Monday, January 31, 2005

Being a Pastor is...Never Dull!

Today I led my weekly Bible Study through two more chapters of Job and shared prayer with those who attended.

Today I wrote one final article for our monthly church newsletter and reformatted the page that had already been made print-ready by our newsletter editor. I had to sort of squeeze it in at the last minute. Learning word processing skills has come with the job!

Today I spent some free time finishing up some music I wrote and performed as a wedding gift a year ago but never put in shape to present on a CD.

Today I listened and counseled with someone trying to improve a stressful relationship.

Today I listened to a man in my congregation who, after a long life of searching, had finally given his life over to God and accepted the Christian faith. What a story! It reminded me of C.S. Lewis' "Surprised By Joy!"

Today I met with our church New Building Team and made a final decision on who the architect will be for our upcoming $1 million expansion/remodeling project.

Today I sent an email to a new family in our congregation letting them know that they had given me their home and email addresses but not their phone number. I hope to visit them this week!

Today I consulted with the host of one of our upcoming Lenten Small Groups, confirming that I will be providing the scripture texts that I will be using in my sermon series so they can study them ahead of time each week.

Today I rested from yesterday morning when I led worship, preached, chatted with several new visiting families, engaged in some impromptu emergency counseling during our fellowship time and then subbed as teacher for our Senior High Sunday School Class.

Today was the sort of day that keeps me from becoming stuck in a rut. Today was the sort of day the keeps me filled with joy! Today was the sort of day that keeps me humble before the Lord. Today, like almost every day, I had the opportunity to use a variety of spiritual gifts and natural talents to further the Gospel in my congregation. Today I spent intimate, personal time with good people, sharing difficult times and wonderful times all mixed together! What a privilege to be a pastor! What an adventure!

I can hardly wait to see what tomorrow will bring! Praise the Lord!

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraq Votes: Profiles In Courage

A Day Like the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Today the Iraqi people voted for freedom. I will remember today much as I remember the day that the Berlin Wall came down...demolished from both the inside and the outside. It is a day that many felt would never come. It is a day that many did not want to come. But today it came. Freedom, autonomy and giant step towards genuine independence.

Iraqis vote!

The American and coalition troops represented the "outside" of the wall and the Iraqis themselves the "inside." Today, those "inside," with the help and support of those living in "outside" freedom, began the official and authentic demolition of the wall of oppression, tyranny and despotism which has confined them to hopelessness for the past 50 years.

For more pictures of the day's voting in Iraq check out Adam Keiper's slide show. Awesome!

Remembering American & Coalition Sacrifices

Much has been sacrificed to bring forth this great, wonderful and historic day. Over 1,000 American men and women, both military and civilian, coalition troops, too, and many other international civilians who had flocked to help build a new Iraq, hoping either for personal gain or simply to participate in creating history, have lost their lives fighting for someone else's hope for a better tomorrow. They have fought to protect their own countries' security as well, knowing that the more stable and free the world is, the more safe it is for everyone else!

Remembering Iraqi Sacrifices Under Sadaam

Not to be forgotten, of course, are the Iraqis whose lives have been lost in this struggle to be free. Over 1,000,000 Shi'ites in the south, either slaughtered as a lesson to others or mass murdered as reprisals for their revolt against Sadaam Hussein following the first "Gulf War" back in 1991. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds. slaughtered, some by poison gas, perhaps as a "Sadaastic" experiment to see how effective chemical weapons can be. The million plus Iraqis and Iranians who died in their own war, instigated by Sadaam in the 1980's might also be seen as sacrificial victims to a tyrant's twisted delusions of grandeur. And their are the Kuwaitis who were killed or who forever disappeared when they were invaded by order of Sadaam.

We must also, today, remember the women and children, tortured, raped, beaten, imprisoned and threatened daily as reprisals for a wrong word or a perceived act of defiance by a husband, father, or other family member.

Remembering Iraqi Civilian Casualties

And we must not forget the actual-count estimates of 15-18,000 civilians who have died as a direct result of the American/coalition invasion and occupation. While many of these deaths have been at the hand of the terrorist/resistance, it is clear that the large majority have been what has been euphemistically referred to as "collateral casualties." Their lives were tragically sacrificed by those who did not have any intention of causing them harm. Yet we must repent and mourn their loss and number them among the martyrs for freedom.

The uniformed troops loyal to Sadaam who died in combat must also be acknowledged with respect as so many of them fought honorably in defense of their country.

Forgetting the Terrorists

Those who resort to the extreme acts of terror, hiding among civilians and dealing random and indiscriminate death to foreigner and Iraqi alike, whose goal is only to destroy rather than to build up, who in no legitimate way represent the Iraqi people, these who who commit barbarous acts of videotaped beheadings, disembowlings and acts of indecency and desecration on the bodies of their victims, these shall forever be numbered among the citizens of hell, forgotten by both God and humanity. Damned by their own hatred and consumed by their misplaced passion. Never will any nation erect a monument to their memory. Indeed their only monument will be the rise of a free nation above their unmarked and forgotten graves, a monument to their ultimate irrelevance; lives wasted, thrown away; for nothing. Those who seek death will find it. It shall be their inheritance forever.

Purple Fingers

No comment needed

Tomorrow I shall color my right index finger blue as an act of solidarity with the people who voted in Iraq today. This suggestion came from someone who wrote the idea on Andrew Sullivan's blogpage earlier today. It would be nice if many others did the same. No doubt it will be a good conversation starter during the coming week! Speaking of colored fingers, Diary from Baghdad, a blog kept by an Iraqi civil engineer named Rose, had a very brief entry today. It read simply,

"I did it, I voted YES,YES, I did it. I have the courage to do it."

And with these words was this picture:

Choices: Theirs and Ours

The journey is not yet done. There are many more miles to go and many more decisions that must be made. But today the Iraqi people came to a crossroads. They considered the risks, the dangers, the uncertainties and the possibilities. And they voted their decision for all the world to see. Every nation that has a shred of decency and honor, every individual who has the love of neighbor in their heart, can do nothing less than to offer their full and enthusiastic support to the people of Iraq. To travel the rest of the journey alongside them will be a privilege!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Just Wondering.......

Why is it that every time I wash my t-shirts they come out of the washing machine inside-out? Today it was 8 out of 11 that emerged this way. Is there an engineer or a physicist somewhere who could explain this to me?

Just in case you were wondering, yes, I have tried turning them inside-out before putting them in the washing machine. The results are the same!

Just wondering.....

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Last night my wonderful wife and I had the privilege of seeing Ladysmith Black Mambazo in concert at the Leeward Community College theater.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

LBM came into being in 1961 when founder, Joseph Shabalala, brought friends and family members together in singing an a cappella singing style derived from traditional South African isicathamiya music. After winning every song contest available they became an icon for the Zulu communities in South Africa where they suffered under the oppression of Apartheid. In 1986 they gained world-wide recognition by way of their collaboration with Paul Simon on his historic "Graceland" album. In many ways they became a cultural symbol for Black African pride, hope and determination to gain freedom and justice in their native land.

Now, celebrating the 11th anniversary of the dismantling of Apartheid, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is on a world tour, sharing their considerable talent, humor and culture while, at the same time, promoting their latest albums, "Raise Your Spirits High" (nominated for a 2004 Grammy) and their just-released "No boundaries" (where they are accompanied by the classical strings of the English Chamber Orchestra).

The isicathamiya vocal style was not strange to our ears, partly because of the Paul Simon album and the resulting (but short-lived) popularity of such music in America. More to the point, the "call-response" style of music grounded with a repetitive choral background counterpointed by a solo voice adding lyric melodic and rhythmic variations reflects a traditional African vocal style first brought to the Americas in the hearts and minds of slaves.

