Moral Contradictions

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

News clip roundup

Here are a few links worth checking out:

- CBS correspondnet breathing on ventilator: So... combined with the US government's propaganda media organization going without a Baghdad correspondent for 6 months, how is the liberal unpatriotic media supposed to report the dearth of good news in Iraq if they're being killed?

- Bush troubled by reports of Iraq killings: Or as the headline should read "Bush angered and ashamed by reports of a massacre that could further undermine our effort."

- Taken out of my church by the religious right: A must-read article as scenes like this have been and are way too common. Folks, it's all about control - dissent is suppressed, theology is substituted for cultural conservatism, and our faith is hijacked by those who refuse to shed our base human instincts and believe the entire Bible. Congregational churches are run as democracies, not military dictatorships. There is a difference between "Christians" and "Christianists".

- Left Behind Game - Visit their website and view the preview movie. My wife tells me that the theology behind the Left Behind series (I couldn't stomach the books because of the shabby writing, much less the garbage theology) isn't cut and dried as these folks make it. This "Christian" video game will do more harm in the name of Christ then good.

There is a difference between the Salvation Army folks and the Christianista Crusader Army, and it's a shame to watch folks fall into lockstep as dissenters are pushed out.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Justified violence

Exposing young children to violence in video games is potentially harmful, as well as violence on television. I bet millions of Christian parents would agree with that statement.

Would they agree with a video game spun off the Left Behind series where non-Christians are killed if they refuse to convert? What if they knew Rick Warren was a driving force behind the game, and that it will be actively marketed toward young teenagers?

This game immerses children in present-day New York City -- 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).
...

If violence, coarseness, and materialism are serious social problems, then what purpose is served by exploiting a global pastoral network to mass market a game about mass killing, whether in the name of Christ or the AntiChrist?

On the one hand, this video game is anti-American, because it endorses roving death squads engaged in faith-based violence without any regard for Constitutional law. On the other hand, the video game is anti-Christian, because it argues that the Kingdom of God can be advanced by using the methods and tools of the kingdoms of this world, namely guns and bombs.

The Scriptures say, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) The Scriptures do not say, "Train up a child in the way he should blow away the people of God as well as infidels: and when he is old enough, he will go out and do some killing."

As Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here" (Gospel According to John 18:36). As Paul said, "Though we walk in flesh, we do not make war in accordance with the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly." (2 Corinthians 10:3-4a).


Jesus changed the world with love. He did not compel anyone to follow Him. Remember the rich man who walked away from Christ? Jesus did not chase after Him and beat him with a scroll until he agreed to follow. He was disappointed, but respectful of his free will.

In fact, Jesus raised Lazarus back to life and healed many others, yet still died on the cross for our sins. He could have hopped off that cross and slain the Romans and those who put him there. Instead, He allowed us to kill Him, yet still His perfect will was accomplished despite our imperfections.

I'm convinced that within politics, academia, and churches, that the basic concept of freedom scares many dominionist and fundamentalist Christians. Free will does not fit in their world view as it potentially hinders conversion. A perverted Calvinistic belief system can justify ridding the world of non-believers because God did not elect them for salvation. Or so my little pea brain sees things in light of this video game.

I have nothing against spreading the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission. However, I am extremely disturbed with un-Biblical and un-Christian ways of spreading the Good News. Just as no one can be compelled to say the Pledge of Allegiance, we cannot compel others to accept Christ. We can talk to them, pray for them, reason with them, but ultimately it is not up to us.

What part of following Christ do these cultural conservatives who call themselves Christians not understand? How are games like these different from training camps designed to indoctrinate fundamentalist and radical Muslims into terrorists?

Ghandi: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Lima Company

Last night I watched most of a special on A&E (maybe?) that focused on Lima Company, a small Marine unit that saw heavy losses last year in Iraq. The story was told by the guys there - everyone from lance corporal all the way up to the major.

They group had a video camera with them and filmed both battle scenes and downtime. They spoke of their friends, only to tell how they watched them die. They spoke of their families back home - their dreams, aspirations - how they were looking forward to returning. Yet all came back profoundly changed.

I myself have not served in the military - my grandfather was the radio operator in a B-17 in World War II. He was shot down in Belgium and recalled how happy he was to see an American flag as they crashed in between enemy lines.

My father has worked for the Navy for 25 years or so and impressed on me a love of my country and knowledge about combat aircraft that bewilders my wife.

Part of my job is to work in a store that sells boots to marines at Quantico. I also oversee our website which sells to anybody, but mostly military folks of all branches make up our client base.

The new officer candidates that will walk in our doors in a couple weeks will be younger than myself. I see corporals and sergeants walk in along with captains and majors who I know have seen combat in some form. I wonder what their stories are - where they are from, where they've been, what they've seen.

More often than not I'm not given an opportunity to ask these questions, mostly due to my reserved nature, but also because I hear myself repeating "don't let your heal slip, that's how you get blisters" and explaining the advantages of a stitched sole versus a glued sole. Out of respect the only conversation I initiate starts with "are you looking for anything in particular?".

I have several University of Oklahoma shirts that I often wear while I'm manning the store, and they have always proved to be great conversation starters. Mainly it's a Texan who reminds me of UT's football championship, only to have me remind them of 2000. I can ask them where they're from, if they went to school or hope to some day, and if they have a wife/girlfriend. The biggest compliment is when they walk out and shake my hand and thank me for their experience in our tiny store.

