Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obama feels the Pinch!

I feel sorry for President Elect Obama. The man is trying to govern from a "centrist" position and take into account that there are a broad spectrum of interests who need to be represented. Already though, the moaning from the Radical Left has begun. ABC News reports that members of that fun little cabal are upset with some of the President-Elect's recent decisions.

The National Organization for Women thinks that 5 cabinet positions occupied by women are not enough and has taken Obama to task for not being closer to the 56% that represented his voting bloc of women during the election. Says Kim Gandy of NOW, "All of the women who supported President-elect Obama and Vice President Joe Biden believe that they are supporters of women's rights and had hoped for and expected some more tangible evidence of that in the Cabinet picks."

Angry NOW ladies??...don't envy Obama on that one.

Obama's decision to ask Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the Presidential inauguration has drawn the criticism of People for the American Way. Pastor Warren is the author of multi-million selling book, Purpose Driven Life which has been (despite my impression that it was a bit trite) a great blessing to many Americans. He is described as a moderate who is also passionate about social issues especially combating AIDS in Africa.

So why the controversy?

He believes that sodomy and homosexuality is not such a good thing...which puts him most likely in the same camp as every other minister giving a presidential invocation since the founding of the country. Not good enough says Marge Baker, Executive Director of PftAW, " Warren's rhetoric marginalizes and dehumanizes and inflicts a great deal of pain on a lot of people out there," said Baker. "It seems contrary to the values that Obama had been talking about."

Angry gays? Don't envy Obama on that one either.

The article goes on to say how the environmentalists are not happy with the appointment of Tom Vilsack as Agriculture Secretary. Among other things says Jim Harkness, president of the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, "We're... very concerned about how Vilsack tried to limit local governments to control the type of farming that goes on under their jurisdiction."

Stop the Presses! He wants to let farmers decide to farm what they like rather than what the government tells them to??

Angry environmentalists? Ouch, really don't envy Obama on that one.

As President-Elect Obama moves from being candidate to President, he will feel increasing heat from single issue advocacy groups who feel they are not receiving their "fair share" after "delivering" the presidency to him.

Hey, anyone who can tick off the radical feminists, the radical homosexuals, AND the radical environmentalists before he even becomes the President needs to be given at least a little credit from the Radical Right!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Republicans have been the latest whipping boy lately. When corruption or scandal erupts in America, the first reaction is usually to blame George Bush, the Religious Right, or Big Oil in that order. So I must admit to relief that the latest scandal to hit us comes from the Democratic side of the aisle.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois was arrested two days ago in a wiretap sting that saw the governor attempting to "sell" the senate seat vacated by President-Elect Obama for money and favors. Reportedly he was caught saying, among other statements, "The Senate seat "is a f---ing valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing." and "If ... they're not going to offer anything of value, then I might just take it,"


He goes on to muse about what he can possible "get" out of an Obama administration.

HUH?...Has this guy not been listening to President-Elect Obama for the last few months?

As someone who travels alot Internationally. I have always been proud of the relative lack of corruption in the United States when compared to other countries. I groaned inside when I first heard about this arrest. This level of corruption, the sale of a U.S. Senate seat, happens other places, not in America. But it does. Supposedly the reason for the wiretaps were because there had been previous suspicions directed at Gov. Blagojevich including pressure on the Chicago Tribune to have critics of the Governor fired.

Yes, its a sad day in American politics...

...and George Bush, the Republicans, the Religious Right, and Big Oil had nothing to do with it. Whew!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Sicko" and "Expelled"

Saturday afternoon. Cold and windy outside. Sounded like a good afternoon for some hot tea and a good movie. In the end Tammy and I watched two documentaries we had been wanting to see back to back. The first was Ben Stein' Expelled. Ben Stein, the famous monotone teacher from Ferris Bueller "Bueller...Bueller.." takes a look at the repercussions felt by scientists who suggest that there are serious holes with Darwinian evolutionary theory and that the causation needed for life could be intelligent rather than random.

Sounds fair enough you think? Think again! Scientists have been dismissed from universities, denied tenure, and faced academic discipline for mearly suggesting that the development of organic life may have an outside source. I find it curious how those who argue against Intelligent Design talk about God more than those who argue for it. You quickly see that if they can make the argument a religious argument rather than a scientific one, it can then be dismissed. The dilemma for them is that these are not Christian fundamentalists by and large, but respected scientists.