Jazz and Gospel are two of the modern reincarnations of this type of music which can be heard in almost any African-American Christian congregation on any given Sunday morning. This reality, I think, is at the crux of Mambazo's influence and popularity in South Africa. They are a symbol of the strength and enduring power of traditional African culture. Whereas the Boer/Afrikaaner culture has largely collapsed into oblivion, the very culture that the Afrikaaners had tried to suppress and destroy has survived.

As a Christian I must believe that truth is ultimately stronger than falsehood and that freedom is stronger than oppression. The mere existence of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the triumph of their world tour is, I think, evidence that my faith is well-founded.

The performance was sold out and they received two standing ovations. This is how it should be. They have not only earned it, but they deserved it.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Tears In Paradise

"Semper Fi"

Two days ago a Marine helicopter went down in a sandstorm in Western Iraq. Thirty-one Marines and one Seaman were killed; all who were aboard. Twenty-seven of those men (they were all male) were deployed from Marine Base Kaneohe, on the Windward side of Oahu, about a 45 minute drive from where I live.

Although none of them (so far as I know) were from Hawaii, their spouses and children live here, attend school here and work here. Many U.S. and Hawaii State flags have been lowered to half-staff. Counselors are visiting schools helping staff learn how to deal with the deaths of a child's parent or friend's parent. I expect that some of the Marines may have attended a church somewhere on the island or may have coached little league or a soccer team nearby.

A retired Marine officer commented that a helicopter crash such as this can happen any time in any place. It could just as likely have happened at Camp Pendleton or some other mainland Marine base as in Iraq.

This does not bring me any solace; nor will it make any surviving family or friends feel any better, either. They are gone. All of them. In a moment. In a twinkling of an eye. Like Icarus we have attempted to tame the heavens and, like Icarus, our frail mortality has humbled us; bringing us back down to earth in more ways than one.

Yet the One who made the heavens and the earth is still Lord over all...including these fallen soldiers. We can do little more than trust them to the care and mercy of Almighty God and, for those who have faith in Jesus Christ, claim the certain hope of life beyond life and the resurrection to eternal life.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I Didn't Know That!

Did you know that the mother of former Monkee Michael Nesmith was the inventor of Liquid Paper? Neither did I. At least not until daughter Number Three told me all about it a few minutes ago.

Click for larger image

And did you know that the same General Santa Anna who won at the Alamo, lost Texas to Sam Houston and was eventually exiled from Mexico is credited with being the co-inventor of modern chewing gum?

It seems my wonderful wife has subscribed to a nifty magazine called, "Mental Floss." This magazine is an assortment of oddball trivia focusing on a different subject each issue. It is totally useless for almost anything that is important to me or anybody else which is why, of course, I will have to read every word of it when my daughter is done with it.

Oh, and by the way, did you know that the guy who invented your car's Cruise Control was.......blind? (I'm not sure I really want to think about that one too much!)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Meteorite Suspect Held In Cambodia

According to AFP News a "Suspected Meteorite" fell from the sky in the highlands of northwestern Cambodia early today.

Actual photograph of the suspected meteorite

Now I don't know much about this sort of thing but it appears reasonable to me that something that weighs over 10 pounds, looks like a rock, is found buried 16 inches into the ground where it was still warm to the touch, in the exact spot that something fell from the sky with a sound like "a bomb," and set fires that destroyed several hundred hectares of rice fields, should be considered a prime suspect as being a meteorite.

Although the rock was recovered and is being held by police it is not yet clear what charges will be brought against it. The rock's lawyers refused comment except to say that their client is innocent of everything and was only a simple, honest rock that had never been suspected of being a meteorite until today. "It will all be explained in court," one lawyer said as they left the police station this afternoon.

In the spirit of justice and fair play it is, I feel, important to remind my readers that everyone, even a rock, has the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Until then, we can only speculate and wonder whether, with all this publicity, the rock will be able to receive a fair trial in Cambodia. The same lawyer quoted above hinted that a request for a change of venue to Modesto, California, would likely be made in the next several days.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"Vox Blogoli" Revisited--Updated Thoughts on Jonathan Rauch, Hugh Hewitt & the Blogoshere

In light of Jonathan Rauch's appearance on Hugh Hewitt's radio program today, and in light of the Atlantic Monthly's agreement with Mr. Rauch to allow the entire text of his article to be posted on Hugh's website, updated thoughts are being solicited for yesterday's "Vox Blogoli." So, here are my updated thoughts.

Hip, hip hooray for Jonathan Rauch! You did a beautiful, gracious, mature and very unusual thing. You listened to your critics with open ears and respected their written responses to the excerpt from your article that Hugh posted on his website yesterday.

After reading Rauch's entire article this evening I can easily see that same gracious and mature character reflected in his prose (and even a successfully intentional attempt to be "fair and balanced").

I suppose it would be easy to take a cheap shot at Hugh for lifting that one particular section of text out of the context of the entire article, and such a shot might well be justified.

On the other hand, the disputed section of text was written without enough objectivity to recognize that its implied comparisons would be patently offensive to millions of Americans, in particular, those who might identify themselves as "religious conservatives".

The fact that this "mis-intended" paragraph was pentultimate in the article only served to exaggerate its impression on those who read it, including most certainly, Hugh Hewitt.

To his credit and to my relief, Jonathan Rauch admitted that he had mangled his intended thought with inappropriately juxtaposed imagery. He also apologized for it. He made no excuse for it. He blamed no one else; and suggested that if the rest of the article were to be considered it would show that this particular section was not at all consistent with either the tone or thesis of the whole.

I have read the whole article and I must concur with Mr. Rauch's own assessment. In light of this I am willing to believe that he may, in fact, actually have friends who are "religious conservatives" and is more likely than not respectful of and not un-informed concerning their values and beliefs!

As Hugh has pointed out, the entire exercise was a valuable proof of how quickly the blogosphere can respond to even the smallest and least malicious misstep in grammar and syntax in the MSM.

While clearly a wonderful improvement for accountability and self-correction in the media the use of the blogosphere in such a way as was done by Hugh raises certain concerns.

We who blog must be extremely careful not to allow ourselves to be manipulated by those who we admire and trust. It is tempting to write our "Vox Blogoli" responses in a way designed to "please" Mr. Hewitt or conform to what we think might be his own thoughts and opinions.

It would be sad, indeed, if the blogosphere divided itself into the sort of political party divisions so carefully parsed by Mr. Rauch in his article. It is far better for each of us to craft and hone our own voice rather than attempt to "clone" it after someone higher up in the ecosystem. It is not healthy, either, for good men like Hugh to feel too empowered in his opinions and commentary by allowing him to think that we praise and rejoice at his every utterance.

Hugh, I promise to do all I can to keep you humble! Don't let your growing following go to your head lest you begin to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think.

Indeed, although it might cost you some of your listenership, perhaps you should take a point of caution from Jonathan Rauch's article. Just like the Washington D.C. politicos, your status is maintained by being provocative and divisive. I suggest that you would be even more believable and authentic if you occasionally represented some of the unity of thought amongst the middle-majority of Americans, and chastise those in both political parties who seek to divide us as Americans for their own political gain.

For example, your concern over whether Arlen Specter was right-wing-pure enough to be allowed chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee or not. Is it now impossible to be a "mixed-blessing" such as are exemplified by such folks as John McCain and Arlen Specter on the Republican side and Joe Lieberman and Zell Miller among the Democrats? Must political positions always be adversarial and polarizing in order to be legitimate and respected?