I don't appreciate these encounters simply for business purposes - yes I want them to come back again so I can have food on my table, but I really enjoy what I do. My boss thinks all Marines are the same - I've learned that even though they wear the same uniform, they are vastly different. No matter their background, their political persuasion, religion, or personality, they are called to the same mission. I admire that teamwork, that common sense of duty, and commitment to each other.

What's the next step for these guys? Will they deploy again? How long will they be away from their families? ....Will they return?

Even though I haven't served in uniform, I'm proud to reflect that in some small way I'm helping out. Though I may not agree with everything about this current war, I do admire their sense of duty, their commitment, and their willingness to serve. I pray that they will all be safe as they carry out their orders.

You can support our troops no matter your opinion of the war. In fact, in some ways that's simple patriotism mixed with honesty - we have the freedom to disagree, but maintain the respect and appreciation of those who defend that freedom. If we cannot honestly discuss and debate current issues, what are our soldiers protecting?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hastert clear, Cheney not so much?

The DoJ is claiming that Hastert is not part of the investigation, but Cheney may be called to testify in the CIA leak case.

So many crooked politicians and so many scandals - if we had honest men in office we wouldn't need to blog about them, now would we?

Oh yeah, and apparently in a few minutes we should hear the verdict in the Enron case. Let's not forget that at one time President Bush considered Ken Lay his best friend.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

In light of...

...all the junk that occured at today's IMB trustee meeting in New Mexico, Bruce Gourley's column in the May 2006 Baptist Studies Bulletin reminded me of an appropriate passage in Luke:

Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering. (Luke 11:52)


I'm saddened to see so many leaders in positions of both denominational and societal power fail to grasp the true purpose of our calling. I believe that just as Jesus shook his head at all the legalisms and doctrinal questions the Pharisees used to corner him with, He would probably have a similar response to tactics seen today.

These tactics root themselves of control. Politics is about obtaining and keeping control. A key principle of politics is that the ends justify the means, whereas Jesus teaches us that the means very much justify and determine the end.

How difficult is it to follow Jesus' teachings? Or rather, how much more difficult is it for folks who claim to be "Christ"ians to ignore those teachings?

The corruption net snares again

Our favorite out of touch congressman, Speaker Dennis Hastert, may have been caught up in the whole Abramoff scandal.

No wonder he got in a tizzy over the FBI raiding a Democratic congressman's office. What does Speaker Hastert have to hide?

Maybe we need a President Jack Ryan?

Um... contradiction?

...or just plain ol' hypocrisy?

Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the link to the transcript of Keith Olbermann's Countdown show where he reveals something quite interesting.

Think that the evil lib'ruhl media is at fault for only portraying negative news from Iraq and unfairly steering opinion against the Bush Administration?

If so, then answer why the US Government's own news organization, Voice of America, hasn't had a correspondent in Baghdad for the last six months?

While the Bush press office and responsive reporters and talk show hosts desperately continue to accuse the, quote, “mainstream media” of ignoring the, quote, “good news from Iraq,” “The Washington Post” has revealed that for the last six months, the Voice of America, the U.S. government-run news organization, has not had a correspondent in Baghdad because it‘s just too dangerous.

Alicia Ryu tells “The Post” she was rotated out of the assignment there in December at her own request, and that there has been no successor because, quote, “They didn‘t have any volunteers to replace me.” Ms. Ryu said she “couldn‘t live with the idea that someone else could have died who was working with me,” this after she came under fire in an ambush and her security guard was killed there.


So why hasn't anyone volunteered to report good news? Oh yeah... that whole staying alive deal.

It's almost freaking June!

Kristen commented this morning, upon me telling her today was the 24th day of May, that life is absolutely flying by.

As part of her seminary training, she is required to go on a Mission Immersion Experience (MIE) and take on an internship for a full academic year, which she plans to start in the fall.

Thus, she leaves Friday for 8 days and will head to Camden, New Jersey to work with an AIDS ministry there with a handful of fellow classmates. She is scheduled to return at 5:00pm Saturday and then must turn around and conduct Youth & Children's Sunday rehearsal at 7, and then help pull that service off twice the following morning.

It gets better - we will then fly out early Monday morning to Wichita, Kansas, with my father and we will meet my uncle for 6 days of storm chasing. We will fly back to Richmond that following Saturday.

The storm chasing trip has been on the schedule for months - the MIE and Youth Sunday were just recently scheduled, and unfortunately she did not have any say in those dates.

The MIE and internship were going to be waived if she did a dual-degree program and earned a Master's of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. In the past six months she's felt like that isn't where her calling lies, hence the rushed nature of scheduling the MIE so she can graduate on time.

I request prayers for her as she looks ahead to her internship. She is allowed to execute the internship at her current job - yet because of so many factors merely inferred to here on the blog (if we were allowed to go into details we would have enough content for another blog), she's struggling with that upcoming situation.

Pray for her as she seeks guidance from God and that she can correctly discern His Will for her ministry. Please pray for her as she seeks guidance from her spiritual mentors and seminary professors. Please pray for us as whatever happens will directly affect our life.

Hopefully I can find words to accurately express some of the issues facing us in a later post, but we shall see. I'm praying that as she heads to NJ she will be able to prayerfully and rationally examine the current dilemma from another context. I also pray that our Great Plains vacation will be just that, a vacation, and that we will be able to relax and clear our heads.

Thank you ahead of time.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hungry like the wolf

...Folks, just because someone claims to wrap themselves up with Christ doesn't necessarily make them a Christian.

