainty and instability in the wake of the tsunami.

In the morning I will awake, pack up, return home and watch football for the rest of the day, waiting eagerly and expectantly for the University of Oklahoma football team to celebrate their own ritual of the "dropping of the ball." Go USC!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Soldier from Afghanistan

Today I had coffee with one of my church members home on R&R from deployment in Afghanistan. He has been there for 8 months already, serving out of Kandahar.

I was impressed as this young officer shared his enthusiasm for what our coalition forces have accomplished and are still accomplishing in that ancient, diverse and relatively primitive corner of the world.

I was even more impressed by his throrough knowledge of the historical, cultural and political aspects of the place. He said he had begun researching this as soon as he had been told about his upcoming deployment...six months of reading and digesting everything he could find in books and on the internet.

I was even more impressed when he added that he had recommended three particularly helpful books for his enlisted troops to read before they were deployed. "Knowledge is power" and he shared numerous examples as to how this research had paid off, especially when he and his men/women interacted with the local population both in Kandahar and in isolated villages scattered in the hills, valleys and mountains along the southern Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

"The people are tired of war and conflict," he said. "They are ready for peace and quiet." So they supported the elections and participated in them with enthusiasm. For a country so recently oppressed by the Taliban he was happy to report that the Presidential candidate receiving the fourth highest number of votes was a woman! My comment was, "I can guess who voted for her!"

Although he had not yet been caught in a firefight he had several friends in other companies who had been killed. Two of these had been men of strong Christian faith. One, a sergeant, had brought the other, a corporal, to faith. The corporal, in turn, had brought several others in their company to faith. The fact that these two particular men were the ones killed in a vicious IED explosion raised many questions about God, life, death, faith and salvation among the members of this group. The conclusion was that there was a great purpose not only in the lives of these two men but in their deaths, as well. Because of them God was glorified and lives were changed for the better.

When the time comes when he will leave the military, this young officer wants very much to work in some government position where he can continue to support the fight against international terrorism. As is true for most military personnel I have known, he had developed a sincere respect and appreciation for the country in which he has served and sacrificed; in his case the nation and people of Afghanistan.

I must say that I enjoyed one of the most insightful, informed, interesting and intelligent conversations I have had in a long time. If he is in any way representative of the rest of the American officers and soldiers serving in Afghanistan then I would have to conclude that Dr. Karzai, his two vice-presidents, his evolving (and revolving) cabinet members and most everyone else in that country have every reason to be optimistic about their future. From what I heard this morning I might dare to guess that they are also grateful for those who have placed that future back into their hands as a gift.

After a short prayer we said our good-byes, knowing that, by God's grace, the next time we would see each other would be in April.

Once again I come away feeling good about being an American....and glad that there are men like this serving in our armed forces.

Playing the Odds

Although I am supposed to be on vacation I am still at home and available. So last night, when I heard that 85 year old Hellen had been taken to the hospital with chest pain and a doctor's recommedation for triple by-pass surgery, I had to make a decision. As a "Pastor on vacation" should I just put Hellen out of my mind until next Monday or make the one-hour round-trip drive to the hospital? For me it was a no-brainer. Hellen is not just a member of my congregation but a friend who I greatly respect and admire. Not making a visit to Hellen in the hospital would be like not visiting my own mother!

So today, after dropping daughter #1 off at the Honolulu airport for a flight to California I headed off to the hospital to see Helen. Her son and two friends from church had just left. She lay on her bed in CCU looking very bored. She knew I was coming and was glad to see me. Among other things she told me that the heart surgeon had told her that, because of her age, she would only have a 10-15% chance of surviving the surgery successfully. These were very slim odds so she was debating whether or not to have the surgery or hope that medication would somehow keep the three main arteries to her heart open (all three were 90-95% closed).

She said that she was inclined to have the surgery and take her chances. The pain, shortness of breath and general discomfort and malaise she had been experiencing were not things she wanted to suffer through for the rest of whatever life remained for her.

From experience I had some misgivings about the accuracy of the "survival" odds she had quoted but I was, nonetheless, impressed with her willingness to stake all of her chips on such a risky roll of the dice. She was cool and composed throughout our conversation, injecting humor amidst the life-stories and bon mots she is so good at offering. I imagined her sitting at a poker table in Las Vegas, calculating the odds of winning with a pair of Queens and betting the house, partly out of boredom and partly out of tiring of the game. She would be a tough one to read. Someone I would want on my side if I were playing any sort of bluffing game!

When her general physician came in the room for a consultation I asked Hellen to tell him the survival odds she had been quoted. As I knew he would, the doctor explained that she had got it backwards. The 10-15% figures were for the estimated failure rate. The success rate would be 85-90%. After the doctor left Hellen turned to me and said, "Thank you. I'm glad you asked him that question!"

That good news further strengthened her inclination to go ahead with the surgery. After a short prayer I left the room as the heart surgeon entered to discuss whether or not she had decided on the surgery. I left the room before I heard her answer. If "yes" the surgery could come as early as tomorrow.

Once again I will have to face the decision of whether I will be on vacation or take the time to visit the hospital. As before it will not be a difficult choice. As I said to her during my visit this afternoon, "Hellen, I am not here as your pastor (even though I am your pastor). I am here as your friend."

Pastors can and should take vacations. But friendship isn't allowed to take time off. Even for good behavior.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Christmas Past

I had a good Christmas with my family. Others, unfortunately, did not.

First: A man woke up at 8:00 am in Hilo and found his bedroom on fire. He escaped but his home was destroyed.

Second: A good Christian man. who also happened to be a Hall of Fame football player, died in his sleep after going to bed the day after Christmas. Reggie White, one of the best defensive players ever, had spent part of Christmas Day going to the movies and watching "Fat Albert." Alive and well one moment and gone the next. Already a legend at age 43. Among other things, Reggie White was an ordained Christian minister and founder of what has become a nationwide Christian athletes organization. I am 53 and cannot say that I have had anywhere near the impact of this man. He worked hard. He excelled. And he shared his Good News. Perhaps dying so young will elevate his memory to the "greater than life" status that comes with legend-hood. If so, this will only serve to enhance his value as a positive role model, especially for African-Americans who have seen too many of their "sports heroes" fall during the past few months.