Do you hear me, bloggers? Keep your independence! Don't become anyone's toady! Speak the truth as you understand it...but always in love...and with a level of dignity and respect all too lacking in the political arena today.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A "Vox Blogoli" Response to Jonathan Rauch and the Atlantic Monthly

His Royal Blogness, Hugh Hewitt, has decreed a new "Vox Blogoli" in response to a selected paragraph from a new article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine written by Jonathan Rauch. I have taken the liberty of cutting and pasting the excerpt from Hugh's site to mine. Here it is:

“On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside. Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics. The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out of their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard. When Michael Moore receives a hero’s welcome at the
Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is probably better for
the social peace than the other way around.”

I like to think of myself as a "religious conservative" of the mainline Christian denominational variety. I do not consider Democrats to be particularly evil and sometimes I even vote for them! My congregation, while probably having more flavors of Republicans, is diverse enough politically to force us to depend more on Jesus Christ for our unity than our political viewpoints.

Clearly I have more in common with my Evangelical friends than I do with my liberal Christian friends (who have now claimed the title, "Progressive Christians" in place of the old term, "liberal"). Even so, I consider members of both groups to be my friends...and more than that, my brothers and sisters in Christ!

Having said this, I am puzzled to see Mr. Rauch parallel "religious conservatives" with "insurgents and provocateurs" who "bomb abortion clinics" and are, to the right, what Michael Moore is to the left. In point of fact, I have always identified more with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jrs. of the world than with the "fierce activists" I am associated with in this article.

Of course, being merely mortal and vain, there are times when I dream of actually "provoking" my congregation on a Sunday morning! Generally speaking, however, I am more than content when I am able to keep them from dozing off during our 9:00 am worship! And never, ever have I planted an IED beneath their chairs to regain their attention! An insurgent I am not. In fact I am not ashamed or embarrassed to say that I have never bombed a single abortion clinic in my life. And, of the hundreds and even thousands of evangelical and conservative Christian leaders and believers that I have met and known, I cannot think of a single one who would consider such behavior to be a logical outgrowth of their faith.

I can only wonder if Jonathan Rauch has any friends who consider themselves to be "conservative Christians?" I can only wonder if he has ever met or ever even spoken with a "conservative Christian?" And I wonder if he has ever attended a worship service at a "conservative Christian" church?

From where I sit, "conservative Christians" are the foundational center of American culture and its citizenry. Where Mr. Rauch appears to consider himself to be a moderate Democrat in contrast to the extreme left wingers, most evangelical and conservative Christians would similarly, more often than not, consider themselves to be moderate Republicans in contrast to the extreme right wingers!

Michael Moore clearly represents a marginalized fringe of the Democratic party (taken as as a whole) whereas conservative Christians are the moral center of the Republican party. Those who push the limits of propriety and grace in the Republican party, such as a David Duke or a Patrick Buchanan, usually find themselves shuffled out of the party into the realms of political purgatory until, repenting of their sin, they can be forgiven and restored.

The right wing equivalent of a Michael Moore would be shunned by the Republican party. The vast majority of party members would be embarrassed by the presence of such excess, such bitterness, such dripping vitriol and egotistical self-promotion.

That is not to say that Republicans do not have their share of loonies running around. Each political party lives in a big tent that is filled with a wide range of diverse characters. Loony constituencies in both parties elect loony politicos to City, County, State and Federal offices and the parties have to live with them and, insofar as it might be necessary, work with them.

But such nut-cases are not cheered, praised and encouraged by the "religious conservatives" in the Republican party. Most certainly they are not given the seat of honor next to a former Republican President during a nationally televised national convention.

In short, there is no real parallel between the Democratic and Republican parties at all, except for the fact that both are political parties!

The culture of the Democrats and their widely diverse and conflicting Constituencies bear little or no structural resemblance to the culture of the Republicans. Whereas the Democrats consist of a fragmented constellation of special interest groups each seeking to promote their particular agenda, the Republicans, "religious conservatives" included, consist of individuals and groups who share a common consensus as regards their core moral, ethical and cultural values.

The consequence of all this is that, at its heart, the Democrats tend to focus on political programs while the Republicans tend to focus on political principles.

As someone who once, in my teens, supported the presidential candidacies of Bobby Kennedy and "'>Clean Gene" McCarthy, I have the perspective of having been on both sides of the political divide. I wonder if Jonathan Rauch has ever been a Republican? or a "religious conservative?"

I have long since been inoculated against feelings of disgust when I see myself and millions of other Americans being unfairly and predjudicially caricatured as over-the-top, gun-waving, freedom stifling, ignorant, narrow-minded, bigoted Red-necked, White-skinned and Blue-nosed crazies simply because we go to church on Sundays and believe the Good News of God's saving love in Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Rauch's radical mis-read on "conservative Christians" reminds of a man who once served as Campus Pastor at Whitworth College in Eastern Washington. One day, he said, a student came into his office expressing his disgust and his determination not to believe in a God who takes pleasure in letting babies be born deformed, who causes planes to fall out of the sky, who sends earthquakes and floods to destroy entire cities, who calls his chosen few together and sends everyone else to hell and requires his followers to believe and do irrational and illogical things in order to be "saved."

"What do you have to say to that!" the student demanded.

The ("religiously conservative") Chaplain quietly replied, "I agree with you completely! I don't believe in a God like that either! If you have a few minutes I'd be happy to tell you about the God I do believe in!"

I would truly enjoy the opportunity of having Mr. Rauch join my Central Oahu congregation for worship on a Sunday morning. I have no doubt that, if his eyes and ears are closed to the reality of the experience, he will find it dull, boring and a waste of an otherwise perfectly good Sunday morning. I doubt very much that he would find myself or my congregation to be in any way a threat to his liberty or in any way reminiscent of Michael Moore.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Rauch's eyes and ears are open to the reality of the experience, I strongly suspect that his heart might just soften a little bit and maybe, perhaps, potentially, theoretically, discover that "religious conservatives" can be more normal than he might have first believed.

And, I would add, if he was open enough for God's Holy Spirit to get inside him even for a moment, he might find that he had a few spare minutes to let someone explain to him what they really do believe!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

Johnny Carson died this morning. The news caught me by surprise. I did not even know he was in poor health. Only yesterday I heard a radio commentator say that Carson was still submitting jokes to David Letterman from time to time and that Letterman occasionally added them to his monologue.
Carson and the Tonight Show are inseparable from my adolescence and progress into adulthood. When he began hosting the show in 1961 I was too young to stay up to watch him. When he retired, I was often too tired to stay up to watch him!

For me he was the closest thing to my generation's Will Rogers. He was likeable, politically androgynous, naturally shy, genuinely interested in other people and possessing a wry and cutting humor that was never demeaning. Somehow, when Johnny had finished his monologue I always felt that the high places had been brought low and the low places raised up just enough to make the world seem like a happier and better place than it had seemed just a few minutes before.

Carson put "beautiful downtown Burbank" on the map for every American, whether they actually knew or cared where Burbank was or even if it existed in reality at all. With Carnac the Magnificent and all his other alter-egos Carson drew us out of our depressing preoccupations with the civil rights riots, the tragedies of political assassinations and the angry cultural clashes spawned by the Vietnam War. Hippies and the "Summer of Love," Neil Armstrong walking on the moon & the rise and demise of the Beatles were covered, each in their turn, during his tenure.
Carnac the Magnificent
One night in Winnemucca, Nevada, my wife and I had the strange experience of watching the Tonight Show at 10:00 pm, being broadcast from Utah's Rocky Mountain Standard time which always broadcast his show simultaneously with Central Standard Time (which, in Utah, meant 11:00 pm each night).

To be honest he was just as witty and funny at that earlier hour as he was two hours later someplace else!

It has been said that the popularity of his show caused a significant decline in conceptions and births in the American population. People were more interested in watching Carson than, other things!