Ben first chronicles the horror stories of scientists who dared ask the wrong kind of questions. He then interviews supporters of Darwinian theory like famed scientist and author Richard Dawkins. You quickly realize these arguments are worldview in nature masking themselves as scientific...and each side is defensive of their worldview at the expense of scientific enquiry.

The second documentary was Michael Moore's Sicko which details the sad state of the American health care system. My own views on this subject have changed over the years mostly having spent 10 years in Hong Kong where, as a British colony, had universal health care which I took advantage of a number of times. I break with many of my Republican peers and support seeking a plan in the United States that will provide universal health care. When I developed tongue cancer two years ago the bills for tests, doctors visits, surgery, and hospital stays amounted to $100,000I was fortunate to have healthcare provided through my employer but when the only thing that kept me from paying that bill vs. crippling bankruptcy is a job at Barnes & Noble then something is seriously wrong with the system.

Michael, like Ben Stein, spends the first parts of the film chronicling the horror stories associated with our horrible health care system. He then goes to Canada, Great Britain, and Cuba to dispel the notion that "socialized" medicine is somehow sub par.

I find it curious then that Sicko received a 93% rating at (a collection of film reviews) and Expelled received a 10%. Both documentaries were entertaining as well as en lightning. Both were biased and gave little time for the otherside to express their views. As a film buff I also understand how editing can be used to re-enforce one idea and ridicule the other. Both Ben Stein and Michael Moore use these film techniques in abundance.

(Ross and Phoebe argue evolution)

However, Michael Moore received praise and Ben Stein received censure in the reviews. Many of the reviews for Expelled noted the "junk" science involved. And yet both films simply ask "Why?" questions.

Sicko asks why the the most wealthy nation on the planet cannot provide the basics of health care for its citizens?

Expelled asks why respected scientists are ostracized when they ask questions concerning holes in Darwinian evolutionary theory?

Its sad that in America some questions are not even allowed to be asked.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Just regular Christian"

A few months back I was getting my son set up on his Facebook account before we left for China. As we were filling out the personal info section we came to "Religion". "Christian" he said. As I started to type in Christian a drop down menu appeared showing various denominations. After explaining a few of them to Gabriel he said, "Go back up, just regular Christian."

Just regular Christian...thats what I want to be. People seem to be less likely to just say they are "Christian" these days. Perusing my "friends" Facebook pages you will find "followers of Jesus", "love Jesus, not religion", "disciple of Christ" and all manner of definitions which essentially mean "Christian".

A couple years ago in church, our pastor asked people to share what was the first thing that popped into their head when they heard the word "righteous". I immediately thought of a Lancelot type knight with pure, shiny armor. But as people went around the room I realized my view was the minority. Instead, most people immediately had a negative view of the word with the image of a self-righteous "church-lady" character. I was amazed. Like in George Orwell's 1984 where words had a disassociation with their actual definition, "righteous" in many people's minds was a "negative" word.

I guess thats why many Christians shy away from defining themselves as Christian. When they hear the word they think of the pastor caught in a scandal, or the evangelist who is manipulating the masses, or the shrill advocate who shouts hate instead of Christ-like love.

I sympathize with the reaction but cannot concur.

When I hear the word "Christian" I think of the thousands who give of themselves daily to clothe, feed, and tend to the sick in the name of Christ. I think of persecuted believers who risk bodily harm to share the gospel of Jesus. I think of the volunteers I just met this week who take care of the special need orphans at a foster home in Beijing. And I think of the untold masses who have been executed because they would not deny that they were Christian.

Yep, I think of those things and say:

"I'm just regular Christian!"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Star Trek

On September 8th, 1966 the country heard a now familiar voice proclaim for the first time, "Space, the Final Frontier...these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise." Four nights earlier I was born. Yes, I'm as old as Star Trek!!

For geeks my age, Star Trek was our defining show. Growing up in Detroit meant a re-run of the show every Saturday and Sunday night. I collected Star Trek books and used my legos to create an arsenal of phasers for my room. Earlier in my Christian walk I always hoped that while other Christians are having "mansions" prepared for them in heaven, I would be given command of the Starship Enterprise and told to explore the galaxy. (I'm not unconvinced that still might not happen :)

Over the years there have been new Star Trek spin-offs with varying levels of success. But ultimately even the fans started to grow weary of yet another alien race with a funky forehead. The Star Trek franchise was like a vineyard that had been over used. The 2002 film Nemesis , although a good film, failed to hit at the box office. There needed to be a rest to allow a very fertile soil to revive.