Third: One man's death, even that of a very good man, pales when contrasted with death of 25,000-50,000 in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that swept the Indian Ocean that same day. Somali fisherman who set out to sea that morning never returned. Tens of thousands were startled awake only to drown in the final few moments of life that remained to them. Early warning systems that have been installed and maintained throughout the Pacific Basin were felt to be too costly and unnecessary among the nations surrounding the Indian Ocean. Even so, some warnings were communicated via satellite to many countries who took a casual approach to the looming disaster, in some cases passing the information to coastal areas two hours after the massive waves had swept everything and everyone away.

Today's report indicated that only 3 people in Bangladesh had been reported killed in the tsunami. If the history of past flooding in Bangladesh is any indicator I fear that number will skyrocket into the tens of thousands in the coming days.

As Hugh Hewitt said on his radio broadcast today, these preliminary numbers represent the equivalent of more than 8 World Trade Center attacks. Relief needs will be overwhelming to the impoverished nations involved. People living in most of the areas impacted were already subsisting with sub-standard water supplies, inadequate sanitation, little food supply and few medical resources. Undoubtedly more will die from the effects of hunger and disease than by the first blast of the tsunami itself.

It will reflect well on us all, as Americans, to donate generously to agencies that can effectively direct emergency aid. World Vision, Church World Service and the International Red Cross come to mind. This is one of those times when even a small amount of money will almost guarantee that someone in some lonely, devastated spot, will live instead of die.

You can either buy a latte or save a life with the same amount of money spent. I suspect that far too many Americans, including Christians, will choose the latte. And God will weep.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Pigs Fly As Hell Freezes Over

The impossible happened two weeks ago. Right here on Oahu. A major business admitted it was responsible for an accident!

It seems that a 1,000 pound boulder fell out of a rock quarry and landed in the right-hand lane of the H-1 freeway. A car hit the rock and two people were seriously hurt.

Grace Pacific, the company the owns the quarry, got to the scene of the accident before any of the state highway crews. They removed the rock before they even realized it was theirs. Soon after they discovered that the rock had become dislodged by the own workers who had been trying to secure a section of the quarry to prevent the very sort of rock-fall that had occurred. The President and CEO, Robert Wilkinson, said it was obvious that work at the quarry caused the rock to fall and issued a statement to that effect. Then, as Hugh Hewitt likes to say, comes the money quote:

"You can't demand integrity from your employees if you don't practice it from the top. Our situation wouldn't be any worse if we took responsibility right away. It's better than having lawyers argue over responsibility for months in court and then come to the same conclusion. If we're going to give out money, I'd rather give it to the victims than attorneys."

When asked about the unprecedented display of honesty, Wilkinson replied, "I'm a Midwest boy. I believe things will die down fast if you just tell people what happened and answer their questions up front."

What about the two women injured in the accident? "We sent them flowers in the hospital," Wilkinson said. "And," added VP Sidney Quintal, "we said we were sorry."

Note: All credit for this blog goes to Honolulu Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna whose article in the December 18, 2004 edition has been liberally summarized and quoted.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Holding My Breath

When I woke this morning my wife, who is always up long before I begin to stir, told me that an explosion at a U.S. military base in Mosul had killed and/or injured over 50 soldiers.

Two of my church elders are currently stationed in Mosul. One is due to leave in just eight days. I have to confess that my heart skipped a beat as I quickly offered a silent prayer for the soldiers and their families. What I didn't know was whether there were now two new widows and three children without fathers in my congregation.

As it turned out both men are assigned to a base adjacent to the one hit by the mortar (or rocket) yesterday. They had already contacted their wives and said they were OK.

A base chaplain who blogs has written up his experience providing spiritual support among the dead, dying, wounded, traumatized and those providing medical care. You can read it here. It reads like a war novel from WW II or a real-life episode of M.A.S.H. but without the humor...well, there are one or two bits of humor. Finding any humor at all amidst the carnage is a real gift of grace. As T.S. Elliot once wrote, "Human kind cannot stand very much reality."

I am glad that there are chaplains tending to the needs of the troops. I know that my two elders in Mosul have been grateful for them, too. One chaplain in Mosul has already been killed this past year. The chaplain with the blog ended his entry with these words,

"The last count was 25 dead, and around 45 wounded. Nevertheless, our cause is just and God is in control even when the crap is a yard deep. I'm where God wants me and wouldn't change that for anything, even if it means death. After all, "to die is gain."

I have prayed often today for those whose hearts skipped a beat, for those who held their breaths and for those whose hearts and breath came to a complete and final halt yesterday in that mess tent in Mosul.

An Unusual (for me) Baptism

Yesterday I stayed after Sunday morning worship and Sunday School to attend the 12 Noon worship of the Hanmi Presbyterian Church (Korean speaking) that "nests" in our facilities. A Korean woman, married to an American, has been attending my congregation, staying for Sunday School along with her children and then attending the Korean service after that.

Recently she completed a "new members" class that I offer several times each year. After several years of study and prayer she decided to accept Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior and receive the Sacrament of Baptism.

She hesitantly expressed some uncertainty to me about in which congregation she should be baptized. Clearly, she didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings! I mentioned this situation to the Korean pastor (who is also a close friend) and suggested that he speak with her and assure her that we were both delighted in her commitment to Christ and would both be present at whatever worship service or congregation she decided to be baptized in.

As it turned out, she chose the Korean congregation (which I felt was her preference all along). Her baptism was to be yesterday so I made sure I would be present for the event. To my surprise I discovered that she and the Korean pastor had decided that I would officiate at her baptism. So, when the time came, I stood with her before the congregation, listened as she affirmed her faith in Korean and then baptized her in English (but using her Korean name).

Clearly God does not care what language is spoken. It is the heart that God listens to. And yesterday the heart of this young woman, the hearts of two pastors and the hearts of two very culturally different congregations were united as one in Jesus Christ. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a very good thing indeed.

Monday, December 20, 2004

A Military Funeral at Punchbowl

Today I officiated at the funeral of a man who had been dead for seven years. His daughter and first wife had waited that long before they had been financially and emotionally ready to bring his ashes to Hawaii where they had last been a happy family.

The inurnment was at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, more commonly referred to as the Punchbowl Cemetery. This is one of the major national cemeteries for WW II Pacific casualties and Korean War dead, especially the unprecedented number of unidentified/unknowns from what has been called "the forgotten war."