It was hard to believe that, when Carson finally retired in 1992, he would, by choice, disappear into his own private world of personal friendships, tennis and a few appearances at selective charity events. The spotlight he reflected so well for so many years had no lasting ownership on his life. He valued and preferred privacy to the adoration of an admiring public and, to its credit, the media loved him enough to respect his wishes to be left alone. It was by his choice that we must say, "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Thee."

Ed McMahon
By contrast, Carson's sidekick, Ed McMahon ("Heeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrreeeeeee's Johnny!") stepped out of the Tonight Show and has since inundated us with TV ads offering us the possibility of being Sweepstakes Winners or talking to us about retirement health benefits. While Carson will be remembered warmly and well, I suspect that McMahon will always be more likely to be associated with junk mail than with anything he accomplished as America's nightly straight man.

Will Rogers
Like Will Rogers before him, Johnny Carson's life was forged in the values of the American mid-West "heartland." Like Will Rogers Carson found his popular legacy in entertainment and settled for life in Southern California. Both men were shy but enjoyed making others laugh. The laughter each of them shared was not contrived but genuine. The laughter came from hearts that were full of optimism, full of a love for America and committed to the ideal that "all people are created equal." And if someone needed to be brought down a notch in order to become equal with everyone else, they were both the first in line to do the job.

In the spirit of Will Rogers I can honestly say that "I never met a Tonight Show with Johnny Carson that I didn't like." For me, every weekday night was the "Best of Carson."
Good-night, Johnny

Saturday, January 22, 2005

FBI List Female Suspect As a Man

One of the people sought by the FBI in connection with a tip that Chinese nationals had entered the United States illegally with the intent of committing terrorism in Boston is Mei Xia Dong. Dong was listed in the January 20 FBI alert as being, "male, possible DOB 11/21/77 and Chinese passport #G08386268."

Today, in an update, the FBI announced that,

Mei Xia Dong, Chinese/female(originally thought to be male), was located upon being identified as one of 14 subjects allegedly involved in a Boston terror plot. Mei Xia Dong was located in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility in the San Diego , CA , area. She was arrested for an immigration violation by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agents on November 11, 2004 , and had remained in custody since that time.
I find it curious that the FBI was able to identify Mei Xia Dong's Chinese Passport number and her date of birth but did not know that he was a she! A number of possible scenarios came to mind...
--Perhaps mainland China has seen a recent upsurge in sex-change operations?
--Perhaps some low-level FBI geek wrote in the wrong thing in the blank space after the word "Sex." Perhaps he had intended to write Yes" and, thinking better of it, got confused and entered "Male" instead of "Female?"
--Perhaps there has been a high-level coverup involving Max Factor and foundation make-up? or

Click on picture for larger image
--Perhaps we have inadvertently stumbled upon an historic moment...the first time since the sixth day of creation where a woman has been pulled out of a man!
On the other hand, I suppose we can all benefit from a good ribbing once in a while!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Too Much God In Bush's Inaugural Address?

George Bush cited the word "God" three times in his inaugural address yesterday. The words "Jesus," "Lord," "Christ," "religion," "church," "Providence," "scripture," "Bible," "Koran," "Christianity," "Islam" and many other "god-type words" were not mentioned at all!

Yes, I admit that he did mention that each person is valuable "because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth." And, yes, he did make a reference to "the author of liberty." But I cannot, for the life of me, understand why someone of such rhetorical and political skill as Peggy Noonan can summarize Bush's speech as simply, "Way Too Much God."

The president's speech seemed rather heavenish. She writes. It was a God-drenched speech. This president, who has been accused of giving too much attention to religious imagery and religious thought, has not let the criticism enter him. God was invoked relentlessly. 'The Author of Liberty." "God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind . . . the longing of the soul."
Yes, I do believe I did sniff a whiff of "heaven" in this speech. But, before I go on, let me go back to the three times the word "God" was cited.

The first time the word "God" appears is in a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves: and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."
These words were spoken by Lincoln in a speech delivered before the first Republican State Convention of Illinois, held at Bloomington, on May 29, 1856. (It is interesting to note that Lincoln used the word "God" eight times in this stridently anti-slavery speech.) I suppose Ms. Noonan would prefer that, from henceforth, American presidents only publicly quote passages from Lincoln where the word "God" does not appear.

The second time the word "God" appears it shows up as part of a theological assertion, "Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills." Although it has a sort of timeless sound to it, this phrase appears to be original with this speech. It's parallel cannot be found on Google or any other search engine. It does, however, reflect an unequivocal Biblical/Christian understanding of God's providence.

In the context of the speech it could be more simply written as follows, "It is not for us to decide whether we are a nation 'chosen' by God or not. God does whatever God wants to do. And, in any case, that is not the reason we have 'confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom.'" That's all. Rather than claiming that God has somehow "chosen" the United States for this purpose, Bush says that we cannot determine whether we have been chosen or not. Such a claim is not necessary in any case, for our hope for universal freedom transcends any notion of "manifest destiny" or having received some sort of "divine favor" as a nation.

The third time the word "God" is used it appears in his closing sentence, "May God bless you, and may He watch over the United States of America."

Is this "Way Too Much God?"

But what about the phrase, "author of liberty." Has Ms. Noonan never sung the hymn, "My Country 'Tis of Thee?" The fourth, and final, verse begins, "My father's God, to Thee, Author of liberty, to Thee I sing." These words were written by Samuel F. Smith in 1832 with the final verse being a prayer asking for God's blessing on our country.

This unattributed citation supports the Bush thesis that human freedom is not a right granted by government or created and sustained by a national constitution. If this were the case then liberty and freedom, being conceived, created and granted by human hands, could just as easily be taken away by them. Freedom, with humanity as its foundation, is hardly a universal right. Every tyrant, every culture, every nation would be free to affirm human liberty or not. The idea of freedom itself would be reduced to that of an opinion.

Bush refuses to buy into this humanistic approach to human liberty and freedom. Instead, taking his place alongside the writers of our nation's Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution, he affirms that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Bush asserts that freedom is a right granted to every human being by God. As such it is both universal and irrevocable. It is good, it is right and, furthermore, being God's will, it will one day triumph.

Ms. Noonan somehow thinks that human freedom can be affirmed as a universal right without citing "God," "providence," "Divine Law," or even "the author of liberty." She is wrong. And, being an intelligent person, she should know she is wrong. The logic is simple and clear.

What she, and others, mean when they say that Bush uses too much "God-speak" is that they do not believe that liberty is a universal right. They believe that liberty is merely a choice, or an option that was chosen as the founding principal of our nation. Other nations, apparently, are free(!) to make different choices. Such alternative choices should not be judged as being better or worse, good or evil. Such judgment on our part must be seen as forcing American values and culture onto other, equally valid cultures with their own, equally valid, set of values.

What we have here are people dancing around the fundamental issue of whether our human freedom is granted by God or created by human invention and chosen as one equally valid option among many.

Personally, I feel much more comfortable with George W. Bush on this one. With his philosophy of freedom he would not be able to take it away from me even if he wanted to! Ms. Noonan and her ilk, however, cause me to break out into a cold sweat. If, as they imply, freedom is granted by a human hand, then it follows that, by a human hand it can be taken away.

Are they so blind as to not see this? Do they not see that they undermine the very values they pretend to hold?

"Way Too Much God," Ms. Noonan? Not by a long shot!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Bush Inauguration: Who Is That Standing Behind the President?

I love looking at photos of famous people mixing with the public. What I like best is not the famous people but the regular folks who are pictured standing in the background. I like them because nobody ever notices them. They are anonymous witnesses to an event that was worth photographing. Each of them has their own tale to tell. They are faces of mystery, waiting to be solved.