Joan Bokaer over at Talk To Action writes how DeLay's pastor and his wife apparently ignorantly served on the board an organization called the U.S. Family Network, which turned out to be fundraising group for DeLay's Political Action Committee.

The pastor, Chris Geeslin, became suspicious when large gifts starting coming in from unlikely sources.

Perhaps the most ironic gift was the half million dollars from the textile mills of the Mariana Islands, now in the limelight for their sweatshop-like working conditions for women. The gift was used to fight Clinton administration efforts to regulate the islands.

Pastor Geeslin was particularly upset by the fact that the textile mills sponsored forced abortion and forced prostitution - a hard pill for anyone to swallow let alone an evangelical pastor who believed he was helping bring the United States to God.


We as Christians must protect our faith, as we've been warned to watch out for wolves in sheep's clothing. Tom DeLay was and is a predator who has learned to talk and act like his prey. He is guilty of using our humble and powerful faith to manipulate believers for personal gain.

Why can't we call a spade a spade?

Contradicting straw men

Streak pointed me to an LA times column written by Jonathan Chait titled "The right discover's Bush's 'honesty'".

I have a strong moral dilemma with folks who seek control and domination through methods lacking in good faith. I can't shake the feeling that the Jesus I know wouldn't approve of such behavior that's merely written off and tolerated as "oh that's just politics". No - it's people's welfare and even lives.

It's funny. I remember when Bush insisted that he wanted to bring the parties together to pass a patients' bill of rights, even as he arm-twisted Republicans who favored such a bill into renouncing it. I remember when he insisted that lower-income workers reaped the biggest share of his tax cuts. I remember when he presented his stem cell position as a way to dramatically expand research opportunities. One could say that misleading rhetoric was the hallmark of Bush's political style. But if you said that two years ago, you were a rabid Bush-hater.

...

Conservative Republicans refusing to compromise! Can you imagine? And this is the same Wall Street Journal editorial page that flays any Republican who wants to pass a tax cut only slightly less enormous than the one favored by the party's right wing. The Journal has spent years leading torch-bearing mobs through the ranks of its party, hunting for heretics. And now the party base, ungrateful for the Journal's years of service to the cause of ideological purity, is refusing to settle for half a loaf on its own top priority. The nerve.

...

ACTUALLY, some of us have noted that tendency for a while. Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank wrote a story in 2004 detailing how Bush attacks straw men time after time. "Some say" is generally Bush's cue to viciously mischaracterize the other side. For instance, "Some say, 'Well, [fighting terrorism] is just a matter of law enforcement and intelligence,' " or, "Some say, 'Well, maybe the recession should have been deeper.' "


The entire column is worth a few minutes of your time.

Monday, May 22, 2006

I must defer...

...to better writers than myself, as I seem to write posts in ways that are inconsistent with why I began and continue this blog.

On my daily saunter through my favorite internet watering holes, I read an article over at Ethics Daily titled "House Speaker Says Middle Class Doesn't Pay Taxes" by Bob Allen. These two paragraphs are the crux I was attempting to locate in my previous post:

Susan Pace Hamill, a University of Alabama law professor who writes on morality and taxes, said in a recent paper that President Bush's tax policies fall short of justice standards in the Old and New Testaments by benefiting the wealthy, shifting the share of tax burden to middle and lower classes and forcing cuts in safety net programs for the poor.

"To this point, I have been baffled by Republican budget and tax priorities that value millionaires and billionaires above working families, and sink this nation's budget deeper in debt every year," James Clyburn, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus said in a statement. "But Speaker Hastert crystallized GOP budget philosophy—working families don't pay taxes and don't deserve a tax cut."


I was not just questioning the facts of Speaker Hastert's assertion, (which in some ways are truthful, but in reality, they're not) but rather I wished to challenge his motivations and his assumptions. Why spin and justify tax cuts with this blanket statement? Why, admist all the pressing concerns of our nation, many of which have a deep moral component, did we need even further budget cuts? Why now?

Mr. Hastert's comments struck me as paternalistic, dismissive, arrogant, and down-right delusional. Maybe I'm wrong to believe reading through the lines reveals "this doesn't concern you, trust us we know what we are doing, and if you keep quiet maybe we'll consider some meaningful issues if politics necessitates." Did what he say inspire you and give you confidence as we all climb toward the American dream? I felt like I was told to run along and not to speak unless spoken to.

Working and middle-class families could use a message of hope right now in these dark times, yet instead received a glimpse of our leaders' ignorance and disinterest of the plight of everyday Americans they pledged to serve.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hummer at church

I stood baffled in the church office last week when I watched a family climb out of a Hummer with new tags. Firstly, in this day and age of high fuel prices, why would someone buy a vehicle that comes with an Exxon station as an option?

Secondly, I wondered about the witness of excesses. My wife told me how a fellow seminarian and her family were moving to a smaller house - not because of financial reasons, but because they simply did not need that large of a house. They felt their money could be spent in better ways.

I read Colossians again the other night and was struck, as always, by Paul's commands in the 3rd chapter of which my Bible titles "Rules for Holy Living":

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.


In my weird and twisted mind I tied seeing the Hummer, reading that passage, and the following comment left on another blog:

I believe fundamentalism among Baptist is illustrated by those who allow their wives to spend money getting their hair fixed, wear gold and pearls as well as expensive dresses, but refuse to allow them to teach men or pastor a church because Paul condemned that. I know this is a long sentence, but so was Paul's when he said he did not all any of the above.