Famous people are buried here. Many of the casualties from the December 7, 1943 attack on Pearl harbor, including many from the USS Arizona that did not sink with the ship, lay at rest in the central part of the cemetery. Nearby lie the bodies of famed WW II journalist Ernie Pyle (who was killed on Okinawa) and Hawaii-born Ellison S. Onizuka who perished in the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy in 1986.

Although all ground plots are now filled or "owned," a limited number of niches have been built for cremated remains. Accordingly, grave-side burials are few and far between these days. An exception was recently made for Lance Cpl. Blake Magaoay of Pearl City, killed last month (November 29) in Iraq. Someone graciously released their gravesite so he might be honored with burial here.

The man I trusted to "the care and mercy of almighty God" today had moved to Hawaii with his wife and daughter when he began his tour of duty in Vietnam, where he served with distinction. Upon his return he became the commander of the famed 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team which had earlier been redesignated as a Reserve Unit (and which has now been activated for deployment to Iraq in several weeks).

While in Hawaii he and his wife had been members of the church I now serve as Pastor. It was for this reason that I was invited by the family to officiate today.

Several former friends who had served with him in Vietnam and with the 442 (including one now a 2-star general) came to pay their respects. Several members of my congregation who had known the family back in the early 1980's also attended. There were full military honors with taps and the presentation of the American flag to his family. Two bagpipers from the Honolulu Police Department Bagpipe Band were present and played "Amazing Grace" and the well-known "Going Home" motif from Dvorak's "New World Symphony."

As always, I returned to my car by way of the area set apart for the several hundred graves marked simply, "Unknown-Korea." As always I felt tremendous emotion for these young American men who had perished so far from home, their identities lost, but their bodies laid to rest with respect and honor. Unknown, but not forgotten. As always, I paused at several of them to imagine the person whose mortal remains were buried their. I imagined where they might have been born, who their parents might have been, brothers and sisters, school and church, hopes and dreams, hobbies, interests and their final thoughts and emotions on the day they perished. As always, I offered a prayer of remembrance and gratitude to God for their lives and for the families that never had the satisfaction of knowing either the soldiers fate or final resting place.

One of the men in my church helps administer the forensic lab in Hawaii that tests remains of "unknown" soldiers and attempts to identify them by matching their DNA them with surviving family members. Remains of MIAs are regularly being identified from Vietnam, South Pacific Islands, New Guinea, Europe and many other places where lost planes, ships, previously unknown burial sites and other "hot" or "cold" war artifacts have been recovered.

The lab is also systematically testing the remains of those many Korean War unknowns buried in Punchbowl. Happily, they have identified many of them who, at long last, have been returned to their families and reinterred closer to home on the mainland.

In Arlington National cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington DC, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers bears these words, "Known but to God."

I shared those words today, pointing to the Korean War "unknowns" and then gesturing toward the remains of the one being inurned today. "Time and history may obliterate this cemetery someday," I observed. "But God will not forget any of them. He will not forget any of us. This is his promise to us in Jesus Christ."

Regardless of how my own life will one day end I, too, am comforted in knowing that God will remember me. My old body will "rest in peace" but, with a new body, I will be raised with Jesus to eternal life.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A Beautiful Wedding: Reflections on Tolerance

This afternoon I officiated at the wedding of Anne and David. I have known Anne and her family for over 11 years. When her father passed away 8 years ago I sat with the family at the hospital for 14 hours and later officiated at his funeral. The entire family came to faith in Jesus Christ during the ministry of a former pastor of the church. Herb, Grace and their four children (including Anne) were all baptized on the same Sunday morning.

Anne and David chose to be married in front of the Byodo-In Temple in Valley of the Temples, Kaneohe. The temple is a beautiful exact replica of a historic and ancient Buddhist temple in Uji, Japan. It stands, surrounded by a carp-filled pond and lush trees and shrubs, against the backdrop of the sheer Pali cliffs.

I do not normally take pictures at the weddings I perform but today's was an exception. Both before and after the ceremony I snapped photos of the bride and groom, the temple and grounds.

For some reason I did not feel uncomfortable performing a Christian wedding on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. Buddha has long since past from the earth but Jesus remains, risen and alive in all his ascended glory. All things are his by right and even the things commonly called "pagan" can be transformed into something holy when they are offered to him and used for a good and pleasing purpose. (see I Corinthians 8:4-6)

Out of courtesy to those of the Buddhist faith we showed proper respect for their beliefs and traditions as well as the precincts of the temple and grounds. One does not need to either worship or believe in something in order to show respect. It was God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, risen and present by his Holy Spirit who was worshipped, praised and glorified today.

As followers of Jesus we must always respect the beliefs of others whether we are a majority or a minority of the population. Our faith is never to be imposed on others for God has given each of us the freedom to either love and serve him or to turn elsewhere for meaning and purpose in our lives. We are called to live in peace with all people and, if the Buddhists are kind enough to allow us to celebrate Christian marriage on their property. then we can and should be grateful to them for the tolerance and respect they have shown to us.

Certainly there are those who's beliefs and practices may be destructive of the God-given rights and freedoms of others. Such beliefs may serve to erode the social order that allows us to live in peace with one another. Such peace is to be highly valued and, ironically, is worth fighting for to preserve, even at the cost of limiting the freedoms of those who would weaken it.

This respect and toleration of others is a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith (which has not always been lived out very well when Christianity and "Christendom" have formed unholy historical alliances in the past.)

We are glad to share this same understanding of tolerance with our Jewish brothers and sisters as well as most Buddhists and Hindu. Islam, however, is more complex insofar as it affirms peace and tolerance when a minority but expects Islamic "law" to be enforced over everyone when becoming a majority of the population.

Some have said, "It doesn't matter what you believe. All faiths lead us in the same direction towards the same destination. Like different rivers flowing into the same ocean."

Nonsense! In most Muslim countries neither Buddhists nor Christians could have enjoyed today's events in the open, public way we did this afternoon.

The retired Buddhist Bishop who oversees the Byodo-In Temple and grounds spoke words of blessing on the wedding party as we processed passed where he was standing. I quietly offered a blessing for him in return. It was, after all, Jesus himself who said, "Those who are not against us are for us." Amen.

Friday, December 17, 2004


Today the church office staff gave me a $100 gift certificate good for any performance at the Neil Blaisdell Arena/Auditorium. They want Jeanine and I to enjoy a night out on their dime and with their blessing.

For me, gifts are just that: blessings.

Gifts are a way of saying, "You are important to me and I honor you with this gift and wish you well."