Enter director J.J. Abrams who was recruited to re-imagine the original Star Trek series with a young Captain Kirk. I have to admit, I'm excited. Abrams is the man who brought us Lost which is one of my favorite shows. He has a way of focusing on human interaction and development that will make Star Trek a hit.

This week, the new trailer was released and I have very high hopes. There are, however, a couple things in the trailer that give me pause for concern:

1) I hate a lot of CGI. There is a tendency to overuse it. Often less is more (Something George Lucas has NEVER learned) The battle clip in the trailer could look cartoonish if not done right.

2) I don't like the obvious overt sex shown in the trailer. There has always been a subtle "sexiness" in Star Trek with some of the characters but it has always been just that...subtle. Overt sex in Star Trek detracts from the show and brings a crassness that I personally don't want to see.

Having said that though, I am SO looking forward to this movie and to once again "boldly go where no man has gone before."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Fall T.V. Season Pt. 2

As promised, I continue with a little review on a mere slice of the Fall TV season in America. Last time I looked at some of the new shows the Hackman's have been downloading on I-tunes this season. Now I want to look at some of our returning favorites:

Chuck: Perhaps no TV show puts a smile on our face faster than Chuck. Chuck is the lovable computer nerd (played brilliantly by Zachary Levi) who has the whole CIA database downloaded into his brain. This has the affect of his being able to interpret and analyze intelligence instantly...sometimes. What makes the show is the colorful characters that make up the "Nerd Herd" at the local Buy More electronics store (a parody of Best Buy). The need to save the world every week is balanced with the comedic story lines revolving around the world of retail with a bunch of lovable losers. Top that off with Adam Baldwin playing essentially his character of Jayne Cobb from Firefly and you have a winner. Where else can you have a story where the fate of the world is determined by a nerd playing the 80s arcade game Missle Command to the "music of the Universe"...Rush's Tom Sawyer.
If you haven't seen Chuck, make sure you drop buy the Buy More and see what all the commotion is about.

Eli Stone: Another series in its sophomore season, Eli Stone tells the story of a lawyer who is touched by God to be a prophet. Eli has then to walk a road between doing what is right and following his prophetic visions, or enduring the ridicule of Man. The second season did confirm that it is God who is the source of his visions (God being played by Sigourney Weaver). At times the religious elements are a little too New Age and Universalist for my Christian sensibilities...but then I don't watch it for my theology. I watch it because it is a well written, smart drama with a strong moral center. (Oh, and it's one of the minority of shows these days that DOESN'T have a 98 pound blond girl who beats up guys twice their size every week)

Battlestar Galactica: Is full of 98 pound girls that beat up guys everyweek but is STILL, as Rolling Stone has said, possibly the best show on television. Technically the new (and last) season won't start until January but since Tammy and I are working through last season right now to catch up, I thought I'd include it. The fact that this series bears little resemblance to its family friendly, cheesy, 1970s namesake has been written about adnauseum. This modern version is crammed full of politics, philosophy,...and torture. The story follows the remnant of the human race that is traveling through space being pursued by the Cylons. At first I was rooting for the humans, then I was rooting for the Cylons, and now I have pretty much come to the conclusion that the Universe would be better served by the destruction of both these factions. Both groups have characters with little to no redeeming virtues. And for being a "sci-fi' show there is little to no "sci-fi" in it. If it wasn't for the outer space factor, you would think the whole series was something retro out of the 1960's. We're hooked but are glad the show is coming to an end.

Anxiously Awaiting: Lost My personal favorite. This show could not get any weirder. I have followed it through hatches, the Others, Ben, Desmond, polar bears, Orchid Station, time displacements, miricle healings, Mr. Eko, and smoke monsters. January, and the new season, cannot arrive fast enough.

Gotta run, Eli Stone is on....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pride...before the Fall

In 1995 after returning from a church planting trip to India I woke in the middle of night with the most horrific pain. I went to the doctor and he immediately admitted me to the hospital. I spent 3 days there with what turned out with an infection around my kidney.

While laying on my back I was thumbing through a Christian magazine and came across an article that inspired me greatly. A pastor named Randy White along with his wife Paula had planted a church in Tampa Florida. They were reaching out to all strata of society; the rich, the poor, the professional, and the homeless. Instead of protesting the "adult" establishments in their area, Randy would invite the owners to lunch to establish relationships with them. The church was helping with job training for the unemployed as well as providing a ministry to people living with AIDS. In addition, they were providing support for the business and community leaders in their sphere of influence.