I wrestle with these paradoxes in this blog - they are pervasive in our culture and have infiltrated our church, yet the Bible seems to clearly address these contradictions.

Sure, I may not have an adequate understanding of economics and other issues - but I know enough that we cannot simply write off certain situations as "that's just the way things are". Denying reality and eluding our responsibility accelerates the inevitable consequences of accepting or tolerating mediocrity.

We as Christians are not called to accept the status quo, but to challenge the norms that are often-times justified as being a part of the American way of life. Just as so many are quick to condemn homosexuality, abortion, and the hot issue of the moment, if we truly believe the entire Bible, we ought to be quick to condemn the sins Paul addresses in Colossians.

A sin is a sin is a sin - a sin separates us from God, and any number of actions can accomplish that unhappy state.

Friday, May 19, 2006

What world do they live in?

I cannot believe Speaker Dennis Hastert's comments on the House floor:

Well, folks, if you earn $40,000 a year and have a family of two children, you don’t pay any taxes. So you probably, if you don’t pay any taxes, you are not going to get a very big tax cut.

So... I'm going to go ahead and give the benefit of the doubt, Mr. Speaker, that you meant they're not paying as much in taxes. Regardless, that comment shows you are completely out of touch with a significant portion of America. If you want further proof that folks consider you out of touch, check out the latest polls and maybe you'll understand why folks currently have more faith in the other party.

Further, if you're justifying giving money back to the folks who make obscene amounts of money (your $212,00 a year is considered quite high in comparison to the paychecks of everyone I know) on the basis that the family making $40,000 don't pay anything, what are you doing for that family? Why should they support you?

If you sincerely believe in your warped world-view that everything is peachy-keen for that family because they don't pay any taxes, you should find the nearest hospital and admit yourself. That family of four is faced with spiraling health care costs, gas costs, higher grocery bills, higher lending rates, higher college tuitions, etc.

Your average Joe American has pressing concerns - the report that American's savings versus spending ratio is below zero should be alarming. My wife and I are lucky in that we do not live paycheck to paycheck and we're doing everything we can to ensure that we never will - yet surprises happen. We want children someday - I cringe at the financial impact and pray we will continue to be blessed.

Folks, with the President's net worth somewhere near $7-20 million and the Vice President's at least $94.6 million, do you all really believe they at least understand the finances of those unfortunate enough to make less than $200,000 a year?

Unbelievable. I just think of the family that lived in the house before us - we still get their mail from the credit union. Just recently we received a whole rash of correspondence from there, and the curious side in me held up one to the light - they've overdrawn their balance. It happens to the best of us. The mother is a teacher, they have 4 children under the age of 10, I don't know what the father does, and through someone at church I heard the mother had unexpected yet serious surgery. I can't imagine the stress they're under.

Something has to give, but those thinking the miracle will happen with this Administration and Congress need their head checked.

(h/t to Vivian)

It's scary because it's true

I got a good laugh this morning as I read Streak's blog...

My point is that we can nominate Jesus Christ for President as a Democrat and the Rove/Bush/Dobson machine will go after him. "Did you know he hangs out with lepers?" "I heard he would take away your extra bread and distribute it to the poor." "President Christ will embrace those migrants who are taking away our jobs." And, of course, "once we start turning the other cheek, the appeasement to evil will surrender our country to Al Qaeda."


In the fall and in 2008 each party needs someone they can vote for - not against.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Pragmatism abounds...

Two quotes in a day on why I blog. From Jack Cafferty on CNN in response to the Senate debating and voting on a marriage amendment bill that has no chance of passing (via Crooks and Liars):

This is all being done by the republican majority in an effort to appeal to Right-wing nuts in the Republican Party ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections. Ignore all of the pressing issues facing the country, and instead go grovel at the feet of the lunatic fringe. Senator Frist should be very proud of himself. That's leadership. Here's the question: Is now the time for the Senate to consider a constitutional Amendment on gay marriage?


Will the religious right recognize that empty pandering is just that? Will they realize that a few "minor" issues such as ethics, the NSA scandals, corporate responsibility, the squeezing of the middle class, and Medicaid/health insurance might be a better use of Congress' time?

Thank you George Will...

George Will said in two sentences what I've been trying to say for over a year:

Conservatives should be wary of the idea that when they talk about, say, tax cuts and limited government -- about things other than abortion, gay marriage, religion in the public square and similar issues -- they are engaging in values-free discourse. And by ratifying the social conservatives' monopoly of the label "values voters," the media are furthering the fiction that these voters are somehow more morally awake than others.


"Moral values" are so much more than those on the right believe. They permeate all issues - for instance, corporate responsibility, minimum wage, immigration, education, and employment issues all contain a deep moral aspect.

Until those who do not identify with the far-right find their voice and educate the media and the American people, those "value voters" will continue to only be identified with card-carrying GOP'ers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The proverbial stream

I understand that my wife and I somewhat operate under a sense of naivete within church work, but I would like to think that we have a firm idea of the definition of a healthy church. Sure, I'll be the first to admit that no perfect church exists - they all have problems.

Those problems often result from a fundamental issue: control. Any way you slice it, just about any conflict is rooted in that struggle. Sometimes the lack of control can lead to problems, but more often competing parties lose sight of the church's purpose to protect their interests. Neglectful use of control is also harmful, as those called to leadership positions simply don't lead.

Occasionally members may base their actions on a desire to control their reputation: one person in mind goes to both the early and late service (they're exactly the same) to say "I go to church more than anybody else".