In the Bible Jacob could have blessed his brother Esau by giving him the bowl of soup as a gift. Instead he teasingly offered to sell it to him for his birthright. Esau "despised" that birthright by throwing it away for a mess of lentils.

That birthright was not a blessing for Jacob, either. It had not been gifted to him with any love, appreciation or respect. Neither brother was worthy of it but, through a legal technicality involving deceit, Jacob came out owning the prize and receiving a misdirected blessing from his father. For his trouble he had to flee his brother and family for his life. Some blessing!

The true blessing for Jacob came when, after 14 years, he returned home with two wives, children, servants and flocks of his own. Although he was convinced that his brother would seek revenge on him he was shocked when, instead of a blow to the head, Esau embraced him, forgave him and welcomed him back.

No amount of bribery, no amount of trickery, no amount of deception could have squeezed that forgiveness out of Esau. Nor could it have ever been earned, even with a lifetime of penance, repentance and restitution.

Esau's forgiveness could have only come as a gift of grace; unearned and undeserved. For Jacob, this was the first true blessing he had ever received. It humbled him and changed him completely. Ironically, it was not the blessing he had stolen from his father, Isaac, that unltimately bestowed honor upon him as a patriarch. Instead, it was the free gift of love extended by his brother that set him free to fulfill God's plan in his life.

Every Christmas gift that I give each year, whether to my family, friends or our church elders, deacons, Stephen Ministry team and staff, is intended as a blessing from me to them. With each gift I am saying, "You are important to me, I honor you with this gift and wish you well."

At Christmas we sometimes describe Jesus as God's gift of himself to us. Could it be that God is saying to us, "You are important to me and I honor you with this gift and wish you well?"

Like Jacob, burdened with a heavy load of guilt and sin; by any stretch of the imagination, "unworthy;" we, too, have received forgiveness and a welcome home from God.

No amount of bribery, no amount of trickery, no amount of deception could have squeezed that forgiveness out of God. Nor could it have ever been earned, even with a lifetime of penance, repentance and restitution.

It is a gift. A blessing. Just like Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Christmas Eve Music

Last night I finished editing my Christmas Eve music for this year. Each year I compose a vocal piece which then illustrates my sermon message. Some years I have reached back and reused an old one but this year's will be original.

At last Tuesday's Worship Team meeting our Music Director asked if my music was ready and did I want her to sing it this year (as she did last year). I said, "Yes, I wrote it with you in mind." Now the song is made up of a short musical comment from Joseph to baby Jesus and then another from Mary. At the end the two melodies are sung together. I had planned on singing the Joseph part but, "Praise the Lord," Jen's husband will be home for Christmas on leave from his deployment in Afghanistan. I asked her if he might be willing to sing the Joseph part. She immediately replied, "Yes, of course he will! I'll make sure that he does!" All this enthusiasm for music she hasn't even seen yet. I felt complimented (which is not a common thing with musicians!).

In any case the music is now finished and printed out more or less legibly on my MusicTime Deluxe computer program. Unlike some years, when I feel I have tried too hard to make my music too elaborate, this year's piece is short, simple and elegant...sort of like the Christmas story in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. I can't wait to hear Jen and Jaime sing it together. After all the miles and all the dangers of the past eight months of separation just having them stand up together in worship will be more sweet than the music itself.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

High Surf, Waimea and Eddie Aikau

Exceptionally large North Shore surf was expected at high tide this morning (6:30 am). Waves as high as 50 feet (25 feet Hawaii scale) were expected. At Waimea Bay the grandstand went up in anticipation of the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau Big Wave competition. This event is only held at Waimea when clean, steady surf of at least 20 feet (Hawaii scale) is expected. These conditions only appear about once every other year so it is a Big Deal here in Hawaii. All the greatest surfers in the world are already on island for the last three events of the world surfing tour (at the moment they are in the midst of the final event, the Pipeline Masters) and only the top 24 big wave surfers are invited to participate in the Eddie Aikau.

With my wife's help I woke up earlier than usual, threw together some snacks and a beverage in a backpack, grabbed my binoculars and drove to North Shore. I got half-way between Chun's Beach and Waimea before having to park on the side of the road. The traffic was virtually stopped dead in its tracks. Along with many others I walked the final mile and arrived at the the Waimea Bay overlook at 7:50 am. The morning competition was over by the time I arrived, the high surf had never gotten much above 25 feet and had dropped below that by the time I arrived. A second one-hour heat was scheduled for the afternoon.

The swells were still large enough to produce waves on the outer reef and thirty or more surfers and boogie boarders were swarming around hoping to catch a stray "big one." Funny to say, the largest wave I saw this morning was missed by every single surfer. One guy almost made it but when the wave broke past him several thousand spectators audibly groaned in unison.

Events like this are an "only in Hawaii" sort of a minor Woodstock Festival but with more spontaneity. Families with children, single women with dogs, North Shore counter-culture types with the fragrance of pakalolo, guys on bicycles, and even a few carrying surfboards all heading in the same direction with slippahs on their feet. People stuck in the traffic are patient and polite and, in spite of the lack of parking (by the time I left people were walking 2 miles to get to Waimea) private driveways, fire plugs and bus stops were respected. The spirit of Aloha is tangible at these events. The man next to me was trying to take pictures but a long shoot from a kiawe bush kept getting in his way. Another man, below us, saw this and bent the branch over and put his bag on it to hold it down.

After about 20 minutes or so I walked back to my car and headed back to the church to start the day. I had seen some interesting people, been part of a cultural event unique to Hawaii, saw one terrific wipe-out and got in two miles of walking exercise as a bonus.

For those of you who may not know who Eddie Aikau was, here is a brief bio: Eddie was a native Hawaiian Big Wave surfer and North Shore lifeguard (a Big Deal in Hawaii). He was also heavily involved in the renaissance of Hawaiian culture in the early 1970s. In 1978, while serving as crew on the Hokule'a (Hawaiian voyaging canoe), the ship capsized in inter-island waters. As the ship and crew floundered helplessly Eddie offered to paddle his board an estimated 12 miles to Lanai for help. After much discussion he was allowed to go. He was never seen again. Today a common bumper sticker reads simply, "Eddie would go!" His legacy continues to provide a good role model of a good man sacrificing himself for others. There is a monument to him at Waimea Bay and when the Big Wave contest is held there it bears his name as a tribute.
Click on picture for larger image
Update: Bruce Irons of Kauai won the 2004 Eddie Aikau Big Wave competition with 370 points out of a possible 400 (the four highest scoring rides are added up, each with a possible 100). Among his scores was a 99 and a perfect 100 (a 40 footer which he rode all the way to the beach and finished with a barrel ride in the dangerous shore break).