We were on the verge of planting Island City Church in Hong Kong and this article resonated in my heart as the type of church I wanted to pastor. When we did plant in Hong Kong we did so in the Lan Kwai Fong area where there is a large International community. Bars and restauraunts frequent the area and the whole district was the "go to" place for after work night life.

Taking a cue from the article I invited the president of the Lan Kwai Fong Association up to the church for coffee and to introduce ourselves. I explained that we were there to be part of Lan Kwai Fong and serve the community as Christians. I remember our conversation went very well and he remarked, "You know, so many evangelical groups come into Lan Kwai Fong to proselytize because it's supposed to be full of all of these "bad people". Its good to have a church here that wants to be part of Lan Kwai Fong."

I kept that article and would re-read it at times for encouragement. Then I returned to the States and began seeing Paula White more and more on Christian programing. The things she was saying and the way she was saying them seemed out of sync with the article I had read a few years back. I remember watching her and seeing some of the things rumored to be going on in their now 'megachurch' in Tampa. I winced inside.

Last year the couple divorced amid different allegations I will not go into. Paula White's new ministry has been under U.S. Senate investigation for financial wrongdoing. Add to that the following article I read today and I ask myself, "What happened?" What takes someone who is doing so much for God's Kingdom and for people and leads them to become so deceived?

I have been reading the Book of James lately and the apostle says something that just hit me:

but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death

Ouch! James lays out the same basic stages everyone goes through when they find themselves kneedeep in sin. It starts with desire. Now some desires are given by God and are to be acted upon but other desires are like the itch that we all desire to scratch knowing it will only make it itch more.

Once we start scratching, we can either acknowledge the itch and bring it into the Light so God can deal with it OR we can hide it OR (even worse) convince ourselves and others that it's all really good and Godly.

What happened to Randy and Paula? I won't pass judgement but leave that to the Lord. But I do know that the root of their itch is no different than all of ours. Gold, Glory, and Girls (or guys) outside of God's rulebook are always waiting at the doorstep.

When it comes knocking, will YOU open the door?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obamania Withdrawl

This is not really a blog entry. Its just that I thought this video so funny, it deserved to be posted.

Part of my irritation during the presidential campaign was the fanatical Obama supporters who were so zealous for a guy who hadn't done anything. Then turning around and saying Gov. Sarah Palin shouldn't be Vice President because she hadn't done anything. At times, I almost could see Biden and McCain chuckling and talking about the kids behind Palin and Obama's back.

Anyhow, as I've noted in previous posts, I've made my peace and look forward to seeing what an Obama presidency will do for this country.

But for all you glazed eyed, star-struck, Pied Piper, Kool-aid drinking Obama maniacs out there...this vid is for you!!!

The New West Wing

Back around 2000 when people asked me why I loved the TV show The West Wing
I would reply that it was the best Science Fiction show on. When I was given a quizzical look I would explain, "A competent Democratic administration? Only in Sci-Fi." Of course that joke got a lot less funny as the Bush administration dragged on...

Tammy and I loved the West Wing (as well as pretty much anything created by Aaron Sorkin) and for a long time Wednesday evening was "West Wing and Chipoltle night" The show centered on President Josiah "Jed" Bartlett (played by Martin Sheen) and the staff of a fictional Democratic controlled White House.

I see in Barack Obama a lot of similarity to the West Wing counter part. Both men are Christians whose faith plays a huge part in their decision making. (Martin Sheen reportedly petitioned creator Aaron Sorkin to have the President's Catholicism play a central role in the show). Despite this, both are often the targets of the radical right wing for being too "liberal". Both are dynamic, smart, and compassionate and refuse to see the Republican Party as the enemy (even when their staff tend to).

(This clip is an excellent example of Aaron Sorkin's ability to portray Christianity in a positive light...and how I would like a President to act)

And as a side note BOTH are closet cigarette smokers although in these enlightened times both are forced to hide their smoking orientation in the closet. When are we going to realize people don't choose to smoke... they are born that way!

Sorkin always said that The West Wing was meant to invoke a JFK Camelot atmosphere. Despite the popularity of two term President Bill Clinton, the Camelot comparison has not been more appropriate than at the dawn of the Obama administration.