Control issues often manifest themselves as self-serving, with serving our common Lord Jesus Christ thrown to the wayside. Until a church is clear on their vision and purpose of coming together to worship and praise God and to further his Kingdom, the church will wallow in mediocrity.

Power struggles and other conflicts represent rocks in the stream. As the church pushes forward, they may dodge a few here and there, but ultimately they must contend with these obstacles. The church has two options: get stuck or find a way to move beyond. The church then learns to look out for these particular issues and understands how they can be avoided in the future.

What happens when the rocks form a dam? How do you push forward? How long do you bang your head on the wall?

In my opinion, the pastor should be the leader of the congregation to breach thick situations in which the church is in decline. Excuses, rationalization, and lack of will to change are unacceptable. How does a church respond when the buck does not stop at the pastor's desk? What to do when the pastor admits he neither knows how to grow a church nor has the energy?

I learned how to drive a car with a stick-shift - my mother told me the hardest part was getting into first gear. Once that motion was mastered, subsequent gear shifts were much easier. If the church is not willing to put forth the effort to get the church into gear and the pastor isn't willing either, or even expected, what's the point?

No one is concerned that attendance has dropped 30% in the last several years. The few laity leaders who do most of the work are frustrated and are stepping back. The pastor acknowledges problems but does not know how to help. At least one family is visiting other churches, and I would lay money that a couple others will in the near future. Visitors rarely come back a second time.

How long will folks buy into this charade that we call church? Healthy churches have problems too, but they move on - unhealthy churches remain stuck in the mud, and it'll take a large and painful push to get it moving.

Faith, courage, love, fellowship, and accountability. Come on folks - let's get pushing.

Don't believe everything you hear...

...which I imagine some red-staters are saying now Verizon and BellSouth have denied cooperation with the National Security Agency. Unfortunately I've come to expect the knee-jerk reaction of "smear the messenger even if the story is true".

I'm amazed at how conservatives selectively trust the government. The government cannot be trusted with meddling with the market or helping those in the lower classes, yet can be trusted with our privacy? The government cannot be trusted to operate public utilities but can be trusted to police morality?

The cynical side of me isn't surprised to read a report that states the President has authorized the telephone companies to lie and deny involvement with the NSA, thus allowing them protection from civil suits.

The interesting part, reported over at The American Prospect, is that Verizon and BellSouth are denying the allegations after the story broke. They answered the reporter's questions with "No comment". If they weren't involved with the NSA at all, how hard is it to say "we've never heard of such a thing!".

Explanation? The memorandum was released 5 May, ostensibly, as Think Progress surmises, because the Administration knew the story was inevitable. I mean, when you're tapping ABC News, who knows if USA Today is getting the same treatment?

Folks, like or dislike the media, they are the sole medium providing any sort of accountability of the government to its boss: us. With the numerous scandals plaguing the likes of Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, Scooter Libby, Dusty Foggo/Porter Goss, not to mention the VP and Bush, how can we trust them to police themselves?

How important is the media? Important enough for our Founding Fathers to include as the First Amendment to our Constitution. How can a President, elected to uphold that document, get away with suppressing those that seek the truth?

If you don't have anything to hide, how can the media be a threat?

Don't believe everything you hear.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

This tragic fall

I just looked at the numbers from the latest Washington Post/ABC poll on the President. His current overall approval is at 33%, down five points from last month's poll. I looked through the data and was astounded at just how far he's dropped.

In October of 2001, following September 11, 92% of Americans approved of his performance. I remember the raw emotions of coming over the hill on 395 in Arlington and seeing the blackened hole in the side of the Pentagon with the Washington Monument and Capitol looming on the other side of the river. I remember the church member who barely survived while all of his 20+ office mates were killed. I remember the President standing amongst firefighters and others at Ground Zero when the chants of "USA! USA!" started.

Despite the anxiety threaded through our collective conscience, there was a sense of hope and unity. We were fresh from a bitter and contested election, "Monica-gate" wasn't far behind, and all of a sudden we were divided into "reds" and "blues". Yet, in those days immediately after the attacks, the realization that our differences were actually unifying yielded a comforting peace - we would move on, together, as Americans.

Somehow that potential was squandered - 2008 can't come fast enough for the President as his agenda is stuck in the mud of the field of his own sowing. Pressing moral issues such as corporate reform, health care, election reform, and even terrorism, either took a backseat or were exploited for political gain. So-called "wedge" issues were brought to the forefront to win votes instead of solving problems.

We need a new course. I don't care if those who lead us have a "D" or "R" or "X" after their name. We need someone to unify us, provide a vision, and make tough yet pragmatic decisions that will benefit a majority of Americans, not just a select few.

Until respect for our Constitution, humbleness of our power, and acknowledgement of our least is achieved, we will remain bitterly divided and thus collectively weakened, to the detriment of all.

Some contradictory questions...

What part of "it's impossible to deport 11 million illegal immigrants" do conservatives not understand? Do they think they're going to line up at the nearest police station for the next bus back to their home country?

If we did a not-so-hot job of stopping them at the border, what makes the conservatives think it'll be easy to find them and send them back?

Some on the fringe (at least, I pray it's the fringe) advocate German style roundups.

And he (President Bush) will be lying, again, just as he lied when he said: "Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic – it's just not going to work."

Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.

Are you kidding me? Since when does that Nazi model have anything to do with how we handle issues in this country? How pervasive is this sentiment?

