Thursday, March 31, 2005

Stealing Classified Goverment Documents No Big Deal

Former Clinton National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, will plead guilty to illegally taking classified documents from the Library of Congress back in the summer of 2004.

Not only did Mr. Berger take documents but he has failed to account for several of them that have never been returned. According to Fox News, among the missing documents is a sensitive "after-action report on the Clinton administration's handling of Al Qaeda terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration."

If I had done something like this I should have expected to be at least charged with a felony leading to some serious jail time. After all, such behavior ought to be deterred. Right? Wrong.

Apparently (Fox News again),

"The charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine."
A misdemeanor? A maximum sentence of one year in prison? You've got to be kidding?

I could get a year in jail by spray painting the word "love" on a federal building!

Burning a draft card used to carry a penalty of up to five years in prison. After all, a draft card was federal property (sort of). But so were the documents that Berger did not return. Isn't that the same as burning them? Perhpas he sold them for financial gain? Does anyone know?

In any case, shameful as it is, the outcome of this whole mess is not surprising.

Way back on July 23, 2004, La Shawn Barber predicted this outcome,

Berger is not going to jail because the old boy network has too much to lose if he does. Republicans and Democrats do this stuff, probably more than we all realize. Berger took the files to withhold information that makes Clinton look bad and used information that makes Kerry look good (to the unfortunate souls voting for him). That’s my assessment.

If Berger goes down for this, he’s taking a lot of people with him. That is why he’s not going to jail.

I think she got it spot on.

Terri Schivo: Rest In Peace

Terrisfight has posted this simple statement today:

Terri's struggle for life has ended this morning.
December 3, 1963 - March 31, 2005

"Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet Terri, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"
(Hamlet Act V Scene II Line 304)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Seething Sino- Suit-Seeker Slays Sinister Cyber-Saber Seller

According to Reuters, Qiu Chengwei, a Shanghai online game player, took the law into his hands when he stabbed Zhu Caoyuan to death earlier this week.

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Two characters battle it out in Mir 3

It seems that Qiu had won a powerful "dragon saber" while playing "Mir 3" and, being, by nature, a nice guy (apparently), he "loaned" the saber to Zhu. Zhu then turned around and sold the saber (which only exists in the world of the online game) to another player for the equivalent of $870 US.

Qiu sued to either get the saber back or to collect the money from Zhu but became impatient when the wheels of justice moved too slow.

Legal experts in China are still debating whether an item existing only in cyber-space can actually be considered legal property subject to existing law or whether such property is only illusory and of no real value under the law.

Personally, although I believe that a fanciful imagination is a good gift from God, I also believe that, when we allow our fantasy to trump the real world of God's creation and replace God with gods created by a computer programmer, we have committed a significant sin....the sin of idolatry.

Jesus said, "What does it profit us if we gain the world but lose our soul?"

Qiu and Zhu lost both a life and a soul without even caring about the world at least the real one. It was literally a fight over "nothing."

"Abducted" Girl Found In Florida

Jacksonville, Florida, TV News4JAX reports today that Nicole Horton, who had been reported missing and likely abducted by two men in Port Orange on Easter Sunday, has been found.

According to the news report, "The Florida Department of Law Enforcement provided no information, other than the girl was found and the case has been resolved."

No matter what actually happened Nicole has been found. This must be considered to be good news.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

More Journalistic Disengenuity in Schivo Case

More media spin of the same ilk as the bogus LA Times story on Tom DeLay's father:

A recent Columbia Journalism Review article compared a Texas law that allowed the discontinuance of life support (against family wishes) for Sun Hudson and Spiro Nikolouzos (a statute signed into law by then-Governor Bush) with the now President Bush’s outspoken support of Terri Schiavo and his statement that, “When in doubt…err on the side of life.” The article appears to posit a contradiction if not a hypocracy in this comparison. Frankly, I don’t see it.

Hudson and Nikolouzos (also spelled Nikolous in the article) were both on life support ventilators which were doing all of their breathing for them. Their bodies, due to injury and birth defects, were unable to breathe on their own and their was a clear medical consensus that neither would ever be able to do so. When the decision to discontinue this life support was made, their respective families were given 10 days to locate another facility that would concur with their wishes and continue them on life support (a fact omitted in the CJR article, by the way). No facility could be found that would provide this care for them in their condition. So, even against the families’ wishes, their life support was removed. Both died very quickly.

Although there are many ethical and moral issues involved in these cases they are light years removed from Terri Schiavo’s situation.

Terri is not on any form of life support (a feeding tube is not ordinarily considered to be life support…only at the end stages of a terminal illness is it considered to be life support and hence, appropriate to be discontinued).

Terri's body is physically functioning normally (she even has her monthly “period” which requires pain medication…although it has been said that she is not able to experience pain? Hmmmm….).

There is no medical consensus on her mental status (ie. whether she is in a permanent vegetative condition, a persistent vegetative condition or something even less than that. Note that the fact that her mental status has been legally determined by a court ruling does not necessarily prove the existence of a definitive medical diagnosis).

Lastly, there are dozens if not hundreds of medical facilities which would be willing to continue to provide care for Terri. Not only that, but her parents and family have offered to provide care for her in their own home…something routinely done in thousands of homes across our country every day.

With the two people in Texas, when their ventilators were disconnected they died, because they were not able to live without it.

With Terri, her life relies only on the same food and water that you and I require to sustain our own lives. If food and water were to be withheld from you and me, we would die. The same is true for Terri. She is not terminally ill. She is not dying. The only way to get her to die is to kill her in some way or other. The method of choice requested by her husband and approved by Judge Greer is starvation. Without intervention, Terri would live. With the Texas pair, without intervention they died.

To compare these cases as being comparable is to stretch logic well past the breaking point. Certainly there is grief and death and controversy in each of these situations. But that does not make them morally, ethically, medically or legally comparable.

I conclude by quoting the Columbia Journalism Review where it admits, "The cases are different…”

For anyone to suggest or imply that they are not different is both misleading and dishonest.

Terri Schiavo Gains Some New Friends

Terri, at this late and grave hour, has discovered that she has more friends than she thought she had; and from some unexpected places.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived in Florida and has been lobbying Florida State legislators who voted against the law that would have prevented the removal of her feeding tube to change their votes.

Writer Nat Hentoff, writing for the Village Voice, expressed his repugnance for the legal maneuvering that has allowed an American court to sanction starving someone to death, calling it "judicial murder."

Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters wonders if commentators on the left such as Paul Krugman of the New York Times will be including Jesse and Nat in their characterizations of Terri's supporters being "Right-Wing Bible Thumpers!"

This episode in the Schiavo drama reminds me of the epic poem, "The Song of Roland." Roland, realizing that he and his men are about to be defeated by the Muslim forces (who are invading France at the time), blows on his horn for help. Charlemagne hears the alarm but arrives too late. All are dead.

I am glad, of course, for this public support from such high-profile, liberal Democrats. In this particular case, however, "better late than never" will bring small consolation to Terri's family. Just ask Roland.

UN=Kofi Annan?

Paul Volcker's second investigative report on the United Nations Oil for Food scandal has been released. Kofi Annan was let off the hook insofar as he was not found directly culpable for any of the criminal behavior covered in this part of the scandal. He was, however, found lacking in securing a proper internal investigation of the matter when the issue was first brought to the public's attention.

The investigation ordered by Annan was completed in one day and, of course, found nothing to worry about.

Could it be that Mr. Annan knew that his son, Kojo, was in deep trouble for his role as an "advisor" to the chief contracting company dealing with Iraq on this matter? Was this a lame attempt at a coverup?

The new report apparently doesn't say (I haven't yet read it, or even seen a full summary of its findings).

Today, when asked if he was considering resigning from his position as Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan reportedly replied, "Hell no!"

Apparently Mr. Annan feels that the United Nations cannot function without him. Either that or else he feels that he IS the United Nations.

As a Christian pastor of a congregation, I could not imagine staying in my position under such a cloud of suspicion and inept oversight of my ministry. I would offer to step down until the matter was resolved one way or the other. My church, Christ's Church, the reputation of the Gospel, are far too important for me to in any way place myself or my own self-interests ahead of them.

I serve the church. The church does not serve me. I do not have any "rights" to my position at all. I serve on behalf of others and for their own best interests. As John the Baptist once said of Jesus, "I must decrease so he may increase."