There were plenty of mystery people populating the photos of today's second inauguration of George W. Bush as President of the United States. Of course he and Laura look great...they are both naturally photogenic. But so are some of the shadowy figures lurking in the background. These generic and obscure people must be known and loved by someone, somewhere. If you know or can identify any of them please let me know.


(You can click on the photos for a larger image)

Any luck? I didn't think so!

More Bodies More Money?

At dinner tonight my daughter mentioned that one of her high school teachers had suggested the idea that the number of dead from the South Asia tsunami might be intentionally inflated to increase the amount of emergency relief money that has been pouring in.

My immediate response was, the money is not coming in to help the dead people but to help the ones who are alive. And no one needs to inflate the numbers of displaced and decimated individuals and families in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

An informative article on today's FoxNews provides insight into the confusing and contradictory numbers of dead being released by various agencies even within the same country. I find it cynical for anyone to suggest that these numbers are being artificially inflated for whatever reason. I suppose we are living in a cynical society but it's sad to think that my daughter and other high school students are being taught to think cynically about relief aid to victims of a tsunami.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Hey, Dude! Where's My Newspaper?

This week the Honolulu Advertiser daily newspaper stopped the afternoon edition that I have subscribed to for the past five years. Now I get the morning edition. Except today, when I went out front to get it, it wasn't on the driveway, or in the bushes or near the front door. Nuts! Only three days into the new delivery time and they already mess it up!

My wife had already left to drop off Eva at the High School before heading off to work and, when I finished my breakfast, I went into the garage, opened the garage door, backed out my car, closed the garage door with the remote and drove to the church. In the afternoon, when I picked up Eva from school, she mentioned that I had left the garage door open when I came home last night. My wife had closed it when she left the house this morning.

This evening, after dinner, I drove Eva back to the High School for presentation and sign up for Advanced Placement (AP) classes for her Junior year beginning next Fall (she has decided to take AP English). As we backed out of the driveway Eva said, "Oh, look. There's the newspaper. It was in the garage under your car!"

She was right, of course. The newspaper delivery person had thrown the paper through the open garage door and under the car. By the time I came out to look for it my wife had already closed the door.

I guess there is a lesson in this somewhere. Maybe something about people in glass houses or taking out the beam in your own eye or judge not lest ye be judged or ....well, you get the idea. And so did I.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Bible Ad Rejected by :"Rolling Stone"

Apparently the Bible is no longer the innocuous, dust-gathering, family heirloom sitting unused on the shelf of millions of American homes. It seems that the largest-selling book since the invention of the printing press has, for the first time, become controversial and unacceptable; at least to the editor and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine.

USA Today printed a story today relating how an ad, promoting the "Today's New International Version" (TNIV) translation of the Bible published by Zondervan, was rejected by the aging counter-culture's flagship publication.
Here is the ad, copied from the on-line USA Today feature. It is poor quality and essentially unreadable. I will put up a clearer one as soon as I can find it.

According to USA Today, "the rejected ad shows a serious young man, apparently pondering the problems of modern life. The text touts the TNIV as a source for "real truth" in a world of "endless media noise and political spin." A blue Bible peeks up from the corner of the ad."
The ad also carries the ad campaign's slogan: "Timeless truth; Today's language."
Kent Brownridge, general manager of Wenner Media, parent company of Rolling Stone, was quoted as having said that "(the ad) doesn't quite feel right in the magazine." He then added, "The copy is a little more than an ad for the Bible. It's a religious message that I personally don't disagree with." But, he said, "we are not in the business of publishing advertising for religious messages."
I wonder if an ad for the Koran, the "Wisdom of the Buddha" or the Kama Sutra would have violated this unwritten and previously unknown "policy?" Are we seeing a genuine concern for those who subscribe to Rolling Stone? Is there a fear that the sight of an ad encouraging them to read the Bible as a source of "truth" might cause dizziness, nausea and intellectual disorientation among readers notoriously noted for their advocacy of diversity and inclusion of all points of view?
What is it about the Bible that has suddenly caused it to become a cause celebre? More to the point, what is it about today's liberal culture that has made the Bible persona non grata?
It seems that anything related to the Christian or Jewish faith (except for Madonna and the Cabala, of course) sends shivers of discomfort and antipathy among the more radical of the blue state liberals.
Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword. More pointedly he said, "For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law' a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'"
Jesus knew that he would cause scandal. If he is the Lord he claimed to be then those who flaunt their independence from God are under his judgment. No one likes to be judged, of course. Especially by someone who doesn't seem to agree with you on nearly everything that you believe to be important.
The Bible stands as a judgment and a threat to the liberal left, especially those still stuck in the late 1960's "down with authority...don't trust anyone over 30" mentality (most of whom are now, of course, untrustworthy!).
It appears that for some people a crucifix in a jar of urine is OK but the Bible isn't. I fear for the day that such people find themselves in positions of power to legislate and impose their bigotry and hate-filled philosophies on what was once proclaimed to be the "land of the free and the home of the brave."
Perhaps I'm making too much out of a little misunderstanding between a magazine and an ad agency. On the other hand, could it be, perhaps, that this little episode represents just the tip of an ever-emerging iceberg?
Will we see more attempts to marginalize and discredit the Bible, Christians and the faith they confess? Will we one day deem public prayer to be offensive? Will we one day see the word "God" stricken from public discourse and public education? Will we live long enough to see public displays of the Ten Commandments or a Christmas nativity scene be declared unconstitutional? Will people be labeled as narrow-minded, homophobic, sexist, dangerous threats to America and the world simply because they go to church and worship God on a Sunday morning?
Honestly, I haven't read Rolling Stone for over 30 years. I didn't even know they carried ads at all, being so anti-capitalist and all that. Still, I'll give them credit for turning down paid advertising to uphold the integrity of their corporate principles. This they have the right to do.
But I bet that more than a few of their younger readers will some day soon pick up a copy of the TNIV and discover, to the surprise of both themselves and the editors of Rolling Stone, that there is, indeed, "timeless truth" in it.
This is because truth is like styrofoam in a bucket of water. You can stuff it down; you can drop heavy weights on it; you can try to break it up into pieces; but sooner or later it will rise to the top in spite of every effort to sink it to the bottom. Don't forget. There was a time when people thought that Jesus was dead and buried, too!

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a good time to reflect on why we have such a day set aside to remember Dr. King and, more importantly, the great and noble cause for which he gave his life.

I grew up during the Civil Rights struggle. Even as a child in Northern California, far from the drama where our nation's destiny was being reshaped, I sensed that something historic was taking place; something the likes of which I might never see again.

Slavery in the Western Hemisphere began almost as soon as Columbus landed somewhere in the Bahamas (most likely Plana Cays) back in 1492. As Spanish, and later, French, English and Portuguese, began settling into the New World they needed laborers to tame the "wilderness." Unfortunately for them, most of the indigenous people had the audacity to die off, victims of diseases previously unknown to them. Yet labor had to be found; and found it was, in the form of the West African slave trade.

The slave trade was not a new thing in Africa. Stronger tribes had from time beyond time enslaved their weaker neighbors and traded people for goods and wealth as needed. Islam also found its own niche, primarily in East Africa. But the New World provided an unprecedented market for slave labor. Soon, tens of thousands of Africans were sold by Africans to Europeans. By the time the slave trade was effectively ended in the mid 1800's those figures had risen into the millions.

The United States was among the last of the Western Nations to end the practice of slavery. Abolitionists tried to stop it through legislation and vigilantes like John Brown tried to change national opinion through violence. Both failed as did middle-ground approaches like the Missouri Compromise.

Slavery led to the bloodiest war ever fought by American troops. When the Confederate States of America lost the war it not only lost its declared independence but its right to slavery as well.