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Newsweek's "The Birth of Jesus": A Muddled Collage

In the December 13th issue, Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham has written a cover story in which he ponders the origin and reliability of the Gospel narratives of Jesus' birth.

Others, such as Dr. Mark D. Roberts and Dr. Albert Mohler have already done a wonderful job of responding to the various assertions, opinions and insinuations presented in the article. I will not try to compete with their knowledge and scholarship. A large number of blogger responses to this article have been compiled by Hugh Hewitt (under the heading, "Vox Blogoli Vi") and are also worth reading.

All I wish to add to this conversation is to observe that Mr. Meacham has made the undergraduate level mistake of collecting various competing and contradictory opinions of unequal value and laying them alongside one another. Mr. Meacham then arrives at the only conclusion that can be reached from this methodology: That, because there is no consensus of opinion, and because one way of looking at the subject is as good as another, therefore the truth of the matter cannot be known with any confidence one way or the other. Further, Mr. Meacham speculates that the existence of many different opinions is evidence that the traditional understanding of the Birth of Jesus is most likely fabricated either in part or in its entirety.

The logic in all of this escapes me entirely. But I am not surprised. The purpose of the article is clearly not to inform but to exploit the season of Christmas to sell copies of Newsweek.

The image of a collage comes to mind. If a person wanted to present an image of what life in the United States is like they could collect many different magazines, cut out eye-catching pictures (from ads and articles) showing Americans at work or play, and pasting them all together on poster board.

The result would be a hodge-podge of images that may or may not have anything to tell us about what life in the United States is like. Further, the impact of the collage would be largely predetermined whatever bias the person brought to the project in the first place. The collage itself would give us no way to judge which pictures are actually representative of American life and which are commercial stereotypes. Nor would we know whether pictures of any one subjectg (such as violence, for example) are over-represented or under-represented.

The Newsweek article struck me as sort of like a collage made up of snippets of fact and fancy, fringe theology and orthodoxy, fact and conjecture all thrown together leaving an impression of uncertainty, controversy and confusion.

When the literary and historical evidence of Jesus' birth is laid bare, however, we find that there is a massive critical consensus as to what the Bible says, who said it, when it was said, and how it was received, believed and validated by contemporaries who could tell a fabrication from a fact and who could have easily discredited a fabrication had there been one.

Dr. Robert's list of 15 common elements in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke (two independent sources) are not only convincing evidence for the historical reality of the "virgin birth" and other details surrounding Jesus' incarnation but also reveal an early consensus as to what these details, when added together, meant to the first century Christian Church.

In 2 Peter 3:16 we read how the earliest Christian writings were sometimes "hard to understand." It was easy then and it is easy today for "ignorant and unstable people" to "distort" the meaning of these scriptures.

The sad part of all this is the pretentiousness of magazines like Newsweek when they pretend to be presenting a reasoned and balanced view when they are not. In this case, the vast majority of Christians who read this article will just shake their heads and set it aside. Many, however, who do not know any better, will be deceived by the deception. It would appear that this is just one more example of the mainstream media being more interested in creating a "story" than they are in presenting the "facts."

The best antidote to all this is, of course, to take the time to read the New Testament in a good study Bible, check out all the Old Testament citations and ask yourself if it sounds like a fabrication or not. When read on its own terms, the Bible (including the narratives of Jesus' birth) holds up quite well, thank you very much!

Monday, December 13, 2004

More Joy

After yesterday's worship service with its focus on "Joy" I find that I can't seem to get it out of my mind. In Bible Study this morning there were even references to it in the book of Job. In Job 8:21 "Bildad the Shuhite" (sometimes referred to as the shortest man in the Bible...get it? "Shoe-height?") tells Job that if he acts righteously he will be rewarded by more blessing that he had ever had before. In this he would find "joy." In Job 9:25 Job replies that since his sufferings began joy has eluded him completely. It is not joy or prosperity that he desires but justice...some explaination of why this suffering has come upon him. Later, in 10:20 Job wishes that God, who he believes is the source of his suffering, would just leave him alone he might experience some measure of joy again before he dies.

We pondered this exchange for a while until it dawned on us that Job was not a Christian, but an Old Testament Jew living under the covenant law of Moses. The Law promised blessings in return for obedience and the witholding of blessings for violation of the covenant commands. In otherwords, as Irna pointed out, a quid pro quo. "You get what you deserve" is the way that Job understood his relationship with God.

According to the New Testament gospel of Jesus, however, the whole point of the Law was to teach us that we could never ever be obedient or good enough to "earn" God's blessings. According to Genesis 12:17 the "fruit" of disobedience is death. Since "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) we all deserve to die, no matter how good we might try to be or think we are.

Jesus and the Christian faith answers Job in this way: Obeying the Law does not "earn" us the right to life, health or prosperity. Often, according to Jesus, being obedient to God will bring just the opposite...unjust persecution and suffering. Suffering comes with being human. It is the inevitible consequence of sin permeating the world. "Job," Jesus would say, "although bad behavior often has bad consequences, in your case you are not suffering because of anything you have done. The very fact that you are still alive should be evidence of God's mercy at work. Trust in God. He sends his rain on the just and the unjust equally (Matthew 5:45) and, remember those men who died when the scaffolding fell the other day while they were repairing the Jerusalem wall? (Luke 13:4) Were they greater sinners than any of the rest of you that they deserved to die? Was this man born blind because he had sinned? Or because his parents had sinned? (John 9:1-3) Of course not! God is a God who creates, not destroys; who heals, not inflicts disease; who makes the lame to walk, the blind to see and the dead to rise! A weak man can tear down a house. It takes a strong and patient man to rebuild it again from the rubble."

Only God can save us from sin and death. "By grace you have been saved through faith, and not by works, lest any one should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Job, of course, never got the clear answer from God that he demanded. Why did he deserve to suffer so badly? In Jesus we understand that we all deserve to suffer for our sin. But thank God we have been saved from our sin. And our Savior is Jesus. That is why we can have "Joy" in all circumstances...even in suffering.