If my holding on to the position of pastor caused division and discredit to my church my heart would be broken. I don't really care whether I am successful or not personally. I only care that the Good News of the Gospel is effectively proclaimed and encouraged within the congregation that I serve and that this same Gospel is equally well presented to the local community in as unstained a manner as possible. And I would feel exactly the same about this whether any charges brought against me were true or not.

Kofi Anna is sending exactly the wrong signal to the world of nations. He is putting himself above criticism and above the higher priority of preserving the integrity of the organization he serves. He is acting like an elected leader who refuses to step down from power when the time for them to resign is far overdue. Unfortunately, the United Nations does not have any "citizens" to demonstrate or riot in the streets to demand his removal from office. The only "citizens" of the UN are the cozy swarm of ambassadors and their staffs whose own self interests preclude them from holding one of their own's feet to the fire.

I'm sure that Mr. Annan is proving to be an inspiring example of leadership for such people as Egypt's Mubarak and Syria's Bashar Assad. There is an irony in this occurring just as democracy and government of the people, by the people and for the people is breaking out everywhere else in the world.

Perhaps someone could give him a copy of Rick Warren's book, "The Purpose Driven Life." The first sentence on the first page might give him something to think about: "It's not about you."

Monday, March 28, 2005

Finally...Something To Smile About

Daughter #3 came home from theater practice (she's Stage Manager in a production of "Annie") this evening and mentioned that some of the theater crew wnet to A & W for lunch and were told that they were out of root beer! Isn't that like Kentucky Fried Chicken running out of chicken? They might as well close up the store and go home for the day. Why else would anyone want to eat at A & W?

Terri Schiavo: Another Cheer & Jeer

Cheers: Micahel Schiavo has announced that he will permit an autopsy for Terri after all.

Jeers: For Randall Terry and other protest leaders who have pushed the pro-Terri demonstrations beyond what the Schiavo family wants. Terri's brother, overheard arguing with one demonstrator, reportedly said, "You're not speaking for our family." Captain's Quarters has a good commentary on this here.

Another Child Abduction In Florida

'>A twelve-year-old girl was apparently abducted by two men on Easter Day in Port Orange, Florida. The State has issued an Amber Alert for Nicole Horton. Please keep her and her family in your prayers. Pray also that her abductors will have a change of heart and release her.

P.S. Are we experiencing an increase in these incidents or are they just being reported nationally more than they usually are? Anybody out there know?

Easter: The Day After

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe day after the first Easter in Jerusalem must have been a strange time for Jesus' disciples. Jesus is alive. But what does it mean. Is he back for good? Are they going to go back to the same life and ministry they had before? I'm sure that they are more than a little afraid of Jesus, too. Afraid to touch him. Afraid to get too close to him. Unsure who, exactly, he is. At least these are the feelings I imagine I would have. It took forty days with the risen Jesus, ten more days of prayer and fasting and the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit before they were willing and able to put their experience into words full of meaning.

Today is also the day after Easter. I am neither afraid, confused or uncertain of very much about Jesus (although aware of the limitations of what I do know). But I do know one thing that Jesus' disciples did not know the day after his resurrection. I know that tomorrow I will not be going back to doing things the same way as in the past. Every Easter marks a New Birth of New Hope founded on the good news of God saving love revealed to the world on that first Easter.

Today I am still addressing the same issues of ministry that I faced two days ago. But I have been renewed and refreshed by Easter. My hope and confidence in the work of the Church have been confirmed and reaffirmed. My Lord overcame death, for heaven's sakes! How can I allow myself to be discouraged or uninspired when given the opportunity to challenge old obstacles in new, improved ways!

Easter is my personal New Year. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come! I haven't made any resolutions. I have no doubt that God will take care of the details.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Terri Schiavo Developments: Cheers & Jeers

Today's news carried a variety of stories related to Terri Schiavo. Some were positive. Others...well...were less than helpful. Here is how I see it.

Cheers: As the Schindler family entered seclusion, having failed in the last of their legal options, they asked protesters in front of Terri's hospice to go home and spend Easter with their families. There is a time for a protest vigil on behalf of Terri and there is a time for worship and celebration of God's victory over sin and death. Clearly, the focus today should be on the latter. After all, it is the primary source of comfort and hope for the former! The family added that the protestors would be welcomed back on Monday.

Jeers: Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, described Terri (who has been denied food and water for the past nine days) in this way, "She looked beautiful. In all the years I've seen Mrs. Schiavo, I have never seen such a look of peace and beauty upon her." That should go a long way towards encouraging bulimic and anorexic women in their pursuit of "beauty." the way...isn't that what Felos and Michael have claimed led to Terri's heart stoppage in the first place? How ironic!

Cheers: Apparently Michael permitted a Catholic priest to give Terri communion today. When the priest reported this to those outside the hospice the news was greeted with cheers. I join them. He said he was able to put a drop of communion wine on her tongue but that her mouth was too dry to be able to receive the bread/wafer. I wonder if that was the first drop of moisture she has enjoyed in over a week...

Jeers: The LA Times continues its embarrassing attempts to be clever. In an article by Walter Roche Jr. and Sam Verhovek today, a pathetic attempt was made to equate the 1988 decision of Tom DeLay's family to remove life-support (IVs, ventilator, etc.) from his father, critically injured in an unspecified at-home accident. After a long buildup, creating the appearance of possible hypocrisy in the congressman's positions, the article continues, "DeLay has denounced Schiavo's husband, as well as judges, for committing what he calls 'an act of barbarism' in removing the tube. In 1988, however, there was no such rhetoric as the congressman joined the family consensus to let his father die."

The article then proceeds to disprove their entire thesis by quoting Dan Allen, Rep. DeLay's aide, as saying, "The situation faced by the congressman's family was entirely different than Terri Schiavo's. The only thing keeping her alive is the food and water we all need to survive. (DeLay's) father was on a ventilator and other machines to sustain him."

DeLay's 81-year-old mother added that "she believes there might be hope for Terri Shiavo's recovery. That's what makes her family's experience different," she says. "Charles DeLay had no hope."

I can find hypocrisy in this article but it is not with Tom DeLay.

Cheers: For Florida governor Jeb Bush for respecting the rule of law even when it "is a ass." "I cannot violate a court order," he said. "I don't have powers from the United States Constitution or, for that matter, from the Florida Constitution, that would allow me to intervene after a decision has been made."

In being steadfast in his personal opposition to the starving of Terri and yet refusing to scandalize and cruelly interfere with the inevitable conclusion of this drama by making a mockery of the law, Jeb Bush has set a good example for the rest of us to follow. As Kenny Rogers puts it, "You gotta know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em..."

Others have already made a mockery of the law by ordering death by starvation of a living, breathing human being without giving her the opportunity to have a second medical opinion concerning whether she is in a "persistent (or permanent) vegetative state" or not.

Jeers: For all those zealots who have made death threats on Michael Schiavo and Judge Greer. They are despicable people who have lost both their minds and their morality. As if "life is so precious that I'm going to kill you if you don't let Terri live!" Yeah, right. I'm convinced. Not! Put them in jail where they won't hurt anybody.

Cheers: For those protestors, including ministers and children, who have been arrested or turned away in front of the hospice during the past few days for attempting to bring water or Communion to Terri. This is exactly the type of non-violent, symbolic protest that is more than just an effective media trick. It clearly and persuasively communicates compassion for someone who is very much in need of a "cold cup of water."

Jeers: For the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast for violating two of the most fundamental tenets of the philosophy of hospice care:

1. Admitting someone (Terri Schiavo) who is not terminally ill (normal admission standards for hospice care require a person to be terminally ill with an estimated life expectancy of six months or less--the Hospice's own website states that they "Provide dignified, quality comfort care that enhances the lives of dying people and their families"); and,

2. Withholding food and water from a non-dying patient. (hospice protocol permits the withholding of food and water from a terminally ill patient in the final stages of dying only--even then the Hospice's own website quotes the following standards:

Will the person nearing death who does not receive artificial food and fluids be thirsty?
-Usually, the person does not experience thirst or hunger.
-If a person has thirst, it will only last a day or so and ice chips or small sips of fluid with good oral care should relieve this symptom.
What can be done to provide comfort?
-If the person is awake it may be comforting to offer ice chips if they can be tolerated.
-The person will also benefit from frequent oral care with a soft brush or sponge to relieve any dryness in the mouth. A saline spray to the mouth may also be comforting.
-Moisten the person’s eyes, or use a warm, damp cloth over them a few times each day.
-Moisten the person’s lips, and use lip balm to prevent dryness.
-Use lotion without alcohol added to maintain skin comfort.
Back in the early days of the hospice movement in the United States (1970's) I was privileged to co-found the Hospice of Cache Valley in Logan, Utah. I served as its President for five years. It is now a functioning program of the Logan Regional Hospital. I mention this to indicate that I know what I'm talking about.