I also wonder how on one hand Mr. Bush can say "we must respect the rule of law" yet on the other break them when they get in his way?

Where did this immigration issue came from in the first place? Is it meant to distract us from the weekly scandals? Has Karl Rove noticed the poll numbers are in the low 30s meaning even card-carrying Republicans feel betrayed? Was the base finally understanding that the President isn't a fiscal conservative or even trust-worthy and thus the Administration is going for the emotional jugular to shore up support?

Those in the middle and on the left have long noticed how the President wants things both ways - the religious right and ultra-conservatives are just now getting the news.

(h/t Crooks and Liars)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Why Are We Here?

Nathan has extended the invitation for me to be a "guest-blogger" here for awhile now. I guess setting up the account for me was the biggest hint. I attempted to type up an entry last night as we sat in our office at home, but drew a blank. Never fear, though, it was a mere ten hours and a plethora of events later that brought out some of the passion inside. So here goes - one soapbox of many...

A few weeks ago I spoke up at a staff meeting addressing complacency, lack of commitment, and lack of understanding/education about what church is, all of which exist in our current congregation. This was not the first time I had questioned these issues - and it certainly was not the last - but yet the response from the pastor still astounds me. He simply stated that the issues I raised are not unique to our congregation, as if it were something we just needed to accept and not think about any further. Then he asked what we as the staff could do about it. Trying not to get too worked up I noted a couple of steps to try, but he didn't seem like he really wanted to hear it.

To backtrack a little, I've been involved in some form of ministry for about eight years now and have discovered in that time that a minister's calling, a Christian's calling, is hardly about settling. Growing up, my parents always taught me to strive for the best and to never settle for anything else - a philosophy that has permeated every aspect of my life, notwithstanding my job in this particular church. I also inherited a stubborn streak from both sides that reveals itself now and again. Stubbornness and a refusal to settle...my husband can tell you that makes for quite a combination.

With those personality traits (quirks?) instilled in me from early on, though, I cannot and will not just write off a whole church as "no different from any of the others." If that is the case and there is no point in trying to make a difference, then please explain to me why they pay three people to be their ministers. Are we as Christians not called to constantly strive for that higher standard? To spur one another on toward love and good deeds? To strive toward holiness? To be imitators of Christ?

As I sat in the pew that following Sunday, the following words came from the pulpit: "We can't just sit around and dream about what the church ought to be. We need to accept the reality of what it is."

I understand that the church is an institution full of humans, and as such, full of flaws. I understand that because of the humanness involved, no church will be perfect. Each congregation will have its issues, its grumblers, and its struggles. But for those reasons, I am all the more passionate to dream about what the church ought to be, to teach congregants about who God has called His people to be, and to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to live lives that are worthy of the calling.

If we just accept the church for what it is, sweep all of the problems under the rug as if they don't exist, and never dream about all that we could become and are called to become, then why are we here, as Christians and as ministers? To maintain the state of complacency? To settle
for being purposeless wanderers?

It's a question that I just might start asking my pastor, our deacons, and our congregation. Why are we here?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Firetruck baptisms

Finally Paige Patterson and I agree on something:

Cole and others said many conservatives are also upset about Springdale's evangelism techniques, such as the fire-truck baptistry that is part of its children's ministry.

The unique baptistry, created by Disney designer Bruce Barry, is part of a $270,000 high-tech project for the church's children's worship area that includes video games, a light show, music videos and a bubble machine, according to Christianity Today. When a child is baptized in the fire-truck-shaped baptistry, sirens blare and confetti is fired out of cannons.

"Putting a talking head in front of kids for an hour doesn't work," the children's minister told the magazine. "This is a visual generation. We need to use technology to the max."

"This is blasphemous!" said SBC conservative leader Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, when told of the practice.


I wonder if I can get media credentials to Greensboro? Man oh man will it be interesting.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Announcement and a quote

First, I finally twisted my wife's arm - she agreed to write her "soapboxes", as she calls them, here. She's in seminary, on staff in a church, and is very passionate about her faith. I cannot count how many times I've said "You need to write that down and post it on Moral Contradictions", so hopefully soon she'll start writing here. I hope all three of you will enjoy her. :)

And the quote, from the New York Times via Senator Patrick Leahy regarding domestic spying:

"It's our government, our government!" he said, turning red in the face and waving a copy of USA Today. "It's not one party's government, it's America's government!"

So simple, yet so wise.

Should I be worried?

Don't get me wrong, I love this country - I think the Constitution is brilliant. Sure our country has done some not-so-hot stuff, but what's great is that we still have the best thing around.

Part of my patriotism stems from my respect of the Constitution and how one 200 year old document can hold so much sway in contemporary society.

Thus, when I see a headline that reads: "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls", I get a bit worried.

Why? Because I was taught that the Constitution protected us against these sorts of intrusions. If they're necessary and if it's patriotic, I don't see how it would aid the terrorists to tell us that they're conducting such an invasive and widespread operation.

I wonder why they didn't tell us about the program... hmm... could it be because of this?

In 1975, a congressional investigation revealed that the NSA had been intercepting, without warrants, international communications for more than 20 years at the behest of the CIA and other agencies. The spy campaign, code-named "Shamrock," led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was designed to protect Americans from illegal eavesdropping.

Enacted in 1978, FISA lays out procedures that the U.S. government must follow to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches of people believed to be engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States. A special court, which has 11 members, is responsible for adjudicating requests under FISA.