Reconstruction brought carpetbaggers to fill the political void left in the South. Corruption and greed filled the vacuum left by the absence of Abraham Lincoln and his moral firmness and clarity. While the white citizens of the South were crushed into economic submission those who had formerly been slaves fared even worse. Prejudice, bitterness, poverty and misplaced pride created a culture of oppression for every Negro in the South. Although guaranteed equality under the law by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, state and local laws were enacted and often brutally enforced that kept the former slaves and their descendents from competing with anyone else for economic wealth, education or full participation in the political process.

For over seventy-five years, from the collapse of reconstruction in the 1870's to the mid 1950's, little changed. Local white terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan "culled the herd" of any Blacks that were deemed to be too uppity or assertive of anything resembling equality. Threats were backed up by lynchings of hundreds of (mostly young) Black males.

In spite of this cultural and legal oppression, Black Americans developed a thriving counter-culture of their own. Within their own segregated communities they taught their own children and serviced their own needs with professionals who had been trained and educated in a small group of elite Colleges existing soley for Black students.

This uneasy social equilibrium began to unravel following World War II. Too many men had served as the military grew increasingly integrated during the conflict. Too many men had seen that the blood that was shed by each race was indistinguishable, one from another. Social taboos began to weaken. Black men who had fought and died for a common cause among white men began to question the status quo. Men like Jackie Robinson (1947 Brooklyn Dodgers)began to integrate professional sports and the increasing mobility of people from North to South and South to North made the old ways of segregation increasingly intolerable.

Finally, on December 1, 1955, a tired Black woman named Rosa Parks sat down on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus and refused to give it up to a white man. She was arrested. A Black boycott of Montgomery's bus system lasted 381 days, even beyond a Supreme Court ruling in November 1956 that declared segregation on public transportation to be unconstitutional.

With Rosa Parks, the media and the nation had a face and a person to represent the long history of racial abuse. In the person of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the time a pastor at Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the nation found an eloquent voice that raised the issue of racism to that of a moral imperative. Institutional racism, forced segregation and the quasi-legal contortions that justified it were vigorously decried as hateful distortions of the founding documents of our nation, especially the ringing words of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal , that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..."
The violent reaction to attempts to integrate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, three years after the Supreme Court had ruled that segregated schools were "inherently unequal," revealed to America the bitter hatred towards Negroes and the lengths some would go to resist the tide of change.

Both White and Black folks from the North began to head South to stand alongside those Blacks who were calmly, yet firmly, defying segregationist laws in lunch counters, public drinking fountains, and voting registration. Such people were termed "Freedom Riders" and their effect on the growing Civil Rights movement were crucial to its eventual success.

The Southern White resistance to the inevitable produced vicious assaults on non-violent demonstrators and marchers and a number of brutal murders. The majority of Americans were shamed, embarrassed and humiliated by the film footage shown on the nightly television news. Slowly, but with an air of progress stirring amidst the chaos, the critical mass of public opinion turned. In 1962, then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, sent National Guard troops into Southern states to enforce federal anti-discrimination law and allow James Merideth to enroll at the previously all-white University of Mississippi.

On August 28, 1963, 200,000 people "marched" on Washington D.C. to demonstrate their demands for an end to legalized segregation. The closing speech of the day was delivered by Dr. King. It's repeated refrain, "I have a dream..." stirred the nation and elevated him as the foremost spokesperson for the Civil Rights movement.

In response, President Kennedy was emboldened to submit his "Civil Rights" bill to the congress, over a year earlier than he had planned. Following his assassination on November 22, 1963, Lyndon Johnson, a Texas Southerner and new President, continued to support and endorse it.

This comprehensive legislation passed in 1964 and follow-up law, the Voting Rights Act, was passed in 1965.

On April 4, 1968, while I was a Junior in high school, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Two months later, Robert Kennedy met the same fate at the hands of a gunman in Los Angeles.

All of this I remember because I saw the drama unfold. I saw the moral rightness in the Civil Rights struggle and I was inspired to assimilate its lessons through the powerful rhetoric of a man who "spoke the truth with love" to the people of America, and articulated a vision of the way things should one day be.

Today, as we take a day off from work, it is good to remember our national past, both good and bad, as personified in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Just as any of us, Dr. King was flawed and imperfect. But the banner of freedom he helped raise for his people and for all of us still rallys us to the high ideal of equality for all.

Following his death, a friend and I took city buses across San Francisco to attend a massive memorial service at Grace Cathedral. Following the service, we joined the religious and civil leaders in a procession through the great Ghiberti Doors and around the top of Nob Hill. When we returned to the Cathedral I was astonished to see people still streaming out of the church, just beginning their memorial march. There were so many people, the strains of "We shall overcome" echoed off the surrounding buildings as it was being sung simultaneously yet not in unison by tens of thousands.

I remember that moment as though it were yesterday. That moment galvinized my determination to never flinch from defending the civil rights of any and all who would ever be judged on the basis of the color of their skin rather than "the content of their character."

Is there more to be done? Yes, of course, although I believe it is less than many would like us to believe. Slowly, slowly I have watched as Dr. King's dream has begun to be turned into reality. The freedom is now there for the taking. The opportunities have been unleashed. These freedoms came through a struggle that was by no means easy. We should not expect that the struggle to implement them be any easier.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Gospel Choir

Sometimes a photo captures something you were not able to see when you took it. This is one of those. At the end of September 2004 I took my middle daughter, Emily, to Seattle Pacific University where she moved into her dorm and went through orientation for her first quarter of classes as an incoming Freshman. SPU gives the royal treatment for incoming students and their parents. The first evening we were welcomed with a program in the gymnasium that included a musical selection from the university's Gospel Choir. I took the photo from across the gym. From that distance the choir formed only a small group in the center of the picture. Later, when I downloaded it onto my computer, I zoomed in to see what details might show up. To my pleasant surprise I discovered amazing detail, expressive faces and a sepia-like graininess that reminded me of a cross between Rembrandt and Norman Rockwell. With a little cutting and trimming I came up with these beautiful compositions, unretouched and just the way it was when they were too far away for me to see! I hope you enjoy them. Be sure to click on them to get the full effect.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Seeing Long Distance

I was able to see my daughter in Seattle today. No, I didn't go there and she didn't come here. But I saw her nonetheless. We even smiled and waved at each other.

For Christmas I gave Eva and Emily a pair of web cams and the software to go with them. I know this is very old technology but it is new for me to be able to have it in my home and use it to see my far-away daughter. The two sisters not only looked at each other today but talked to each other on their cell phones while they looked at each other. Not only that but they also played a game of internet cribbage at the same time.

I reminded me of my youth back in 1960 when I watched with wonder as the television networks broadcast the first "live" pictures beamed from Europe to America by satellite. The satellite was the Echo I and the pictures they showed on the TV were of Big Ben in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I could see cars and trucks moving on the streets and people walking in the "real time." It was a magical and marvelous moment. It was a moment that changed the world.

Today we see live images of tsunami ravaged coastlines and rescue efforts at the site of a Southern California mudslide. Videophones connect us to live scenes in places where no regular cameras can broadcast. I am captivated by it all.

Especially when it gives me a chance to not only see my daughter in Seattle but to wave at her, too!

Friday, January 14, 2005

A Response to Article by the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly

In the December 20/27, 2004 issue of The Presbyterian Outlook, the current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, Rick Ufford-Chase, delivered a message to the church.

Click on article to read

The subject of his article is raised in the first sentence, "Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Is peace possible?"

In a rambling response, reading more like a journal entry than a carefully crafted theological reflection, he shares his complete lack of a clear and cogent answer to the question.