Final Jeer: The revelation that Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for Hospice of the Florida Sunshine Coast from at least 1997 to 2001. Is there a conflict of interest here? Has the Hospice been receiving payment for Terri's care in violation of their charter/incorporation papers? It is no wonder that the families of other patients in the facility have complained about the media circus revolving around the Terri Schiavo case. She has no business being there in the first place. Pathetic.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Easter Poem 2005

Red Lake is weeping and Terri is dying;
Jetseta, Jessica lie in their graves.
Easter is here but the women keep crying.
How are able to claim, “Jesus saves?”

Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Korea.
People are dying who yearn to breathe free.
“Jesus has risen!” Is that the idea?
Why then do people keep ceasing to be?

Innocent people whose lives have been taken;
Justice denied and the wicked rejoice.
Why are the children and helpless forsaken?
Where is the Savior who’ll lift up his voice?

One tomb is empty while others keep filling.
Blood that was shed for poor sinners has dried.
Where is the mercy amidst all the killing?
Where is the hope for all those who have died?

Somewhere near Bethany, Jesus is standing.
“Golden Jerusalem” spreads out below.
Why is he weeping instead of commanding
That “Peace and Goodwill” unite both friend and foe?

Love is the answer for love is the reason
God lets us choose what our future will be.
Choices confront us whatever the season.
Loving? or Hating? The choice must be free.

God’s love is perfect but ours is not nearly.
We choose the wrong way more often than not.
Sin is what comes when we fail to see clearly
What we should do. We deserve what we’ve got.

Easter does not mean that sin is deleted.
Sin still runs free though it’s future is sure.
Easter reveals that sin’s pow’r is defeated.
Death has been slain and Christ’s blood is the cure.

Jetseta, Jessica, death will not hold you.
Easter’s a victory Jesus will share.
With him you’ll rise; in his arms he’ll enfold you.
All of your sins and your griefs he will bear.

Those up in Red Lake and poor, starving Terri;
Jesus has risen! The dead, too, will rise!
In him is Life—it is death you will bury!
God’s love in heav’n you will see with your eyes!

Innocent people will die as I’m writing.
Still God is ruling in heaven on high.
We who remain here in faith must keep fighting.
Love is our weapon, and vict’ry’s our cry!

One day our Lord will return. We will greet him.
Those who are dead will arise like the Son.
We who are living will rise up to meet him.
Heaven and earth will at last become one.

Hallelujah! Amen!

Did You Know About Kaliningrad? I Didn't

Did you know that there is still one part of Germany that Russia (and the former U.S.S.R.) has never relinquished since World War II? Even after all of Eastern Europe has become free and independent and aligned with the EU, NATO and the West, a poor little patch of land, surrounded by Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, remains in Russian hands.
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The central city of this isolated "chip off the old bloc" is Kaliningrad. Before the Soviets took it over after the defeat of Hitler, the city was known as Koenigsberg. It was the birthplace of Emmanuel Kant (who everyone considers to have been German..not Russian, by the way). The Soviets systematically purged as many native German people from the area as they could, replacing them with Russians.

Today, Kaliningrad and the territory it administrates, is going through an identity crisis. Everyone around them is prospering under Western-style politics and economics. They, however, for all practical purposes have been abandoned by their Russian "homeland." Russia, for its part, does not want to lose the territory due to its "warm water port" access to the Baltic Sea. On the other hand, there is little or no political reason to invest any money to clean up the pollution, rebuild the infrastructure or stimulate the economy there.

It is said that one beach area is unfrequented by locals because the skeletons of WW II soldiers have never been removed from where they fell in battle nearly 60 years ago. More of they younger members of the population have traveled to Western countries than have ever been to Russia itself.

Someday I expect that the people will get fed up with their situation and either demand either independence, self-rule or to become part of Poland or Lithuania. Mr. Putin, or his successor, will not be pleased. Watch this spot for future developments. I know I will!

(You can read more about Kaliningrad in this BBC article here)

Friday, March 25, 2005

Chocolate Crosses, Good Friday & Easter

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI heard a news story this morning concerning whether chocolate crosses are appropriate or inappropriate. Several persons, including a clergyman, were interviewed. Chocolate crosses? To be honest I had never thought about chocolate crosses before today. Is it something like the joke that says, "Whatever you do, do not think about blue elephants!"

I'm afraid that seminary did not prepare me for this particular theological dilemma, nor have I found any relevent scripture verses to buttress one viewpoint over another. Let's consider the subject......

First, there is the basic cross. That's all it is, just a chocolate cross with a small bunch of flowers (roses?) in the middle. This, I suppose, would make a nice "thank you" gift to your Sunday School teacher or, if you attend one, your teacher at a Christian School.
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Then there are the "bite sized" crosses (foil wrapped so they will not melt together into a blob, I suspect). These are for the nibbler in the family. Perhaps the woman of the house who likes to think that, because they are small, they won't add much of anything to their calorie count and their carb-free diet. After all, if one small cross doesn't mean anything, then neither would two of them....or three....well, you get the idea. A perfect gift for Mom (husbands give this at your peril).
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Then there is the big chocolate cross that actually stands up with its own chocolate pedestal. This could be used as a center piece for an Easter luncheon; perhaps surrounded by some colored cellophane "grass" (pink, yellow and green are my favorite colors) and a chocolate bunny, egg and chick as reminders of what this special day is all about.
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Last, there is the elegant, carefully sculpted and detailed chocolate Celtic Cross. This is, of course, a wonderful gift for your pastor; especially if he or she is a member of a Reformed Protestant congregation.
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Lutherans might be somewhat skeptical of such a gift, wondering if it contains some sort of hidden Calvinist message, so be careful with the Lutherans.

Congregationalists and Methodists do not seem to possess strong feelings on much of anything so any of the above crosses would do equally well the them.

I looked but couldn't find a Baptist chocolate cross. It would, of course, be plain and simple, perhaps even a bit rough around the edges to remind them of the hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross."

Catholics would require their chocolate cross to be a crucifix. This might seem to create a special difficulty for the average consumer/customer/church attender. But not to worry, the true body and blood of Christ are present only in the bread and wine, consecrated during the Mass. Since the chocolate image of Christ would represent merely a "remembrance" of Christ or, possibly his "spiritual" presence, it would then become equal to the Protestant "body of Christ" which is only bread and the Protestant "blood of Christ" which is only grape juice or wine (Epicopalians and Lutherans would from time to time be exempted from this judgement depending on who was Pope and what the most recent Vatican Council or Ecumenical Statement had to say). In any case, since the chocolate crucifix is simply the equivilent of plain bread and grape juice, Catholics should be able to enjoy it with a clear conscience.

Personally, as a Presbyterian pastor, I am partial to the chocolate Celtic Cross. But there is something about all of this that makes me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps it is the commercialization or the trivialization of the central symbol of our Christian faith that these chocolate crosses seem to represent.

No, sir. No chocolate cross for me on Easter this year. But, of course, I hope to enjoy some of those wonderful "hot-cross buns!"

Media Continues To Slander Christians

As Hugh Hewitt and Powerline have already noted, such writers as Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and syndicated columnist Maureen Dowd have begun making explicit comparisons between "radical Islamic fascists" (such as the Taliban) and "conservative Christians."

Unless these writers for some reason admire and respect the Islamic fascists (which does not seem likely) then I must assume that the comparison is intended both to alert the Americans to the irrational and threatening presence of Christians in our midst and to label conservative Christians as totalitarian terrorists intent on imposing their faith and values onto everyone else...or else!

Today, a third columnist, Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer, has added her voice to the anti-Christian media madness.

In a column entitled, "Religion Out Abroad/In At Home" Ms. Rubin states her fear that, "The Middle East - and the Afghanistan of the Taliban - offer frightening lessons about what can happen when that barrier between church and state is shattered."

Now I should make it clear that she is not, apparently, concerned that radical Islamist fascists might find its place is American politics. No, what seems to terrify her is the possibility that Christian beliefs and values might actually inform the way in which some elected officials make moral and legal decisions.

Rubin implies that, should Christianity "take over" the United States we would become at least as bad as Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Trudy Rubin is out of her mind and frightens me to death! Are there really people in positions of influence in our country who feel justified in presenting such foul, hateful, vindictive slander against an entire religion; indeed the very religion that birthed the concept of "freedom under law" in the first place?