Lest my Republican partners (and yes I am a Republican) think I have cracked and "drank the kool-aid" let me assure you I have not. But I have been more impressed with Obama lately. I am not convinced yet that he has the substance to match his incredible style...but I'm willing to take a second look.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mr. President-Elect

It's official! The 44th president of the United States will be Barack Obama. I want to offer a humble congratulation from the Republican writer of a little known blog in a remote corner of cyberspace. I also want to offer a congrats to my brother Andy who is a huge Obama supporter as well as to so many of my friends who were excited about the President-Elect's campaign.

I've spent the day here in China between classes trawling CNN, ABC, and the other networks online watching the electoral results come in. I must admit I felt envious of the excitement the Democrats were feeling. I know the thrill of supporting someone for so long, campaigning for them, and then experiencing the joy of victory that evening.

I remember 1984. I was 18 and it was my first election. I walked into the election booth and cast my very first ballot for Ronald Wilson Reagan. I was so proud. I went to work at the Burger King Drive-thru after that with a uniform decorated with Reagan - Bush buttons and encouraging every person I passed a Whopper to to get out and vote! That evening my friend Dave and I went to the Republican victory party as we saw Reagan sweep every state but Minnesota. Euphoria!!

Its been a long time since Republicans have offered up that kind of hope and excitement. For all the fear-mongering the far Right has done over the last few months, it has not been able to quell the excitement Barack Obama has generated.

I see in Barack Obama some of the hope I saw back then. Even people who didn't vote for Reagan often acknowledged the optimism he conveyed for, and about, America was contagious. Mr. Obama generates that same optimism. Tammy and I watched the 30 minute ad that played on the networks this week and had to admit that America seemed like a better place through his eyes than John McCain's.

Therefore, I wish to say this Republican is proud of you Mr. Obama. You stayed above the fray as much as this broken system would allow. You cast a vision of hope which all but your most ardent detractors could embrace and you reached out to those who disagreed with you with a graciousness and a statesmanship I have been embarrassed to say has all but disappeared from my party.

So on this election night I wish to say, "Congratulations Mr. President-Elect. May God Bless You and God Bless the United States of America."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Opinion Polls and "Yes Minister"

Watching the news this week I was realizing again how much our political process is guided and reinforced by "polls"; and how every poll seems to show Obama in a wide lead over John McCain. Now don't get me wrong, McCain is going to lose...and lose big. But it got me thinking about one of my all time favorite British comedies that I literally wear out the DVD's I watch them so much..."Yes, Minister"

Every episode centers around a bumbling but good natured British Minister (and becomes Prime Minister in later episodes) who is guided and manipulated by the civil service and the "system". One scene I love is shows how "balanced" polls can be. Watch this clip, laugh...and then wince knowing its so true.

Oh, and now having taken up my recent position in the education sector, I found the following clip, Yes Prime Ministers' take on education reform, wonderful. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

2008 World Series

For me there is no Summer, Spring, Fall, and Winter. There are only two seasons: Baseball Season and the Off-Season. My wife likes the fact that I am not a sports junkie that has to watch all sports all year round. But from the time Spring Training starts (which I suppose is another season) I am all about the sound of a bat cracking and the smell of a ball field.

So, I want to give a shout out to the Philidelphia Phillies who won the Fall Classic in a five game series over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I must confess to a bit of discouragement this season. My Detroit Tigers bought a winning team during the off season last year aquiring underperforming 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera (moved to first base)and short stop Edgar Renteria. That winning team with the second largest payroll in baseball lost the first seven games and plugged away to a 74 - 88 season.

In a twist of fate, my adopted home team of the Colorado Rockies defended their National League Championship from the previous year with a dismal record that tied the Tigers 74 - 88.

That left it to my hopes for a championship being won by my THIRD favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Alas, that was not to be. The eventual champion Phillies made short work of them in the Division Series.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were the Cinderella story for the year as they had the absolute worst record in the MLB during the 2007 season. By some miracle they defied all the pundits predictions and became the American League Champions in 2008.

SO... big congrats to the Rays and an even bigger congrats to the World Series winner Philidelphia Phillies.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Price of Toys

Of the Sunday news programs the one I have always enjoyed the most is George Stephanopoulos. The roundtable discussions on the show facilitated by Stephanopoulos are some of the most politically informative and balanced news sources available.

In this week's "Green Room" discussion. George Will, along with Peggy Noonan, Cokie Roberts, and Sam Donaldson give some very interesting opinions on the global fiasco we find ourselves in. George Will lays a lot of the blame on the American people, much to the chagrin of Donaldson. He mentions that 25 years ago Americans saved 9 cents of every tax dollar whereas today we save less than a penny, "they stopped saving, they ran up their credit card debt, they treated their homes as ATMs, and then they (the American people) look around and say, 'gosh, we're innocent'".