So FISA was created to protect us, yet the government feels like they are above using this protection, bringing us back to square one?

I'm sorry, but if you have to break some of the highest law to uphold it... I have a problem with that.

If this is supposed to make us feel safer - it's not working.

(h/t to Streak)

Update: Qwest is truly the patriotic company here. Read this post at Unclaimed Territory for analysis on how Qwest has upheld the Constitution, while this President and his administration break the oath taken first in 2001 and again in 2005.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Christianists...

Via a couple posts from Jesus Politics, I came across Andrew Sullivan's article in Time called "My problem with Christianism". The best part:

Many of us who are Christians and not supportive of the religious right are not on the left either. In fact, we are opposed to any politicization of the Gospels by any party, Democratic or Republican, by partisan black churches or partisan white ones. "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus insisted. What part of that do we not understand?

So let me suggest that we take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.


The part that gets me about folks he labels Christianists is that their actions aren't even biblical. Show me where in the Bible Jesus advocates taking over the government as an instrumental part of His plan.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Am I the only one...

...who senses that there are elements within the Southern Baptist Convention that want everyone who identifies with the SBC to think and believe exactly the same?

My wife and I are friends with an incredibly sweet retired missionary couple - they're almost like grandparents - and we both highly respect them for their wisdom and witness. We had them at the house for dinner a few nights ago and naturally talk arrived at all the issues facing the International Mission Board and the SBC.

Many missionaries were forced out if they refused to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Thursday night, they remarked that if you can hire or fire someone over a statement, that's a creed. Luckily they were allowed to retire without having to make that decision - they are very conservative, but also Baptist. The wife once exclaimed "I don't believe in women deacons yet I'm the vice-chair of our church's deacon board!"

For folks who do agree with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, which drastically decreased the size of the "tent" or "umbrella" that traditionally covered many types of Baptists, apparently that's just not enough. The monster is attacking its own.

Wade Burleson is the current target of the conformists/fundamentalists in the SBC. An article by the Associated Baptist Press outlining the current attack against the IMB trustee says:

"What seems to concern you is the idea of working with a fellow IMB trustee who believes the Bible, but has a different interpretation on this issue on which the Baptist Faith and Message remains silent." Ultimately, Burleson said, he doesn't want to focus on "non-essential issues that have nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ."

He stated he hoped to work with Curtis in the future, saying "I'm hoping you can find it in your heart to work and cooperate with others who don't see eye-to-eye with you on issues [on] which the Baptist Faith and Message remains silent. I, and others like me, look forward to working with you."

I'm not sure how one believes they can bring there ego with them to the foot of the cross.

Keeping up appearances...

...a la Mrs. Bucket.

I've often wondered whether our current government is working on solutions or simply advertising the appearance of working on solutions. Perhaps you may feel I'm taking a cynical view - yet there seems to be abundant proof.

As 2008 approaches, I'm getting to the point where I almost don't care who wins the election, as long as they work to solve problems. I'd rather have effective government that works toward solutions than whatever you can call the non-action we currently have in DC.

Oil crisis? Let's buy the American people off with a $100 rebate. Bird Flu? Let's release a nearly 200 page document that essentially proves, as the Daily Show recently discussed, that the lesson learned after Katrina was the federal government actually needs to do less in times of emergency. Controversial issues that can be construed as serving Big Pharm? Pass them in the middle of the night. Debt ceiling increase? Sneak that through with otherwise unremarkable bills.

Massive hurricane that wrecked thousands of lives?

The 928 pages of e-mails, obtained and released by the Center for Public Integrity, also portray[Michael] Brown and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as obsessed with media coverage in the days leading up to and immediately following the Aug. 29, 2005, disaster. At one point early that morning, Brown reported to an aide that he was "sitting in the chair, putting mousse in my hair," as he waited for media interviews to begin.

....

While the e-mails cover much of the same ground previously highlighted by congressional investigations earlier this year, they illustrate anew how concerned the beleaguered agency was with having a favorable public image during the storm. Many of the documents released Tuesday consist of talking points, press releases, interview schedules and media reports of the storm's onslaught. (Source)

You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie.

Republican or Democrat, I'm not sure how one can sit back and honestly believe this government is working in a pragmatic and diligent way to address problems. I don't see how we can put faith in this Administration in handling another September 11 when 4 years after that we couldn't handle a long-predicted weather disaster. There's a reason why only 31% of the country approve of the President's job.

There are a few folks who believe, based on selected Bible verses, that we should simply submit to authority and not hold it accountable. Hogwash. Take a gander over at The Commonwealth Iconclast for a synopsis of small-town politics gone bad.

We must hold those in power accountable - that's why the Founding Fathers wrote in "checks and balances" - we need to ensure that the Constitution is defended and fairly applied to all. That's why I'm concerned of the attacks against the media. We should be allowed to answer questions and have them honestly answered. Apparently that makes me a liberal, even though it's in the Constitution. Whatever.

Outside of my faith, I'm an American first, and a pragmatist second. You should be too.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Holy Fire under thy buttocks

My wife came across a Philip Yancey quote that struck me:

The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.

Quite a few Christians fixate on when Jesus is coming back. His Kingdom is here, the harvest is bountiful, and Jesus instructed us that even He doesn't know when He'll come back. We are to follow Christ daily and exemplify his love through our conversations, our relationships, our employment, and other interactions we have with the world.

How many of us are praying in the middle of the street, so willing to show everyone how pious we are, when we are instructed to go pray in a closet? How will the world know who we are? Through our love. Through the faith behind our actions.