Elsewhere in her article Rubin presents these examples as proof of the horrors of conservative Christians:
Some wealthy conservatives who fund Christian lobbying groups have views that sound not so different from Islamists in the Middle East. Examples: Christian philanthropist Howard Ahmanson Jr. says he seeks "the total integration of biblical law into our lives," and the grant-giving Maclellan Foundation endorses "the infallibility of the Scripture."
Does Ms. Rubin realize that she has just lumped every Presbyterian and virtually every other Christian in America in the same category as Middle East Isalmists? I cannot believe that she is as ignorant of basic Christian faith and doctrine as this comment represents. Or is she? Like Professor Cole and Maureen Dowd she appears to have descended into the realm of ideological fantasy. Nothing she writes in this column appears to bear any semblance to reality.

My God! What might happen if people who believe in the infallibility of scripture should assert themselves? Ms. Rubin speculates on this possibility by saying,
"(Although) we do not yet face the full challenge of fundamentalists who murder their opponents...we've seen a hint of this in the murders of doctors who perform abortions--and in the threats faced by Florida Judge George W. Greer in the Schiavo case."
Personally, I have read comments on white supremacist web sites that were more rational than this...and not as frightening!

To add to the surreal fantasy of her article Rubin also cites as evidence of this looming threat the recent "memo" supposedly distributed to Republican members of Congress last week. Either she is ignorant of or has chosen to ignore ABCs backtracking on their "bombshell" story and the rising evidence that the memo was seen being distributed on the House floor by Democratic staffers.

Although she blames conservative, fundamentalist Christians for pressuring the U.S. Congress into interfering in the Terri Schiavo case she omits to point out that the "Sciavo" bill passed the House by a vote of 203 to 58 with almost as many Democrats voting for the bill as voted against it (47-53).

As a Christian I am beginning to worry about the growing conflict between radical secularists and people of faith (particularly Christians) in America. After reading opinions like the ones cited above I am beginning to believe that there are people out there who truly and sincerely want to lock me in and shut me up in the best interests of our country. How ironic that these same people proclaim that Christians are the ones who are the true threats to freedom.

The truth is right in front of them. All they need to do is look into a mirror.

Good Friday, Terri Schiavo & Jetseta Gage

Today is Good Friday when Christians remember the execution of Jesus Christ with permission from the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate found him innocent of the charge of sedition but, for political reasons, allowed him to be crucified under threat of a riot led by members of the Jewish high council (Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem.
Image hosted by "Crucifixion" by Giotto (click to enlarge)
Most people in Jerusalem that day (with more than 10 times the normal population gathered for the celebration of Passover) undoubtedly felt that Jesus' death was unjust and unfair. But the Jewish leaders had a point. They had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy for having claimed to be equal to God. In one sense they were right to make this charge. The only way they could have been wrong was if Jesus was equal to God. Easter morning proved them wrong.

Jesus' crucifixion proved the limitation of human justice. Both Rome and the Jewish leaders got the law wrong or else ignored it and twisted it around for some other purpose.

Things have not changed since that first Good Friday.

Today we have once again discovered, in the starving of Terri Schiavo, the limitation of human justice. It appears to me that both federal and state courts have, this past week, either got the law wrong or else ignored it and twisted it around for some other purpose.

Jesus was not the first innocent person to be "legally" killed and Terri Schiavo will not be the last.

For Jesus, we have the upcoming celebration of the good news of his resurrection from the dead.

For Terri, we have the upcoming celebration of the good news of his resurrection from the dead.

I pray that this good news will bring some measure of comfort to Terri's family and friends. It does not assuage my anger and disappointment in the circumstances surrounding her impending death, but it does bring me some measure of comfort and peace knowing that God is just in a way that we can never be; knowing that Jesus' death has brought forgiveness, salvation and eternal, resurrection life to those who receive it by faith; even Terri; even me; even you.

Today we mark the death of still another innocent life. The body of 10-year old Jetseta Gage was found today near her home in Iowa. It is suspected that a family friend, a convicted sex offender, took her from her home in plain view of her family. What happened between then and the discovery of her body can only be imagined...if we even dare to imagine.
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Because of the first Good Friday...and because of Easter...I have hope for Jetseta and for Terri. Their innocence will be vindicated and, with God, they will rediscover the love and (even greater) life that others have denied them here.

The Bible tells us that Jesus took the pain and suffering upon himself that we deserved. No doubt, members of Terri's family and Jetseta's family would have done the same for the one they love if they had been given the chance.

That is how much Jesus loves us. That is how much God loves you.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
When my oldest daughter was around the same age as Jetseta, she memorized this verse but unknowingly switched one word for another. In her version the verse read: "shall not perish, but have everliving life." It may not be technically correct, but I like my daughter's version the best.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Maundy Thursday

The word,"Maundy," comes from the Latin word, maundanum, which means, "command" (as in "mandate"). It was on that final night with his disciples that Jesus said, "A new command (maundanum) I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you."Image hosted by (click picture to enlarge)

Tonight at our worship we will remember Jesus' betrayal, the washing of his disciples feet (I will do the washing), the breaking of bread, the pouring of the cup and the singing of a hymn before they went out to the Mt. of Olives.

There will be some special music, of course, and two other hymns will be sung. But the service will be short and simple. As Pastor I will say very little. A narrator will provide most of the spoken word via a script. One of the children will ask me a series of questions about the Lord's Supper (a la the questions asked by children at the Jewish Seder meal) and I will respond with the words of institution from I Corinthians 11:23-26.

Maundy Thursday is always both happy and sad for me. There is so much to be sad about, of course. But the joy of friends sharing a meal together at such a momentous moment deeply moves me. If I were ever to be required to eat a final meal I, too, would wish that it could be shared with friends.

Tonight, we will share the meal with the crucified and risen Lord. We will not forget that it was also on this night that he declared, "No longer do I call you servants....but I call you friends..." And so we are.

That, my friends, is what makes me happy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Things That Do Not Make Sense

The starving to death of Terri Schiavo does not make sense to me. But, apparently, there are lots of other things that do not seem to make sense, either. Here are thirteen things (mostly astrophysics and "medicine") that, so far at least, do not make sense to anybody.

Something To Smile At On An Otherwise Sad Day

No, I won't even tell you what it is. You have to go look at it yourself! You'll find it here. Enjoy! ht: instipundit

Schiavo Case Setting a Precedent?

The American legal system has now set a remarkable precedent. From henceforth (and even forevermore?) there will be a new set of case law that permits the courts to approve that which, without their approval, would otherwise be illegal.

For example, if I were to allow my old granny to die peacefully and painlessly by withholding food and water from her I would be arrested and thrown in jail.

But, if I had a court of law allow me to withhold food and water from my old granny that would be just fine and dandy.

Perhaps this new concept can be expanded.

For example, if I were to cut down my neighbor's tree without his permission I would be charged with trespassing and destruction of personal property.

But, if I had a court of law allow me to cut down my neighbor's tree without his permission that would be ok.

It appears to me that we have at last reached the place in our history where the law has become whatever the courts feel the law ought to be at any given time. Since we have now progressed as a national culture to the point where right and wrong, good and evil, truth and fiction are relative, it only makes sense that this concept be extended to legal and illegal as well.

Is it wrong to murder your wife? Well, if you are a white, middle-class Christian it probably is. But, if you are an immigrant Arab Muslim male asserting your right to avenge a perceived slight to your honor, then..... well..... who are we to criticize or judge someone based on standards that are foreign to them. It would be culturally insensitive to punish them for something they do not view as being "wrong."

So, let's look forward to the day when we will have no more need of codified law at all. If there is a conflict or disagreement over some trivial matter (such as my taking your car from your garage without you knowing anything about it and driving it to work because mine was broken down and I really, really, really had to get to work on time...) then we can just go over to Judge Judy's and let her figure it out any way she wants to. (Hmmm, maybe one of those "eight ball" answer thingies would work, too!)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Should She Be Kept Alive? or Should She Be Allowed To Die"

She is unable to eat by herself. All nutrition and liquids are administered to her by others. Without it, she will die. She lies in a bed, able to move her arms and legs, but unable to walk or stand. Even sitting in a chair requires her to be strapped up. Otherwise her body will slump in a heap to the floor.

She is unable to communicate her thoughts. Indeed, it is not really clear that she even has thoughts at all. Her brain clearly does not function the way a normal adult brain functions. There is little or no hand-eye coordination, either. She drools and, on occasion, must be suctioned to prevent her from suffocating from throat and nasal congestion.