Thinking about this again today has brightened me considerably. Not all the issues I have to deal with each day are happy ones. But my sense of joy remains full and undiminished. Because of Jesus. For me that is very good news. What about you?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Morning Worship

Today was the third Sunday in Advent and the theme was "Joy." The third Advent candle was lit. This candle is pink while the others are purple. There is a reason for this candle being pink but I can never remember what it is! Ah, tradition...!

CE Director Miss Kathryn let "Uncle Geoff" give the Children's Sermon today. He used the candy cane to tell the story of Christmas and Easter to the children. He did not make the common internet error of saying that this symbolism was completely intentional for which I was most pleased. He did show how the cane can represent the letter "J" for Jesus, can be a shepherd's crook or, in a pinch, be used to pull Pastor Jim from the pulpit when he tells a bad joke!

Our Children's Choir sang next, full of enthusiasm, singing like I have always wished our non-choir adults would sing (but don't...sigh). Isabella's artificial flower lei (worn by all choir members) was a bit too big for her and twice slipped off her shoulders, over her arms and all the way to the floor. Each time she put it back on by trying to pull it straight up her entire body. It caught on her dress and lifted it up. Of course she was totally oblivious to this and, with the innocence of childhood, never missed a note of the song. I was sitting behind the choir and started to laugh so hard I had to put my hand over my mouth to hold it in. I kept on thinking that the service theme was "Joy" and decided that a few uncontrolled smiles in worship was not necessarily a bad thing.

Next came the baptisms of three-month old Carrie and David. David's father had just arrived for a short R&R from deployment in Afghanistan and had just met his son for the first time last week. Carrie's father was preparing for his own 6-month deployment to Kuwait soon after Christmas. In any case, Cassie was very unhappy to be up in front but, miracle of miracles, when I took her from her Mom she stopped the "boo-hooing" immediately and started to stare at everybody in the church. More "Joy" and smiles from everyone. Usually the babies begin to cry when I take them from their parents for baptism! The baptisms went fine otherwise except that David got caught in my robe sleeve when I tried to hand him back to his mom. For a moment his head (and most of the rest of him) completley disappeared into the tangle. More smiles from everyone and, of course, more "Joy" than could have been generated by anything other than spontaneity.

Next, Charles, a retired minister, told how little he had earned when he served congregations in Missouri, Utah and Alaska. He was greatful for the extra $300 dollars he was now receiving each month as a pension supplement because of our denomination's Christmas Joy Offering and urged us all to give generously this year. As he sat down he added, "Speaking of joy, did you hear about the lady who only had two teeth? She gave thanks to God every day because they "hit!"

I was tempted to use "Uncle Geoff's" big white candy cane to haul Charles right out of the sanctuary! But the theme of "Joy" seemed to be contageous.

My sermon was brief, explaining that "Joy" is central to our faith but not unique to it. What is unique about Joy for a Christian is that we are the only major religion whose adherents are commanded to find Joy even in suffering (James 1:2). Our sense of Joy is grounded in God's victory over sin, suffering and death. Our own suffering and difficulties in life give us the opportunity to put our trust and reliance in Jesus to the test. The suffering itself isn't good, of course, but insofar as it reminds us that Jesus has already "been there, done that" for us, we can rejoice because we are "convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

Later, as I helped lead the adult women's class, each person shared how they have experienced joy in their lives. The birth of children and the raising of children was the most common response. But stories of joy in the midst of miscarriages and other dark moments were also shared. As one of our new Elders put it, "The darker it is the brighter the light (of God's loving presence) seems to shine."

I couldn't have said it any better. So I'll leave it at that.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Whatever Happened To Afghanistan?

Charles Krauthammer had an article in today's Washington Post reminding us of the near miraculous change in the political landscape of Afghanistan during the past three years. The American media has seemingly lost interest in this corner of the world. Why?

Perhaps journalists are attracted to where the highest American casualties are taking place...Iraq. Perhaps the hotels in Baghdad are nicer than in Kabul.

Perhaps photographs of a peaceful and pacified Afghanistan, the voluntary surrender of disspirited Taliban mujahadin, the ongoing creation of a federal system of government with legislation controlling the regulation of trade, finance, education, elections, economics, etc. simply do not provide a photo-op dramatic enough to be featured in the daily paper or the evening network news broadcast.

After all, the creation of electrical grids, power plants, sewage treatment systems and communications networks are, from a news standpoint, boring, boring, boring.

So it was that I was not surprised when the inauguration of newly-elected President Karzai this week was buried in a small three paragraph side-bar on page three of the Honolulu Advertiser.

As I have watched these events unfold I have gotten the feeling that Afghanistan was not "conquered" by the United States, at least not in the usual sense of the world. It would, instead, appear that the expulsion of the Taliban has released Afghanistan from its historic isolation from the world and provided the local chieftains and warlords an alternative to the internal, warring, provincial feudalism of the past. For the first time, the people have been able to taste and smell and touch and see the first fruits of freedom: Hope for peace and a more prosperous tomorrow.

Ironically, the historic isolation and "emptiness" of Afghanistan which, in the past, provided a haven for those intent on imposing terror and tyranny, has now become the cause of their swift destruction. With modern methods of surveillance and intelligence gathering there is literally no place to hide. The lack of urban population centers, such as are found in Iraq, allow for little or no opportunity for foreign fighters or remnants of the Taliban to blend in with the local population.

Even so, there are many of the former Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders and fighters lying in wait across the borders in Iran and Pakistan, waiting for a chance to reclaim the power that was once theirs. Political realities prohibit American or other coalition troops from crossing those borders for reasons of search or pursuit. Given this reality I do not expect to see Osama bin Laden or his ilk captured and brought to justice any time soon. More likely, in the next few years there will be a betrayal leading to an assassination or a pinpoint missile attack. The cat often must stand still for a long time before snatching its prey. In this case, America's intensely focused patience will sooner or later bring Osama to his inevitable destruction.

This week one of our church elders who has spent the past eight months in Afghanistan has come home for a two-week R & R. On Tuesday he arrived and met his three-month old son for the first time. I hope to have coffee with him and with several others who will be returning for brief visits over the next few weeks. From them I will get a view from the ground as to what the reality of the new Afghanistan is like.

The only Afghani I have ever met (a cab driver in Walnut Creek, California) was glad that the United States had kicked out the Taliban. His mother, sisters and brothers in Kabul were glad, too, he said. When things settled down he hoped to return for a visit and, if possible, bring the rest of his family back to the United States to join him, his wife and two children. When pressed he wasn't sure that they would actually want to leave if things improved.