Jesus changed the world despite two hostile governments claiming sovereignty over his ministry area - yet one by one, through his interactions, everyday people came to know Him as their Lord - and the world was changed forever.

Amazing.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Is it enough, and is it too late?

I commend the Younger Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and their Memphis Declaration. Six months ago I would not have expected to see anything like this come from within the SBC - even still, I'm pleasantly surprised at its tone and purpose.

However, the waiting game commences - will these folks be pushed out of power, or will the hardliners prevail?

Even further, is it even worth it? Had the fundamentalists adopted this tone 20 years ago, perhaps some of the mess the SBC went through would have been avoided.

I sincerely wish these folks good luck in their quest, as the actions of the SBC affect us all, even if we don't appreciate that fact.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

This post is about gas

In this era of high gas prices, everyone's an expert. I've had several folks on here excuse the record profits of the oil companies as simple economics. However, I don't think I can just move along and look away that easily.

Yes I understand that geo-politics plays a role. I also understand that one of the many arguments for war against Iraq was the carrot of cheaper gas prices. It made sense - we invade a country with a lot of oil, it's ours!

Additionally, I understand that the whole ethanol changeover has an effect, as well as many other factors of which I do not understand.

However - how do the oil companies increase their profit at a much higher rate than their gross earnings?

For instance, during 2005-3Q, ExxonMobil increased their revenue by 32% to $100.7 billion. Am I remiss to think that their profit would increase at a similar rate? Apparently so, as their profit rose 75% to $9.92 billion. That's an increase of 7.4 cents for every dollar earned to 9.9 cents per dollar, an increase of 25%.

I don't have a problem with rising profits in proportion to rising revenue as a result of more product sold. As a businessman, I also don't have problems with rising profitability.

I do have a problem with rising revenue coming from higher prices timed with rapid profit acceleration in a business that every single person in this country depends on. 25% profitability increase in 3 months?

Those three months oversaw Hurricane Katrina, mind you. We can't forget what a cluster-poop that situation is. Remember when the high electricity prices in California were written off as simple economics, only to discover that Enron was manipulating prices? Combine that industry with the fact that Kenneth Lay was best friends with the current President along with Mr. Bush's ties to the oil industry (gee, why are all these companies headquartered in Texas?), I apologize if I'm just a tad skeptical.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not smart enough to comprehend the complexities of the oil market, but I'm not that dumb to simply roll over and not ask questions.

(Source)

The scary thing is...

...that last week I saw a Bush '08 bumper sticker. In the Southern parlance of which I was raised, I had to say "Do wha?".

President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

...

Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts. (Source)


Astounding. Frightening. Arrogant. You get the idea...

Un-American? A-yup.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Reality versus Proverbs

Lately I've been writing a few essays on my computer from which I'll either edit and post or draw material for more comprehensive essays. However, this post is being shot from the hip.

Proverbs 29:18a (KJV) - Where there is no vision, the people perish.

In the traditional Baptist world, the power of the church rests in the laity. They have the power to call any pastor they please to serve them. The pastor is charged to lead the congregation on the journey that is our faith. He is there to teach and preach the Bible and how it applies to our lives and faith - he is there to exhibit the love and compassion of Christ for us in the good times and the bad - he is there to point those who do not believe to Christ - he is there to disciple Christians and help to grow them in their faith, etc...

In short, our pastors should be called to provide each church with a vision to which to aspire. Jesus is perfect and lived out the life that we are called to live. No, we're not going to ever be perfect, but we're not expected to be. We're expected to strive toward perfection - to work towards it, with Jesus there when we stumble.

To have a pastor simply "maintain" a church isn't Christ-like. To show up each Sunday and Wednesday and go through the motions doesn't cut it. Church members need someone to dream where the church can go and execute and lead a plan towards a vision. Visitors need to come in and be able to say "this church is on a mission - they're attempting to go somewhere... I want to help." If the church doesn't get there, that's okay. Sometimes the journey is just as or even more rewarding than the goal. When that happens, the church, under the pastor's leadership, can re-evaluate their vision and provide a new plan. Striving toward a vision is an ever-changing process.

But to have a pastor, from the pulpit, exclaim that we must accept reality and declaring that dreaming of what a church ought to be as foolish is 100% completely unacceptable. Unacceptable! Actively making excuses for apathy and endorsing shiftlessness is the complete opposite of what a pastor is called to do.

To look around in the surrounding community at the growing churches, the new churches, the new subdivisions and new schools and to excuse and write off declining membership is unbelievable. The joke that 'some people forget we meet every Sunday' is no longer funny. What are we going to do about that problem? What are we going to do about the folks who only show up at quarterly business meetings, or don't go to Sunday School, or don't bring their kids because they didn't want to get them out of bed?

In Christian love we are called to hold each other accountable and work together carrying the cross. If church is just a safe haven, which it should be, but nothing else, then we may as well close up and sell the building to the YMCA. Else we're just wasting everyone's time and money.

Unfortunately, compounding this issue is when the congregation doesn't know anything different. They've been told it's okay to be part-time members, and that approval has been made known for long enough that the culture of the church can be described by several choice words: apathetic, sloth-like, indifferent. The very few that are active are getting burned out and are stepping back, while others are considering leaving. Yet, as with everything else, those facts are swept under the rug as the church moves week to week, Sunday to Wednesday and back to Sunday again.

At what point do you make a recommendation at a business meeting to close up and sell the building?