She must be diapered and requires around the clock, 24-hour, 7 day a week care. She cannot bathe herself. Her eyes frequently appear to stare blankly into space. She cannot read or write or even respond to the simplest direction. It is not even clear whether or not she can distinguish between colors or differentiate between one person's voice and another.

She is not ill, or diseased and is in relatively good health. There is no reason to believe that she will not live out her full adult life. Neither Social Security nor Medicare are able to cover the ongoing costs of her long-term extended care requirements.

Some say that she should be allowed the right to die, even if it means withholding the food and water that keeps her alive. Her parents are more than willing to bear the full cost of her care and have repeatedly offered to take her home.

But, because of a myriad of legal complications, she has been declared a ward of the court. And now the judge who oversees her case has determined that there is compelling evidence to order that all food and liquid be withheld from her until she dies of starvation and dehydration. The judge, by the way, has never visited her in person, but has relied only on information provided to him by the ones who feel she should be allowed to die.

Her parents have filed appeals seeking a second medical examination of her condition or a new legal review by another judge or a different judicial venue. All such requests have been turned down repeatedly.

Somewhere in Florida, a young woman named Terri Schiavo is dying. But this is not the person I have been describing in this essay. Instead, I have been describing a scenario involving a perfectly healthy 3-month old infant girl.

But the law's the law. "If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, "the law is a ass, a idiot."

Monday, March 21, 2005

Minnesota School Deaths Leave Me Speechless

Note: You can read a related poem here.

A teacher, a security guard, five high school students were shot to death at school yesterday by another high school student who, having previously killed his two grandparents, then shot and killed himself (see the article here).

The Chippewa Red Lake Indian Reservation, the nearby town of Red Lake, Minnesota, and Red Lake High School are reeling in shock and disbelief today. So am I.

A tsunami I can handle (see here & here), even with nearly 200,000 human deaths. The amoral power of nature is to be both respected and feared, of course, but there is no conscious intent to harm, there is no malice aforethought or even a question of right and wrong in such a tragedy.

But the senseless, intentional, malicious and deadly actions of a student named "Jeff" that took away the lives of nine other living, breathing human beings in their home and in their high school classroom, leaves me numb.

As a Pastor of reasonable intelligence and knowledge of the Word of God I can rattle off all the biblical and theological truths about sin, evil, spiritual warfare, and the forgiving, redeeming, sacrificing love of God until I'm blue in the face but it will be a long time, if ever, before I will be able to come to any measure of "peace" about what happened in Red Lake.

For those who were killed I feel a profound sense of sadness and grief, almost as though they were my own children, my sister or my brother. The unfairness and injustice of it all appalls me. Even if I had "all knowledge and faith to remove mountains" it would still be incomprehensible to me. I have the same feeling I had in the cemetery in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) where 1,000,000 victims of the German siege of that city are buried, the vast majority of whom were civilians.

Along with Job in his suffering, I cry out "Why?" to God even though, unlike Job, I already know the unanswerable answer to that question. Six million Jews murdered. Nine native Americans murdered. I feel a sense of horror as though reality and the whole of creation have been twisted out of shape. I can hardly recognize the world as being the same one that I woke up to just 16 hours ago, when those ten people in Red Lake were still living and their future was still open to a different outcome.

As for "Jeff," I have little or no feeling at all. You see, I can relate to those who were killed. I can imagine and even feel the confusion, the fear and the terror that must have overtaken them in their last, fleeting moments of life.

But as for "Jeff," I cannot imagine. I cannot feel. Yet I weep for him, but not in the same way that I weep for those who he killed. I weep for "Jeff" because he became, or allowed himself to become, so badly fallen from the image of God that I can no longer relate to him as one human being to another. At least not now. Not today.

I am in no position to either ask for or to offer forgiveness to "Jeff." Others will have to grapple with this matter, and that struggle will sear their souls until it leads them either to an eternal hardening of their heart or leads them to their knees as they confess and repent to God of their own weakness and sin.

Psalm 51:17 tells us that "the only sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart God will not despise." No doubt there are many broken spirits and many broken hearts in Red Lake tonight. In time, by God's grace, there will be contrite hearts as well.

As for myself, all I can do is pray. I pray for the victims of this terrible crime. In prayer I entrust them to the care and mercy of Almighty God. And I pray for their friends and families. I pray for them what Jesus taught in his "Sermon on the Mount" when he said, "Blessed are they who mourn; for they will be comforted."

And, yes, I pray for "Jeff." Although I am not inclined to pray for "Jeff" my Savior and Lord compels and commands me to pray for him. I am not quite sure what it is that I ought to pray for, but I shall entrust him, also, to the care and mercy of Almighty God. For I know that God is merciful, but also just. God can be trusted to sort this all out with a measure of perfect righteousness that, at present, completely eludes me.

And I pray for "Jeff's" family, who have lost three loved ones today. The grief, suffering and guilt they must be experiencing must surely test the limits of their physical, emotional and spiritual endurance.

Somehow, for the moment at least, Easter seems to be very far, far away.

May God have mercy on us all.

Terri Schiavo and the U.S. Congress : Washington Post Columnist Just Doesn't Get It

In today's Washington Post, columnist Richard Cohen mocks congressional Republicans for passing legislation that permits a federal court to review the legal aspects of the Terri Schiavo case. In an article dripping with sarcasm, Cohen, at one point, sums up his view of the Republican rationale as follows,

Frist and his (mostly) GOP colleagues were operating under such pressure that they sometimes did not know which subterfuge to adopt. After all, it should not matter -- it must not matter -- if Schiavo is in a vegetative state or not. What should matter -- under right-to-life reasoning -- is that she is alive. In many respects, she is as alive as a zygote the moment after fertilization or a fetus that will die shortly after birth -- or any other manifestation of life as it either exists or is proclaimed to exist. Life is life, Frist. Get with the program. (emphasis mine).

I believe that Cohen has got it wrong here. Very wrong. Completely backwards, in fact.

The central concern of virtually everyone who is fighting for Terri's life (including myself and her family) is that it does matter whether Schiavo is in a vegetative state or not.

While there are clearly other important issues involved in this morally and legally tangled drama/tragedy, the one thing that sets this particular case apart from many others is the fact that it is not clear whether Terri Schiavo is or is not in a persistent vegetative state.

Her family and others who have visited with her over the past 15 years claim that she is conscious, aware of and interactive with her environment and able to express emotion in response to stimuli.

Every attempt to have a non-biased medical assessment made of Terri using the standard and usual diagnostic tests which determine whether or not a person is in a persistent vegetative state, has been denied by both Terri's "husband," Michael, and the presiding judge. The judge has gone so far as to refuse to even visit Terri to see for himself whether the testimony he has received from persons personally selected by Michael is accurate or true.

Most people would like to have a "second opinion" before having major surgery. Judge has not even allowed Terri a to get a "second opinion" concerning her condition before sentencing her to death by starvation (note that Terri is NOT on life-support).

Terri's family has repeatedly offered to take her home with them and care for her themselves. Since this offer has also been rejected repeatedly, they have simply asked for that second opinion.

That is all. That is the whole issue. Everything else; all other issues, both moral and medical; follow from this one, simple question as to whether Terri is "brain dead" or not.

For many of us, this uncertainly (supported by the manipulative and inconsistent behavior and testimony of Michael Schiavo) leaves us with the fear that a conscious, cognizant human being, unable to express herself due to a major physical disability, is being denied her God-given and Constitutionally-supported right to both life and liberty by being starved to death at the insistence of her husband.

At its core this is not a "pro-choice" or a "pro-life" issue. At its core it is not (or should not) be a "great political issue" either. Nor should it surprise us when a matter of law and the interpretation of law also becomes a matter of interest and concern amongst those who have been elected to legislate those laws in the first place!

Mr. Cohen's column today clearly demonstrates that yelling loudly and showering sarcasm on those with whom one disagrees does not show very much respect for the life or death issues involved in this debate. Good men and women have taken responsible and informed positions on both sides of this situation. Unfortunately, Mr. Cohen is not one of them.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sudanese Troops To Be Deployed As Peacekeepers In Somalia ("Sudanese Peacekeepers?")

The Somalian parliament has rejected the proposal that peacekeeping troops serving in their country be drawn from the neighboring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

According to the BBC, "The Ugandan foreign Minister said the decision was made out of respect for the sensitivities of the Somalis, (especially) Somali warlords (who) have said they will attack troops from neighboring states - especially from rival Ethiopia - if they form part of a peacekeeping force."