He first considers and rejects the idea that a "just war" approach can ever lead to "credible peacemaking." Here he also equates "just war" with something called "redemptive violence" and finds this also "problematic on both a theological and a pragmatic level." With these words the Moderator raises concepts not even taught by scripture. They are "straw men" arguments, artificially brought forward for the simple purpose of easily dismissing them.

Nowhere, for example, does scripture ever describe warfare or violence as being righteous and holy. In this sense war is never "just" as God is "just." Nowhere does scripture declare that the "the peace which passes understanding" can be inaugurated with the sword. Nowhere does the Bible teach the concept of "redemptive violence" except in the case of animal sacrifice in the Old Testament and the crucifixion of Jesus in the New.

My response to this first point is one of wonder...wonder as to whether he has ever read Romans 13:1-8. In this passage, the Apostle Paul declares that God has granted governmental authorities the power of the sword to assert order and justice within its bounds and to deter and repel those who would threaten the peace and security of its subjects from beyond its borders.

Under ordinary circumstances, scripture declares that the single-minded purpose of government-sanctioned violence is to resist and contain sin that threatens to corrupt or destroy the social fabric of an otherwise peaceful and secure nation.

In practice, war is not unlike biblical divorce. God permits divorce because of the "hardness of men's hearts" (Matthew 19:3-9). Even so, God does not "bless" divorce or declare it to be "just." On the contrary, the mind of God on this matter is very clear: "'I hate divorce,' says the Lord your God" (Malachi 2:16).

In the same way, God permits war because of the hardness of our hearts and the self-justified violence that ensues when rebellion against God leads to the intentional and wanton destruction of the life and liberty of others. Even so, God does not "bless" war or declare it to be "just." On the contrary, the mind of God on this matter is very clear: "Love one another as I have loved you:" (John 13:34). While this command for mutual, reciprocal love is specifically intended for individual followers of Jesus to put into practice, it is clear that it is also characteristic of God's rule over nations, kings and lords as well. The meaning of scripture is, or ought to be, clear: "God hates war."

Along with God, we, too, should hate both divorce and war. But we should keep in mind that God "permits" them both as merciful concessions to our sin and to grant us the means to resist the oppression that constantly threatens us as individuals and as nations in a fallen world.

We have only to turn to World War II for a simple example of war engaged for the purpose of resisting the oppression that threatened us at that time. While ultimate judgment against evil remains with God alone, it is questionable theology to assert that it is more righteous to stand by while sin devours the innocent than it is to resist that evil by any and all means, including force, when all else has failed or is deemed to be futile.

While the murderous slaughter of millions of people (both military and civilian) did not usher in the "peaceable kingdom" of the Realm of God it did have the effect of curbing evil and setting innumerable numbers of people (mostly civilians) free from the yoke of tyranny and bigotry. Ask any Jew if they think that WW II was a war worth fighting.

Secondly, Mr. Ufford-Chase then states that he "can no longer nuance the use of violence. It's increasingly difficult to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys." He then proceeds to equate any act of violence which kills civilians, "whether they are the victims of terrorist attacks or well-executed military campaigns."

The Moderator has committed a common but grievous error by confusing two distinct issues. He has conflated the matters of purposeful intent (motive) and particular outcomes. It is as though a man entered my home and beat my child to death to keep them quiet while committing a burglary and to then equate that with a child crushed to death under the wheels of his mother's car as she backed out of the driveway.

While the outcome is identical (a dead child) the motives are clear and distinct from each other. To dismiss this distinction as a "nuance" is nothing short of outrageous as is the attempt to classify them as morally equivalent.

Using a different example: It might be important to debate whether pursuing a suspected robber or murderer in a high-speed car chase is worth the risk of life and limb to the police officers and to others who might be caught in between; but it would be foolish to assert that the moral intent of the pursuing officers was indistinguishable from that of the fleeing suspect.

The Bible declares that the Lord judges peoples hearts, not simply the consequences of their behavior. The Old Testament law is filled with examples of just how important the application of this "nuance" is to God. Motive and intent are not optional considerations in such things. Indeed, they form the veritable essence of morality.

Lastly, the Moderator proposes a "third way, the way of the cross." This "way of the cross" leads to "the kind of security that comes from upside-down, Gospel-inspired thinking." I would hope to think that Mr. Ufford-Chase would have rewritten his next sentence had he taken the time to proof-read it carefully: "Security, in Jesus' world, comes not at the point of a gun that protects us from our enemies but from the peace that can only be achieved when we all feel secure."

When this sentence is reduced to its simple noun, verb and subject essence, it reads: "Security comes when we all feel secure." It is from this tautological premise that the rest of the article proceeds...and fails either to persuade or to offer anything other than wishful thinking ("What if my own privilege didn't appear to come at the expense of another person's ability to provide for the most basic needs of her family?") and outrageous imaginings ("What if 200,000 Christians trained in nonviolence had gone to Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of September 11, 2004?" (sic)).

Over the years I have seen many cars bearing a bumper sticker that reads, "Visualize World Peace." Our General Assembly Moderator and all of us would do well to do the same (not the bumper sticker but the thought!). But to think that this sentiment rises to the level of "practical theology" is less than compelling.

On the other hand I must affirm our Moderator's comment that "many believe I am naïve to think that one can follow Christ's witness and refuse to respond to violence with violence." My family heritage on my mother's side is Anabaptist pacifist. To avoid war and forced conscription is why they fled to American in the first place. Some were even slaughtered by Indians in 18th century Pennsylvania because they refused to use violence to defend themselves.

Christian pacifism is not naïve. It is a serious response to Jesus' call to introduce his kingdom into this world and live the fullness of the Christian life in a world that still operates in the context of sinful humanity.

While I respect this personal act of conscience among Christian believers I must disagree with any attempt to apply such a non-violent approach to the role of the ruling authorities of nations. As cited above in Romans 13:1-8, such leaders are given the authority to "wield the sword" by none other than God, from whom all power and authority are derived.

For this reason, the very next sentence from the Moderator not only appears to be in conflict with scripture but with historical reality and common sense as well: "I would suggest that nothing could be more naïve than the continued insistence that a war on terrorism has made us safer, or that it has any potential to do so in the future."

As individuals, especially within the context of the Christian community, we are not permitted to return evil for evil, or an eye for an eye. We are called to love even our enemy and to pray that they might be transformed by grace, working through faith, to become the Holy Spirit-filled person that God created them to be.

I would never criticize any follower of Jesus who would stand before Osama bin Laden, speaking the truth in love and, like Jesus, being willing to be led like a lamb to the slaughter as a living witness to the higher and eternal truth of God's will for us all.

I would, however, quickly condemn any national leader who suggested that our country stand before those who would destroy us in a similar manner.

Perhaps this particular war on terrorism is not making us any safer. That is a reasonable position to debate. But it is not reasonable to conclude that there is no possibility that a war on terror might make us any safer now or ever.

Israel is a lot safer with a wall and a vigilant military protecting it from those who would take pleasure in murdering their women and children along with anyone else who might be identified as a Jew.

It is also worth noting that our own national independence and the unprecedented guarantees of freedom that we enjoy were gained through the sacrifice, death and destruction of war.

"Four score and seven years later," would our Moderator suggest that the "Northern States" should have allowed the "Southern States" to secede, thereby preserving the institution of slavery, weakening the Union and sowing the seeds for its future disintegration. "What if" 200,000 non-violent abolitionists had gone to Atlanta, New Orleans and Richmond after the attack on Fort Sumter? Would that have resolved what was inherently unresolvable?

I want our Moderator to be assured that I do not equate his speculative musings "with being a traitor to one's country," as he fears some may do.