For years I have been saying, "When did our homes go from being places we raise our families and shelter us from the elements, to investments in our portfolio?" People always are complaining, "Oh if you put up such and such a place, that will decrease my home value." I respond, "Will your house protect you any less from the rain?" Now we have the term "starter home". You start as a young couple with a 1200 -1600 sq.ft house and then in 3-7 years when the second kid comes along we'll move up to a 2500+ sq. foot house. As if the first house was not big enough for a family of four.

Why do house sizes get bigger in America as our family sizes decrease? Greed. As houses grew and technology increased the number of "toys" that we now seen as needs , grew dramatically. Second incomes went from being an option to make life easier to a necessity to feed the machine. When the economy hits a blip, as it has now, and one spouse loses a job, the results go from being an inconvenience to catastrophe.

Some time ago a friend of mine who is a financial planner told me a lesson she learned quick. She said when she first started, she'd go to a client, see the big house, fancy car and high end furniture and think, "Wow, they will have a lot to invest." Then find out that everything is a smokescreen. All of it is bought on credit and they are spending all they have just to pay it off with little to nothing to put towards investment. On the flipside, she'd go to a modest home with a Ford Tempo in the driveway and discover they are sitting on a hoard of savings they needed help investing.

When I was a kid growing up in 1970's Detroit we had one car, one phone, and one TV. The programs that came on the TV were free and the single telephone line had a modest charge. You know what... we enjoyed life. Now there are cell phone bills, cable bills, and internet bills. We are so desperate to keep up with the Joneses we'll max our credit cards beyond what we know we could pay back...and then declare bankrupcy.

We have president who in a time of National crisis basically says, "OK we'll all get through this, just keep spending". We get a tax credit from the government (that is in huge debt itself) and told not to save it, its to stimulate the economy so be a patriotic American and spend...spend...spend.

As bad as the Great Depression was it produced a charecter in that generation of Americans that has become all but a shadow now. I think that ultimately this financial crisis could be good for America if we can learn our lesson.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Abortion is "like so 5 minutes ago"!!

A couple years back I ran across a New York Times article. It was a look at the daughters of some of the abortion rights advocates that had been instrumental in the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling. Some of this 2nd generation of young women were having second thoughts on the issue and beginning to see the moral as well as the legal aspects involved. This caused their mothers no small amount of grief. They felt the next generation did not appreciate the seriousness of the rights they had fought so hard for.

In a similar fashion, I look at this new emerging generation of Christians. Their parents have been instrumental in bringing the issue of abortion to the fore front of the political process, and yet quite often, they resist taking the baton and running with it themselves. Some of their reasons have been legitimate. Sometimes zealous abortion opponents have hurt their Christian witness through thoughtless actions. Other times, they saw their parents voting for politicians whose policies lacked integrity, yet supported the candidate solely on their an anti-abortion position.

However, I argue that hidden in all of these noble platitudes is a far more base reasoning. Humans in general, and Americans in particular, resist being defined by others. The political profile of the suburban, white, evangelical Christian is that they vote Republican and their main issue is abortion (followed closely by fighting gay marriage). These issues define the evangelical voter hence in a desire to distance themselves from this profile and define themselves they embrace issues that are more palatable to non-evangelicals.

Lets face it, in today's political climate, abortion is "so 5 minutes ago." Championing social justice, the poor, and especially the environment is much more chic and will get you invited to much better mixers and fundraisers. It is best not to even mention abortion in these circles as it will only open you up to accusations of being a "single-issue" voter or even worse, a closet evangelical.

The reality is we all have "single issues" that are deal breakers on one issue or another. Its just that abortion is no longer the deal breaker for many of today's young Christian voters. But if a candidate were good in many key areas yet said, "Hey, I'm not really against a clean environment, its just that I'm not going to dictate to a business what they can and can not do on their own property" there would be many Green "single-issue" voters abandoning ship on such a candidate.

I'm reminded of a stand up comedy routine by Eddie Izzard that says it all. In commenting about Pol Pot killing 1.7 million of his own countrymen he says we can't even comprehend that. He says, "Kill one man, go to jail. Kill 10 and they send you to Texas and hit you over the head with a brick. Kill 20 and they send you to a room with a small round hole in the door. Kill more than 100,000 and we're almost like 'well done, you must get up very early in the morning'.