More acceptable were troops from Sudan and Uganda (yes I'm serious, I'm not making this up).

The article added that, "Somalia's government and parliament are currently based in Kenya because the Somali capital, Mogadishu, is considered too dangerous."

(Warning: Incoming sarcasm alert): I'm sure that the Sudanese troops, who are currently busy slaughtering black Africans in their own country's Darfur region, will go a long way towards bringing stability to Somalia.
Image hosted by Photobucket.comPlease read the article for yourself. It is even more surreal than Salvador Dali.

Be Careful Where You Park Your Scooter

Reuters shares the story of Heidi Brown, a British woman who went to the motor vehicle department to get license plates for her new moped/scooter. Someone told her it would be all right to park it against a nearby fence for the requisite inspection.

While waiting her turn inside, nearby shop owners reported the scooter to police as a possible bomb waiting to go off. Police, finding no license or registration on the scooter (which had been chained to the fence) evacuated nearby buildings and sealed off three roads and then.....blew up the scooter!

The article did not say whether or not police have apologized to Ms. Brown.

UPI Headliine Bias?

A March 17 UPI article on new Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's first public speech is entitled, "Analysis: Homeland Security Fumbling Threat Assessment."

The article, by UPI Homeland & National Security Editor Shaun Waterman, presents itself as an objective news story (which, in all fairness, it seems to be). What is mystifying is the article's misleading and prejudicial headline. The article contains no analysis that I can discern, and negative opinions on various national security issues are balanced with positive ones. Nor does the word "fumbling" (or any remotely-related synomyn) appear anywhere within the article.

It is well-known that headlines convey stronger impressions to the casual reader than the articles themselves. Why is UPI seemingly trying to misrepresent and spin an article in a manner that reflects badly on the Bush administration?

Can anyone out there help me on this?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Jessica Lunsford's "Remains" Found

Note: So many have visited this post but few have left a comment. Please let me know why Jessica's story is of interest to you, personally. Thanks, BofP

UPDATE: You can find a more recent post on Jessica here and a poem here.

The "remains" of a 9 year old Florida girl, kidnapped and murdered by a convicted child molester, were found early this morning by investigators in the exact location described by the chief suspect who has confessed to the crime.
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The story's headline got me to thinking about the word "remains" and what the word really means. "Remains" are what are left after something is gone; wood shavings on the work room floor; food left on the plate after dinner; ruined, rotting wood and stone, lying on the ground where a house once stood.

The world sees human "remains" as what is left when a person dies. Like a fallen tree dies and decays, Jessica Lundsford, too is dead. Her remains are all that is left; left overs from what once was but is now gone forever.

"From dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." At the beginning of the season of Lent these were the words we spoke on Ash Wednesday as we placed the mark of the cross on our foreheads with the ashes of grief and repentence.

But Lent ends with Easter, and Easter gives us a new understanding of life...and death.

"She is not here," the angels say. "She is risen!"

On Easter the tomb of Jesus was empty. Well, not completely empty. There were remains: the winding strips of his burial cloth was scattered around and the linen cloth that covered his head was neatly folded in a corner. With Jessica, too, there are remains. But in light of Easter we no longer view those remains as the remains of a fallen ruin. They are, for us, more like the shed skin of a lizard; the broken, empty pieces of a cocoon; wood shavings on the work room floor; discarded, unneeded left overs of a new creation.

In a Christian funeral we lay the remains in a place of remembrance and say words similar to these, "We commit her body to the grave" and "We commit her soul to the care and mercy of Almighty God in the sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life."

We believe that God created Jessica, gave her life and sent his Son to redeem her and prepare a place for her in eternity.

According to the news article,

Jessica's distraught father said earlier Saturday that his daughter is "home now," but made no reference to the discovery of her remains.

"Everyone heard me say time after time that she would be home," said Mark Lunsford, choking back tears. "Well, she's home now. It's over...She's right here with me."

I will not argue with Jessica's father. I cannot say whether she is with him or not. I do know that her precious remains have been found and will soon be returned home to her family. Jessica, however, is at home with God.

Birds and Their Nests

Every spring the mynah birds try to build their nests on the top of the pillars that support our Worship Center roof. They leave massive amounts of debris on the ground and it takes a lot of work to keep it cleaned up
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No matter what we do the birds come back for more. I have tried moth balls, rags soaked in bleach, rubber snakes, furniture polish spray (lemon scented...yuch!) and more.

Today, after cleaning up on our monthly work day, Charlie produced some light netting material. It took him 30 minutes to arrange it around one half of one pillar. After looking it over he now figures that the birds will probably find a way to get inside and enjoy the privacy!

Jesus said, "Even the birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

In our case we wish it was the other way around!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Argentine Bishop Dismissed by Government for Citing the Bible

A Roman Catholic Bishop appointed by Rome and approved by the Argentine government to oversee military chaplains has been removed by the government. Here is a key quote, the full article from BBC is here:

Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia recently said he was in favour of legalising abortion.

Bishop Baseotto replied that the minister's stance made him an apologist for murder

Quoting a passage from the New Testament, he said Mr Gonzalez Garcia deserved to have a millstone hung around his neck and should be "thrown into the sea".

But the government has said the statement evoked Argentina's controversial past.

During the military regime that ruled the country from 1976-1983, political opponents were thrown into the sea during the so-called "death flights".

The bishop says his comments were taken out of context, but BBC Buenos Aires correspondent Elliott Gotkine says his position now appears untenable.

Unfortunately the article does not explain why Mr. Gotkine feels the bishop's "position now appears untenable."

And what was it, exactly, that the bishop quoted:

Jesus said to his disciples:

Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.

"If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.(Luke 17:1-3)

In rebuking the Health Minister it would appear that the bishop was only doing his job!

I believe that it is reasonable to believe that the bishop considered the possiblility that someone might associate the words of Jesus with those infamous "death flights". Even so, the words he quoted were eminently appropriate to his point.

Whether the citation and resulting "association" were intentional or not, it most certainly appears that, in Argentina at least, quoting Jesus can get you in a heap of trouble!

Presdent Bush Comments on Terri Schiavo


The case of Terri Schiavo raises complex issues. Yet in instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life. Those who live at the mercy of others deserve our special care and concern. It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life, where all Americans are valued, welcomed, and protected and that culture of life must extend to individuals with disabilities.

D-Day for Terri Schiavo

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Today is the day that Terri Schiavo's so-called "husband" finally gets his chance to do what he has been waiting for over 10 years to do....starve his wife to death.

Unless the Florida or Federal legislators pass the bills that have been submitted to prevent it, a person innocent of any crime except to be unwanted by one person, will be executed by the "cruel and unusual" method of starvation.

Without food and water Terri will live nine days, perhaps ten, before withering away to a lifeless corpse. I wonder if someone will be allowed to place ice chips in her mouth to relieve the pain of cracked lips and swollen tongue. Probably not. After all, that might delay the humane act of putting her out of her misery. I'm sure that, when her husband claims she asked not to be kept alive by artificial means, she was hoping and praying for this.

As I have written of Terri before. (here, here, here and here) I have also stated that feeding tubes are not considered either "artificial" or "life support" on medical or ethical grounds. This not a removal of life support. It is not mercy killing. It is simply killing.

This will be the third time that a judge has allowed her feeding tube to be removed. Twice before that ruling has been recinded by some other legal action.
The hardest part of this for me is the uncertainty of knowing whether or not she is in a "permanent vegetative state" or not. Scores of the top neurologists in the country have stated that Terri has never been given even any of the most credible diagnostic tests to determine her true condition. Both her husband and the judge have refused to allow them. A recent article summarizing the tragic and incomprehensible extent of Terri's medical neglect can be found here. Other information is available at "terrisfight" the site maintained by Terri's own family.

I don't know whether Terri will be glad to finally die. I don't know whether the medical diagnoses endorsed by the judge are correct or not. I don't know whether Terri said to her husband what he says she told him. I don't know for sure. And nobody else knows either.

No one on trial for a crime would be convicted on the basis of such conflicted and unverifiable evidence. Certainly, no one would be sentenced to the death penalty under the cloud of such "reasonable doubt."

That is what is so chilling. That our society and our legal system is so willing and eager to choose death over life. And for no real, tangeable reason except that her husband very, very much wants her to die.

Apparently, in the future, no one will need to murder someone they consider to be an inconvenience. They will simply be able to have the government do it for them.