If this man is any indication of what other Afghanis are thinking and feeling these days I should expect the situation there to continue to improve, step by step, until, by God's grace, a new and peaceful way of life can become the norm throughout the country.

Good news from a distant, dry and dreary land does not sell newspapers or generate advertising sponsorship for the evening news. But it is still "good" regardless of whether we hear about it or not.

I am glad that I know some of the men and women who have made this "good" thing possible. And I am glad that writers like Charles Krauthammer continue to make the effort to remind us of it every so often.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Martha Again

It seems that we can't get rid of Martha Stewart.

Apparently the producers of the "Survivor" TV show have met with representatives of Martha Stewart in hopes of turning her problems into a profit. Since Martha knows how to profit from almost anything this story would appear to have K-Mart sponsorship written all over it.

On the other hand, do we really want to watch a "real life" TV series to see which incarcerated criminal in San Quentin can go the longest without being raped, stabbed or caught with drugs? Would the winner get a free weekend pass for good behavior?

Or would the TV series involve ten people dropped deep into the Amazon Basin vying to see who can create the best "piranha party," tastiest "turtle souffle" or the cutest wedding invitations made from dried banana peels, colored with squashed aphids and trimmed out with lace carefully removed from someone's brassiere?"

If Martha is as smart as she seems she should drop this idea like a hot rock (which can, by the way, be useful for steaming shellfish right on the beach). Instead, she should release a new line of horizontally-striped black and white curtains, towels and bed linens. This touch of humor and irony would not only continue to endear her to frazzled women everywhere but would demonstrate that even everyday clothing can be recycled into practical, yet tasteful, interior decoration.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Buying the Tree

I picked up my youngest daughter, Eva, from the High School and drove straight over to WalMart to buy our Christmas tree, just like we do each year.

Christmas trees are a big deal in Hawaii and the Season does not officially start until a Matson container ship arrives with the first shipment of trees from the mainland. This is usually the week after Thanksgiving.

For some reason many folks in Hawaii like to buy their tree from the first shipment. These trees, mostly from the Pacific Northwest, were probably cut in early to mid-November, shipped to Seattle, Portland or Oakland by train or by truck, loaded into containers and then loaded onto the ship and then spend 5 days sailing half-way across one of the seven seas to Hawaii. It is amazing that the needles are still on the trees when they arrive. But there they are, green and smelling like Christmas in the Cascades.

After sitting in a house for four weeks, these trees, having already dried out in shipping, begin dropping their needles like the raindrops in a tropical shower.

By the time they are hauled off to the dump or picked up by the Boy Scouts for recycling (they are used for fuel in a county-owned refuse fueled electric power plant) many have already turned into skeletons, like a New England maple in mid-winter.

Eva and I had to drive all the way to Waipahu for a tree this year since the WalMart lot was already closed and the Lutheran Church across the street wasn't selling them either this year.

In any case, we have the tree set up in the living room. Tomorrow I will string up the lights but we will not decorate it until Emily arrives on Thursday, home on Christmas break from her college in Seattle.

The outside lights went up last Saturday and our basket is starting to fill up with Christmas cards. For us the Season did not begin with the arrival of the trees. It will begin when Emily is home and we are all together as a family again... at least for a few weeks.

Monday, December 06, 2004

The Family Christmas Letter

Daisy Allsmall Tweedie, our family dog, sat down and wrote this year's family Christmas letter. She has done this for the past four or five years. Before that our youngest child wrote the letter each year going back to our eldest daughter's birth year of 1982.

Both the dog and the daughters have had a ghost writer, of course, who, like the Wizard of Oz, is happy to shout, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

In recent years the family letter has been written around this first week of December. For some unknown reason, however, the letter has not been mailed out until Christmas week or after. Time will tell if this year will be any different than any other.

Daisy the Beagle has done her part. I guess the rest is up to "the man behind the curtain!"

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Hawaii Football Wow!

Last night my oldest daughter took me to the University of Hawaii 6-5) vs. Michigan State (5-6) football game. The tickets were a promised gift from my birthday back in May. I was allowed to choose the game and I chose what I thought would be the best matchup of the year in Aloha Stadium this year. I made a good choice. After blow-out losses to Boise State and Fresno, UH had to win its final three games to become eligible for the Christmas Day Hawaii Bowl. Last week they upset Big 10 Northwestern and now, the final game of the regular season was their last hope for a post-season game.

Although broadcast live on ESPN (not blacked out in Hawaii) the stadium was about as filled as it ever gets...even for the Pro Bowl each February. Lots of MSU fans were strolling about. You could easily spot them. They were the ones wearing tank tops, shorts and slippers...glad to be in a warm place and determined to enjoy it to the full. With heavy rain showers, strong wind and lower than usual temperatures the local Hawaii folks were clad in ponchos, jackets, long pants and shoes.

The predominant color for both schools is green so there was a pleasant uniformity to the stadium crowd. As we munched nachos and andagi my daughter commented on how unique college football is in Hawaii. What other football stadiums sell teryaki beef cooked over kiawe coals, ginger-marinated chicken, and, in the stands during the game, tako poke! (Not to mention the national side dishes of Hawaii, "two scoop rice & mac salad!")

As it turned out, UH made mac salad out of MSU for their second win over a Big 10 team in two weeks. The final score was UH 41 MSU 38. Michigan State led by 28-0 in the second quarter but Hawaii methodically came back to take a lead of 41-31 in the last part of the final quarter. MSU scored a desperation TD with 1:30 left but, after UH recovered the ensuing on-side kick and with MSU left with only one time-out the game was essentially over.

As we left the stadium to return home on the bus I turned to my daughter and said, "I sure like a good story. Especially one like this that has a happy ending!"

Having a daughter old enough (22) and wise enough to buy football tickets for her father and accompany him to the game was the best part of the whole deal. The game and the upset victory were simply icing on the cake! Go Bows! (oops! I mean...) Go Warriors!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Burial at Sea Off Waikiki

Jeff Hall, who I wrote about several days ago, was buried today off of Waikiki Beach. The "beachboys" (yes, there really are beachboys) paddled his ashes out to the reef in their catamaran at 6:30 am just as the sun was rising over Diamond Head. The surf was unexpectedly high today, unusual for this time of year when the North Shore gets the big waves and the South Shore is almost flat. Jeff's local brother set the whole thing up with Jeff's Waikiki friends. Another brother and a niece came all the way from California to be here today.