The sad truth is we have grown numb in America to the statistics. That thousands and thousands of unborn American citizens have their lives ended with the full consent of our society doesn't register much of a blip anymore. In the end, perhaps its good we've grown numb to it. If we actually allowed the reality of it into our lives again we'd have to do something about it. And then we may be identified as single issue voters and even worse...evangelicals ...and that just wouldn't do.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday Night Sarah

For a number of weeks Tina Fey has been doing a spot on impersonation of Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. Last Sat. Gov. Palin got to turn the tables on Tina as she did a cameo appearance in the show's opening sketch. The spot was a scream and included appearances from Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin.

Seeing renowned liberal poster boy Baldwin sharing laughs with the conservative Palin made me wonder if we all couldn't laugh together just a bit more as Americans...especially during this election season.
Give it a look see if you haven't already. My favorite part was Sarah telling Alec that Stephen was her favorite Baldwin. (If you didn't know, Stephen, who is Alec's younger brother, made a very public conversion to Christianity a while back.)!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Life on Mars: The Fall T.V. Season Pt. 1

Lets pause from the deep reflections on life and politics. I want to blog on a topic that is slightly more important than either John McCain or Barack Obama; and that is the new fall lineup on TV.

Television was a story wasteland for many years. I must admit to watching some old favorites from the 80's and cringing at some of the cheesy dialogue and inane story lines. In the last few years though, the level of storytelling for the small screen has really escalated. Living in China, I-Tunes has kept us up to speed on American TV. Yes, I have to pay $1.99 an episode, but to be commercial's worth every penny. Here is my non-exhaustive rundown on the 2008-2009 television season:

Life on Mars: Any TV show that rips its name from a David Bowie song and stars Harvey Keitel is worth a look see. I downloaded the episode, fired up the projector (so my "tv screen" is the whole wall), lit some candles, and lounged with Tammy as we watched it. Was not disappointed. Jason O'Mara plays Sam Tyler, a New York Detective that is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. Suddenly he has to deal with not only the reason why it has happened, but the changed social morals over the last 35 years. In a classic scene from the show, when Tyler first is hit by the car he was listening to David Bowie's "Life on Mars" on his Ipod. When he wakes in 1973, it is playing on an 8 track player in his car. Trying to get his bearings, he suddenly says, "No Way" as the camera angle pans away revealing a still standing World Trade Center. Brilliant! Harvey Keitel shines as the 1973 police lieutenant who is not above beating suspects, spiking drinks, or kicking down doors with out a warrant to get the job done; much to the horror of the politically correct trained Tyler from 2008! "Life on Mars" has prompted me to listen to the David Bowie song a number of times. I'm still trying to figure out what that song is talking about. Of course it was 1973 so I imagine even Bowie had no idea what he was talking about.

My Own Worst Enemy: Christian Slater stars as Henry Spivey, a middle class, middle aged man living in suburbia with his wife and two kids. The only problem is that he isn't real. He is the alter-ego created 19 years ago for Edward Albright, a highly trained covert agent who speak 13 languages and can run the 4 minute mile. Unfortunately, the carefully constructed wall that separates them begins to break down at the most inopportune moments. Suddenly Henry and Edward, who share the same body, have to work together to keep themselves alive. Christian Slater makes the show. I always thought it unfortunate that this lead actor from the 80's who had been designated a "Jack Nicholson" heir apparent never found his feet. I'm hoping that he finds a new acting life through this cleverly written TV drama.

Fringe: Any show produced by Lost creator J.J. Abrams is on my must see list. Fringe focuses on an investigative trio who use techiques on the "fringe" of modern science to solve their weekly adventures. The show stars Anna Torv as FBI agent Olivia Dunham who is described as being "tough as nails". (As a side note to TV producers across the spectrum, can we please stop with the "tough as nails" female charecters. Its starting to look ridiculous having blonde bombshells that weigh all of 100 pounds "beating up" guys twice their size and "protecting" the wimpy guy who could obviously kick her butt in real life). The show really comes together though with the interaction of Joshua Jackson and John Noble playing a father and son team of dysfunctional geniuses. Throw in conspiriacy and government and you have your X-Files for the 2000's.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I'll be commenting on returning favorites such as: Chuck, Lost, Heroes, Smallville, and Battlestar Galactica.

All of these shows are so much more interesting than the debate!!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why So Angry?