As a Christian pastor I must remember the example of my Lord, Jesus, who never killed anyone or caused anyone to die. His touch brought only healing and life. He is never once recorded as having said, "Let them die."

It is God who says, "You have profaned me among my people for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread. By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died..." (Ezekiel 13:19)

It is God who declares, "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live ." (Deuteronomy 30:19)

For Terri's sake. For our sake. For my sake. For God's sake. Let us choose life.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Why I Am Not Qualified To Be a Pastor

Throughout my 26 years of ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA) I have often felt that I was not connecting with my congregation...that my words and leadership somehow were missing the mark. Tonight I discovered where I have gone wrong all these years.

Andy and Theresa (and toddler daughter Makayla) came over for dinner and dessert tonight. Andy's mother is also a Presbyterian pastor (in Pennsylvania) but, for her, it is a second career.

Andy explained that he felt his mother's first career had greatly helped her to become an effective minister and pastor to her congregregation. What was her secret? She had been a 1st grade public school teacher!

I wonder if my congregation will give me a sabbatic leave to get my elementary school teaching credential? Maybe then they would be able to understand what I am talking about on a Sunday morning!

Thanks, Andy, for the tip!

A Trip to California for Presbytery

I just returned today from a 2 1/2 day swing through California. Although I had a quick visit to see my sister and mother in the San Francisco area the real reason for my trip was a Presbytery meeting in Los Angeles.

The meeting was held at the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church located at the rather tony address of Santa Monica Blvd. and Rodeo Drive. The congregation were great hosts providing a wonderful meal and warm hospitality.

The meeting was also better then average. The business of the evening was divided up within the overarching structure of a Sunday morning worship service. Whenever the tedium of administrative business got to the breaking point we would suddenly be refreshed with readings from the Bible, 5-part renaissance motets by the wonderful church choir, unison prayers of confession, the singing of great hymns (Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my savior.....). I tell you, Presbyterian ministers love to sing. Even the Elders joined in with more gusto than they normally would have on a Sunday morning!

The high point for me came in several extended discussions concerning how to encourage, empower and integrate Reformed Protestant immigrant churches into our Presbytery. Throughout the Los Angeles basin are hundreds of small congregations rising spontaneously within a wide variety of immigrant communities. In earlier years we saw it with Japanese, Chinese and Welsh groups. More recently we have seen it with Korean, Filipino, Latin American, Iranian, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Taiwanese and many others.

Presbyterian and other Reformed churches have had a tremendous influence in overseas missions over the past two centuries. Their are many nations that have independent national "Presbyterian" type denominations. When members of these churches immigrate to America they seek out other immigrants with similar Christian backgrounds to worship with in the context of their native language and cultural identity.

Some of these churches either "nest" or integrate with an "American" congregation. Most, however, remain both autonomous and isolated from the wider Body of Christ. There is often a yearning to become more "connected" to American churches.

Many attempts are now being made across the United States by PCUSA Presbyteries to extend friendship and support to these immigrant churches. Offering leadership training and linking them to the larger Church through welcoming them in some way into a presbytery are among these attempts. Two overtures from last year's General Assembly concerning these matters were presented, discussed, debated and voted on. One approach was narrowly rejected by our presbytery while the other was narrowly approved.

What was apparent in all of this discussion was the genuine desire to encourage and support as many of these groups as possible with the aim of helping them grow in strength and in numbers as part of our PCUSA denomination.

Although we may be divided on the particular "means" to the "end" there appeared to be near unanimity on the value of the "ends."

In my own congregation here in Hawaii we "nest" a Korean congregation (PCUSA), a Samoan (independent congregational) church and a Micronesian (primarily from Chuuk...formerly known as Truk) fellowship. Whether Reformed Protestant or not, it is a joy to be able to provide a place for these expatriate Christians to gather together for worship and fellowship each week. They are grateful for our prayers and support (they use our facilities gratis) and we, in turn, are grateful to be able to count them as our friends and family in Jesus.

Sure, of course I would like to build up and increase our denomination by by "making" them Presbyterian. But I am more interested in simply building up the Body of Christ in any way possible.

Jesus did not come to create denominations, but to call faithful followers who know the voice of their Shepherd and claim him as their Lord and Savior. Being Presbyterian is a very good thing. But, if you are not a Christian first, it doesn't really matter, does it!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Isn't God Wonderful! A Brief Testimony of God's Providence

Every once in a while someone will express their thanks to me for something I've done as a pastor by giving me some money. Depending on the circumstances sometimes I accept the gift and keep it. More often, however, I simply turn and give the same amount of money as an anonymous gift to the church.

Yesterday, someone with a legitimate financial need dropped by the church to see if I could help them. The church has given me a small discretionary fund that I can draw on as I see a need but sometimes I simply give (not loan) them something from my own wallet. This is what I chose to do yesterday. At the time I could not figure out why I felt so good about being so generous to this person but somehow it just seemed the right thing to do. The person wept with gratitude. The church they attended (not in Mililani) had said they couldn't help and there was a strong feeling of hopelessness and despair. My gift reaffirmed the person's faith in God and I was asked to pray with them before they left. In any case, I told them that the gift was not from me, but from God.

I had also told the person that often I do say "no" to people when they ask for money. I could not, however, explain why I felt so compelled to say "yes" to them on this particular occasion.

This morning, while thinking about this, I suddenly understood. In the past two weeks I had received "thank you" gifts from two different people/churches for things I had done for them. I considered whether to give the money to the church or keep it. For some reason (that made me uncomfortable at the time), almost on impulse, I decided to keep the money. Now I know why. The amount of the two gifts was exactly what the person had needed yesterday and was the exact amount of money I had given them. The money had turned out to be God's after all!

God is good...all the time! All the time...God is good! Amen!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Tie--Dies: Judge Calls Terri Schiavo "Out"

When I was younger and played softball it was a rule of thumb that "tie base goes to the runner." The idea is that it's harder to get a hit than to make an out so the more difficult of the two gets the nod.

With Terri Schiavo, however, the judge handling her case seems to feel that a "tied case goes to the grave." As I ponder the evidence in this case it is not clear whether Terri is conscious or not. Tie. It is not clear whether she expressed a desire to not be subject to life support. Tie. It is not clear whether she would have been able to respond to rehab treatment. Tie. It is not clear that she is subject to life termination under the law. Tie. And, it is not clear whether her brain damage was from a natural cause or from a physical assault (ie. choking). Tie.

So far as I can see there is no overwhelming case for either side...especially when so many of the questions cannot be answered because normal and acceptable medical care has not been provided for Terri by her husband.

So it is up to the umpire--oops, I mean judge--to make the call. He can choose to either let her live or to allow her to be killed. The husband wants her dead and her family wants her to live. Another Tie.

It seems not only reasonable but compulsory under these circumstances for the judge to rule for life. It is easy to kill someone. It is more difficult to give them life. Life, once taken, cannot be restored. Life, once given, can still be taken at a later time if circumstances become clearer in the future.

If it was not very clear that the overwhelming evidence in a capital murder conviction proved the defendant guilty would a judge issue a death penalty? Certainly not. Conviction by a jury requires "beyond a reasonable doubt" and a sentence of death normally must exceed even that requirement.

Terri Schiavo's circumstance does not qualify for even the simplest level of "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The saddest part of all this is that the judge has never seen the "play" and has refused to even review it. Although urged to go by Terri's family, he has never gone to visit Terri and see for himself what her condition is, nor has he ever allowed her to be present in the courtroom where he is passing judgment on whether she will live or die.

I feel as if the judge was making his calls from a different rule book than everyone else.

When a baseball game is over the losing coach can raise a protest flag so that the reason for the protest can be reviewed.

When Terri's feeding tube is pulled next Wednesday millions of her supporters will join her family in raising the protest flag one last time. But this time, when it comes time for the review, the game will be over for Terri.

In the Olympics, when a competition ends in a tie, both participants are declared to have won and each receives a gold medal. It does not look as though Terri will be getting a gold medal from the judge next week.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Darfur: Thoughts On Why Nothing Is Being Done To Stop the Killing

What follows is a very long post on Sudan and Darfur. It reflects my understanding of this tragic situation as well as the competing international interests that have essentially neutralized all attempts by the United States to impose a decisive solution or a significant intervention that might end the violence. The post was written as a response to a letter containing several articles on Darfur mailed to me by a member of my congregation. (Note that I have not attempted to document my data with links or footnotes although there are some helpful links listed at the posts end).