Everyone was friendly but I was clearly the only tall, white, non-pidgin speaking haole in attendence. Even so, being a minister (or kahu), as well as being a friend and former employer of Jeff, generated toleration, if not respect, for my being there. After we had pulled the catamaran up on the beach we all gathered around Jeff's brother. He introduced me, I said a few words about Jeff and offered a short prayer. Then a letter, written for the occasion by Jeff's mother was read.

Afterwards we talked story and shared pupus on the beach. One woman who had known Jeff worked at a photography place on the beach. She did not have a lot of money and had recently had a baby girl. Jeff had often stopped by the shop and given her a package of diapers. "He was always doing nice things like that," she said.One by one folks left to go to work or to do whatever else they had to do.

I was unable to get my valet parking ticket validated at the Sheraton Moana so, instead I had a cup of "for guests only" coffee and went to pick my car.

The valet guys didn't look too happy when I gave them an unvalidated ticket so I explained that I was there for a beach funeral and couldn't find anyone to validate it. They sort of shook their heads, said "Merry Christmas" and only charged me $5. I gave them $10 instead and said, "Thanks, and Merry Christmas to you, too."

The unseasonal waves seemed to strike everyone as a sign that nature was smiling on Jeff today. I suppose it is a good thing to go out when the surf is up!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

A Solution to the UN's Problems

While the United Nations continues to "rope-a-dope" the largest financial scandal in world history I have not only been doing some creative thinking but have hit upon a brilliant solution.

I propose that the United Nations headquarters be moved from New York City to Yamoussoukro. "Huh?" you may ask. "What the heck is a Yamoussoukro?"
Although it sounds like the name of an Iraqi automobile (as in "I just love driving through Fallujah in my Yamoussoukro") it is, in fact, the capital city of that tropical paradise known as Cote d'Ivoire or, for those water-drinking, bath-taking Americans, the Ivory Coast.

The genius of my idea goes like this:

1. The Ivory Coast used to be a colony of France and, in independence, continues to enjoy the many positive political, religious and cultural values it inherited from the mother country which gave it birth.
2. They speak the French language there which means it is a very cultured place. (French is, of course, one of the official languages of the United Nations. This, by itself, should be enough to commend this lush and verdant land as a logical place for the representative leaders of the nations of the world to gather for their deliberations on how to spread peace and happiness to all people everywhere.
3. It has offshore oil reserves (useful for trading for food, etc.)
4. It is far, far away from everywhere.

This last point is the most important since it appears to me that the biggest problem facing the United Nations is having its headquarters in New York City. New York simply has too many tempting restaurants, showplaces and activities to distract and dazzle the otherwise sober and serious work of international diplomacy for which the UN is renowned.

Even more of a concern is that New York is such a good place to enjoy diplomatic privileges (such as legal "immunity") that the best representatives of world nations get shoved aside by aggressive, self-centered prigs who consider that being a national delegate to the United Nations in New York City would be a real "plum" job. Even more tempting, such a job provides a wonderful, all-expenses paid opportunity for most of them to leave their corrupt, violent, scandal-ridden, backward and bankrupt countries behind and bask, instead, in a life of opulent luxury covered by extravagant expense accounts.

In New York City even the delegates from the poorest countries get the chance to pretend that they are equal to the "big boys." In General Assembly their vote counts as much as everyone else's and, when their turn comes to rotate through the Security Council they can hold the rich countries hostage and blackmail them (diplomatically, of course) for their kind words, support and votes.

The New York media loves to publish every squeak and squeal uttered by these diplomats, especially if they contain some condemnation of either Israel or the United States. This also makes the delegates from the smaller countries feel important and, of course, further distracts them from the always urgent demands of negotiating peace with everyone engaged in domestic or international conflict.

If the UN Headquarters were moved to Yamoussoukro, however, none of the self-centered prigs would want to go, leaving the delegate positions vacant to be filled with career diplomats who might possibly have ideas for peace that might actually work.

Every squeak and squeal would be quoted in the local Yamoussoukro news media and would be read by hardly anyone anywhere because the news would be printed or aired in French.

And, best of all, foreign diplomats will be spared the hypocrisy of enjoying the benefits of living in America while, at the same time, constantly condemning it as a vile, hate-mongering, imperialist and morally-challenged Great Satan.

From Yamoussoukro they can be free to express their contempt for the United States without having to deal with the burden of guilt that they must have felt when they were enjoying living here so much.

Finally, the warm feelings of the Cote d'Ivoirians toward France would help France overcome its feelings of low self-esteem in the world. Video of French tanks, armored troop carriers and snipers slaughtering unarmed groups of local citizens will also persuade even the most skeptical nations of France's unequaled ability to negotiate, implement, maintain and preserve peace throughout the world.

My guess is that if the UN Headquarters were moved to Yamoussoukro no one would even bother to show up for meetings, the UN would shrivel up and die, and the aggressive, self-centered prigs of the world of nations would dream up a new organization to assure world peace. After much deliberation they would, I suspect, reluctantly agree to have it headquartered in New York City.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Rats In the Belfry?

Today Colleen, one of our church preschool teachers, asked me if I had put out any rat poison lately. When I said, "Yes," she told me a story of remarkable personal courage.

Yesterday afternoon, while looking out on the decking of the lanai behind her classroom, she saw a large rat, a foot long from nose to tail, sitting and drinking from some standing rainwater. Sensing that there was something not quite right with the rat she grabbed a large glass jar, walked quietly up behind the rat and scooped it into the jar...all but the tail that still stuck out, wriggling against her arm. Once in the jar the rat became more active, thrashing about and giving her chicken skin all over (that's "goose bumps" for you mainland types). After shoving in the tail and securing the lid she rushed across the school to the church office where she gave it over to Roger for disposal.

She says she had trouble sleeping last night because any thought of that rat gave her the creeps. She also added that, since yesterday, she has been washing her hands far more often than usual.

I'm not sure, but I sincerely doubt that "rat catcher" is in Colleen's job description. In any case I am proud of her. She told me she did it only because of the children. She did not want that rat to get away. It appears that "courage" does indeed "rise with danger." In her own small way she acted selflessly and heroically. If it had been "Fear Factor" she would have won the day.