On the contrary, I respect and admire his desire for some new paradigm "that will help us to become unstuck." I also share that same desire and pray that we might someday soon be given the grace to discern it clearly.

In the meantime, however, I shall choose to stay the course with the fundamental character of our Reformed Faith left intact, including Calvin's "two-kingdom" understanding of the distinct divine anointings of Church and State. The first, for the proclamation and demonstration of the good news of Jesus Christ and God's coming kingdom; and the second, to protect and preserve the righteous freedom of God's people from "the rulers of the darkness of this world" even if, by God's concession to our hardness of heart, it leads nations to war.

"Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!"

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Proud Parents; Happy Daughter

Today was a good day. It was a day that many parents ponder as they stare in wonder and disbelief at their newborn child. No, not a wedding, but a college graduation! Such miracles do occur! I can attest to it. My eldest daughter, Ella, did it this evening. Her name was called, loud and clear, from the platform of the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu's Kapiolani Park, and she walked across and received her BA degree in Psychology. At that moment she became an alumnae of Hawaii Pacific University (which will, starting later this year, begin asking her for financial contributions to the alumni/ae fund at ridiculously frequent intervals).

I sat out front next to my mother (visiting from California for the occasion), Ella's best friend, Danica and my youngest daughter, Eva. Middle daughter, Emily, was back at college in Seattle braving winter snow while we were basking in mid-70s evening outdoor temperatures in our shirtsleeves.

My wonderful wife, who is a faculty member at Hawaii Pacific, not only marched in with the faculty and got a close-up view of the whole thing from the platform, but also enabled us to get a reserved parking place in the faculty parking area. All her years of study and teaching finally paid off!

Before the commencement we enjoyed a wonderful meal together. Afterwards Ella and Danica headed off to a graduation party at a restaurant overlooking Waikiki Beach.

Ella's proud father (me) thought she looked beautiful and radiant tonight (two cliches that actually describe her perfectly). The Hawaiian custom of piling up floral leis on honored people on special occasions made many of the graduates look worrysomely top-heavy in a South Pacific, fragrant sort of way!

Ella wore her cap, her gown, her leis and her smile quite well. Her mother even joined her in a little dance before the ceremony
and her proud Grandma T joined them both in a happy photo op afterwards. Dad managed to wind up in a few pictures as well, but humility precluded him from posting anything with his face on it tonight.

Ah! One child down and two more to go! I haven't had to take out a second mortgage on our house, yet, and, by God's grace, will never have to. On the other hand, Ella is hoping to begin a graduate school program on the mainland next Fall. I'm proud of her for that, too. But I'm keeping my hand on the wallet in my back pocket!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Well, the Dick Thornburgh and Louis D. Boccardi investigative report on the fraudulent Rathergate memos (purporting to be documents from President Bush's National Guard Service) was finally released while I was on retreat. These memos, immediately declared to be forgeries by internet bloggers (including, but not limited to Powerline, Jim Geraghty, Instapundit, RatherBiased, LittleGreenFootballs INDCJournal, Wizbang, and Hugh Hewitt) were aired on CBS just one month before the national election as evidence of W's purported absences from duty responsibilities back in the 1970.s.

Several investigative and news-vetting staffers were fired but the credibility of Dan Rather and CBS News President Andrew Heywood were covered and "preserved." Heywood not only got a pass but was commended for his tough insistence that the report be accurate and validated. According to the report his words of caution and instruction were ignored and not carried out.

As chief administrator of the news department, doesn't that imply that he had, through lack of oversight, discipline or guidance, allowed a culture of incompetence and rampant anarchy to matasticise throughout the news staff? How can he get off the hook so easily? Whatever happened to "the buck stops here?" We don't even get an apology from him like we did from good old Dan. I suspect that either his "golden parachute" is too big for CBS to afford or that he has enough "dirt" on the rest of the CBS executives to sink the entire ship should he be placed in a position to write a book or to "get even." My guess is that he will be allowed to hang in there for a year and then retire early or be transferred to some other CBS job where he will not be able to cause any more embarrassment to the network.

Clearly the blogosphere had the big hand in bringing this entire matter to the fore. Tens of thousands of bloggers and informed internet readers knew of the scandal even before the CBS folks woke up the day after the story was broadcast. Even if the bloggers had not raised the red flag when they did it is likely that the forgeries would have been noticed soon enough, but perhaps without enough pressure or outrage to have forced the sort of backbreaking contortions and spin that actually ensued at CBS.

While I would encourage the blogospere to continue to pursue the "missing links" in the report (especially the professional connections between CBS staffers and the Democratic Party...bias? what bias?) I think the one-eyed monster has been beaten into a respectable level of humiliation in the eyes of the American public. Let's just let Dan "go gentle into that good night" but keep up the "rage, rage against the dying of the light" wherever the truth is twisted, fabricated or ignored.

The "evil eye" winked at the truth once too often and got poked with a blog-stick. Perhaps a corrective lens would help the CBS news department see reality a little more clearly next time. I'll not be holding my breath.

Pastor's Retreat

The past two days I have been at the annual Pastor's Retreat sponsored by Hawaiian Islands Ministry (aka HIM). This was the 11th time I have been a participant and it gets better every time.

This year over 60 pastors and staff from over 40 churches spent two days listening to Don Cousins, a co-founder and former Executive Pastor of the Willow Creek mega-church outside of Chicago. Don helped us refocus our call to ministry and helped walk us through matter of the heart, team building, truths and lies about serving God and what really determines whether a minister is "successful" or not. It was better than great. God showed up in the presentations, in the prayers, in the sharing, in the renewing of old friendships and the creation of new ones.

For the past five years the retreat has been held at St. Stephen's Diocesan Center (that's what the picture is showing) just off the Pali Highway, half-way up the Pali from the Kailua side. There are few more beautiful spots in the world and the sun shined the entire time!

I took copious notes and fear that I may have compiled enough material for at least three sermon series covering nearly four months worth of Sundays! It is all wonderful, biblical, life-changing, life-rearranging stuff. It helped touch the hearts of a bunch of tired and hungry pastors. I know it will do the same for the good folks in my congregation. After all, they get tired and hungry, too!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Seeing Something in a New Way

I sat in with the Men's Sunday School class this morning. I'm glad I did. They had read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew -5-7) during the week and were sharing what had touched them personally. Towards the end of the class Roger drew our attention to Matthew 7:13-14 which he then read,
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
He then read a poetic reflection on this passage written by Sam Shoemaker called, "I Stand at the Door." In these words Shoemaker describes those who seek truth blindly in the dark, as though feeling their way along a wall, groping for something, anything that might give meaning and purpose to their lives. He declares that he will stand by the door, or "narrow gate," that leads to God and to life. (For a Christian, of course, the door or gate is Jesus Christ.)

Shoemaker's explains that his purpose in standing by the door is two-fold. 1. To grasp the arms of the seekers and lead them to the door so that they might go in, and 2. To meet those who, having entered the door, are in retreat due to fear or guilt and encourage them to trust the love and mercy of God and to continue with their journey through and beyond the door.

I have read these words from Matthew 7 many, many times. But never had I thought of them in terms of outreach and evangelism. But now my eyes have been opened!

It makes sense to me that that the point that Jesus was trying to make may have been this: Since the gate is small and narrow and few find it, it should be the responsibility of those who have already found it to lead others to it!

Shoemaker ends his reflections with these words, "I had rather be a door-keeper. So I stand by the door."

Twenty-five hundred years ago a Jewish poet wrote a similar sentiment when he said, "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (Psalm 84:10)

As Alice (in Wonderland) discovered, sometimes the smallest doors can lead to the greatest wonders! To help lead others to find that door for themselves, I think, must make God smile. Thank you, Roger, for helping me to see something "old" in a new way.