I have been closely watching and following the situation in Sudan since 1980 when my wife and I met two Christian missionaries who had been working in South Sudan with irrigation assistance but had been forced to leave (along with most other Westerners) because of growing violence against Christian and animist Africans by Arab Muslim military attacks from the north. The major explosion of the so-called “civil war” came two years later which meant that our friends could not return to continue their work there or to visit the people they had worked with. Eventually, many fled southern Sudan into Kenya which is where our friends eventually returned to missionary service (later moving to Pakistan after which they retired to Minnesota).

This “civil war” was always not so much a civil war as it was a systematic slaughter of civilians in the south by government forces and government-backed militias. The modus operandi was exactly the same as that now being used in Darfur. Government planes bomb and strafe a village followed by the swift arrival of armed troops (primarity Arab Muslims). Men are frequently rounded up and shot, women raped, the village looted and burned and older children sent to the Arab north and sold into slavery.

In many cases a person’s life or liberty could be “purchased” by becoming a Muslim. Tens of thousands of African Christians have endured execution or slavery rather than confess Allah and Mohammed as his Prophet.

Because of the Christian population in south Sudan and the historic presence of missionary agencies who worked in that area for decades the American Evangelical Christian community tried desperately to get media attention and political pressure to be brought against Sudan to stop the killing. The situation was made more difficult with a small minority of the south Sudanese taking up arms and fighting back against the Khartoum government, partially in self-defense and partly in an attempt to gain independence from the north (which had legislated and adopted sharia law, based on the Koran, for all Sudanese, whether Muslim or not).

American efforts to confront Sudan over the issue of the killings in the south and its tacit approval of the slave trade were led primarily by several Christian U.S. Representatives (virtually all Republican) backed by Christian evangelical mission and relief organizations. Many international human rights organizations also began speaking up, especially on the slavery issue.

To his credit, President Clinton imposed sanctions and restrictions on American oil companies who wanted to get in on the ground floor with recently-discovered massive oil reserves in Sudan. European countries did not join in supporting the U.S. on this issue, preferring to pursue their own self-interests. France, especially, took advantage of the American absence in engrandizing itself to the Sudanese government in return for taking the lead in oil exploration and the development of the Sudanese oil industry. France is still the biggest business partner with Sudan along with China, whose growing need for oil and lack of concern for anything remotely connected to human rights makes Sudan a good place to go shopping.

As the New Yorker article explains, the pressure exerted by Clinton and a few other cooperative countries (Canada not among them, by the way) led the Sudanese government to start a process of negotiation with the south. Under President Bush’s continuation of the policy (with much restraint and minimal criticism in order to facilitate the peace process) a cease fire and nearly-completed truce agreement has been worked out between Khartoum and the southern rebel forces.

Unfortunately, this truce freed up government troops who soon were being used to control a growing resistance movement in the Darfur region of western Sudan. The Darfur rebels hoped to make a deal similar to that being negotiated with the south. Unfortunately for them, Darfur has been found to possess a large share of Sudan’s oil. It was not in Khartoum’s national interests to allow anyone but themselves control of that resource.

Virtually all the population in Darfur is Muslim. But Khartoum used the cultural divide between north Darfur Arabs and southern Darfur Africans to split the resistance and gain the Arab leadership as proxy allies to “cleanse” the area of the majority African (non-nomadic) population.

This began several years ago and has been fairly well covered by major media such as the Washington Post, New York Times and the Wall Street Journal as well as international human rights groups and Christian relief organizations.

Throughout this entire Sudanese series of internal killing and destroying, the United Nations and most of Western Europe, have either mouthed toothless threats, hoped that the neighboring African countries would step in to help or allowed the United States to spend generously on human relief programs while they continued doing their lucrative business deals with Khartoum.

Both Clinton and Bush have made aggressive and very public appeals to the international community to join with the United States in forcing Sudan to back down. As is obvious, the basic response has been for the United Nations to continue to mouth platitudes and for France and China to, essentially, tell the U.S. to go to hell.

Interestingly enough, Iraq was similarly being used by France as a major source of its oil and economic investments. This was, of course, taking place while, on paper at least, France was a signatory with the sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

France and other European nations had little objection to the invasion of Afghanistan (because they had virtually no economic interests there) and even provided at least token troops and support.

With Iraq, however, these nations (including Russia) fought tooth and nail to keep the United States from invading one of their “cash cows.” In my opinion, it has not been President Bush’s “unilateralism” that has caused France and Germany and a few other nations to give the United States a cold shoulder. Rather, the issues are more fundamentally centered on a conflict between European security interests (which might have some sympathy for the invasion of Iraq) and economic interests (which clearly favored the status quo).

In some ways the “Old Europe” has been placing itself in opposition to the United States and our foreign policy priorities long before President Bush took office and invaded Iraq. Repeatedly, especially as regards the Middle East, America’s long-term economic and security interests have come into conflict with the short-term interests of France and Germany.

Part of this is economic. The United States has a strong and robust economy that can outlast an international crisis and eventually rebound. France and Germany (as well as most of the Scandinavian countries) are plagued with few natural resources, weak economies and a declining workforce. With lowered productivity they are increasingly unable to maintain the socialized societies that have evolved over the past 50 years. The huge numbers of unskilled East Germans who became part of the unified Germany has almost bankrupted the entire economy. Both France and Germany have increasingly relied on immigrant labor, largely from the Arab and other Muslim Middle East countries. It is estimated that Sweden may well have a majority Muslim population by as soon as 2025.

While the United States economy can absorb a disruption of oil production and economic investment in places like Iraq, Iran and Sudan, most of “Old Europe” cannot (or will not). Increasingly, China is also becoming more and more dependent on the status quo in promoting its own economic growth and stability.

What this means concerning Sudan and Darfur is that the United States is unable to bring the necessary pressure to bear on Sudan without seriously threatening the economic and political stability of France, Germany and, to a lesser extant, China.

In Iraq, the United States, for its own long-term interests, weighed the matter of competing interests and, in the end, refused to let France, Germany and Russia determine our foreign policy.

Sudan, however, is not as high a priority for these long-term U.S. interests as is Iraq. Iran, Syria/Lebanon, Palestine and Israel are of more immediate concern. The United States cannot afford to further alienate and damage our political and economic responsibilities to France, Germany and China over Sudan. There is, however, strong mutual interest in freeing Lebanon from Syrian control and containing Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In addition, American insistence that China be a full partner in negotiating with North Korea means that we cannot afford to confront them over Sudan at this time either. Until these matters are resolved I am afraid that, short of a change of heart in France and China, there is little that the United States can do except provide aid for the refugees and continue to shame the United Nations and the leading nations on the Security Council (which include the permanent membership of France, Germany and Russia and China….Japan is largely supportive of the United States position) into doing something more substantial than posturing with verbal clichés and symbolic wringing of hands.

Thus far, Europe and Africa appear to be both unwilling and unable to assert the sort of economic, political and military pressure on Sudan to halt the “cleansing” of Darfur.

It is no small thing to note that only the United States has (unofficially) labeled the purging of the Darfur African population as genocide. In addition, the United States, both through government aid and private, charitable giving, is providing the vast majority of relief to the people of Darfur.

One positive note is that the American outrage over Darfur is a bi-partisan outrage. It has transcended the divide between Democrats and Republicans, especially in the House of Representatives.

In a just world, the Sudanese government would be squeezed out of existence by a united international community. But the world is not just. And today the people of Darfur are the victims.

I have no doubt that, if the spread of governmental reform continues its success in Iraq and Afghanistan and, if that spirit of reform begins to move in places like Iran, Syria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, then Sudan will become not only a pariah in the eyes of the United States, but a pariah amongst its awakening neighbors, as well.

By God’s grace, peace and justice will one day come to the people of Darfur. Until that day comes we must not allow them to be forgotten or abandoned. And we should remember them with our pocketbook as well as with our prayers.

By the way, a wonderful internet site on the Darfur situation with many links to photographs is (be sure to click on “Latest News” at the bottom of the page for daily updates on matters related to Darfur). Other photographs can be found at
(which contains a very disturbing report on the atrocities).
Lastly, Little Green Footballs (which is a pro-Israel, conservative website), has some links to many matters concerning Darfur at

Please forgive me for getting carried away in this matter. Your information inspired me to take time to think and rethink this matter through. As you might gather from my thoughts I do not think that the international inaction concerning Sudan is either racist or representative of a devaluing of the lives of Africans over others. Nor do I think that American military intervention (without the full support and participation by our European and African allies) is a good idea at this time. We must, however, continue to support the government of Chad which is presently bearing the burden of the Sudanese refugees.