I talked to a friend the other day who is not American but living in America. He mentioned how crazy people were getting with the election. A friend of his had an outburst against him because they had a disagreement over some of the domestic issues being wrestled over in the States. The wife had to apologize on his behalf saying the news that day had just made him so angry.

Why are people in the U.S. so angry?

I just got done watching a teaching lecture on TED by Jonathan Haidt on the Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives. In it he explains how traditionally there been 5 areas of "morality" that are found in every culture in every era. They are:
* Harm / Care
* Fairness /Reciprocity
* Ingroup / Loyalty
* Authority / Respect
* Purity / Sanctity

The study showed that the great civilizations are ones that were able to utilize all 5 disciplines. However those that view themselves as liberal focus on the first two, whereas conservatives score high on the last three. The liberals challenge to Ingroup - Loyalty is to "Celebrate Diversity" to Authority - Respect is "Question Authority" and to Purity - Sanctity "Keep your laws off my body". Although done for noble reasons, often these elements chip away at order. Says Haidt:
Liberals speak for the weak and oppressed. Want change and justice,
even at the risk of Chaos"
Conservatives speak for institutions & traditions. Want order, even
at a cost to those on the bottom

The verdict is that both are needed by a society in order to stand.

Thats why I find it strange that Americans get so angry at those who champion these different areas of morality.

Sarah Palin gets picked as a VP candidate and she is HATED. I've seen some anti-Palin rally footage and thought, "Are you kidding me?" You may think her unqualified, disagree with her positions etc. but why the anger?
On the flip side, I got an e-mail from a newsletter that I usually respect that said, "Obama must be Stopped". Stopped from WHAT sheriff? You may think him unqualified and disagree with his positions, but why the anger?

To my McCain backing friends: Obama is not the anti-Christ. If he is elected (and he probably will be) the sky is not going to fall, abortions won't be available in supermarkets and gays won't be getting married on your front lawn.

To my Obama backing friends: If McCain is elected, we are not going to invade Iran, Canada, or France. The poor and homeless are not going to be executed or tortured. Christianity is not going to become the state religion and Jack Bauer is not going to be made Secretary of State

So can everyone PLEASE take a chill pill, dial it down about 5 notches, and get a life!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Render Unto Caesar

I never agree with Barry Lynn. So it was surprising to me when I found myself on the same side of the fence as he on a recent legal matter. You see, Barry is the Executive Director of the organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and since I want a lot less separation between these two entities, you can see how we would differ.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for a theocracy in America. When Jesus is running it, hey, sign me up! Short of that, I'll pass. It's just that I think it's OK for a teacher to lead an after school Bible study, or to actually call a Christmas party a Christmas party and not a "Winter Festival".

However on Sunday, a group of pastors decided to openly violate their obligation as a tax-exempt organization to preach political partisanship from the pulpit.

I checked the IRS website for the exact ruling on this. It states:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

Basically, if you are serving the community, a church is granted special tax exemption so that the church can better use those tax dollars for the good of that community. To become openly partisan and begin politically campaigning, a church violates a truckload of really good laws.

Thats just what this group of pastors did on Sunday. 33 churches, and perhaps more to follow, have intentionally defied this law and are daring the IRS to bring action. Some have even sent transcripts of their sermons to the I.R.S.

Says their defense attorney, "Pastors have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment,” said senior legal counsel Erik Stanley for ADF, which promised to represent for free any pastor challenged by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). “No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights.”

Who says they don't have the right to speak about biblical truths? They certainly do! They can even endorse a candidate if they wish...they just have to give up their tax-exempt status. See, privilages over time begin to be viewed as entitlements. Some churches begin to see their tax-exempt status, not as a blessing by a friendly government, but a right that they are owed without question.

Not one of these pastors has a real conviction on this matter. If they did, they would simply withdraw their tax-exept status, begin paying taxes like any other business (as many of them really are...who are they kidding?) and speak about anything from the pulpit they wish to.

As a Christian, and as one who wants to see Christ honored in America, I find it difficult to be on this side of the fence...but saddle up I.R.S., strip these churches of their tax status, and let them start rendering unto Caesar what is Caesars.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The New Sacraments: Authenticity

Authenticity is pretty much in vogue with the church these days, especially those embracing a "postmodern" slant. In previous generations the sacraments of the church- that is, those aspects of church life that were generally regarded as fundamental to our relationship with God and fellow man- included such things as baptism, marriage, and Holy Communion. Although still with us, these sacraments have largely been replaced by what I call, "The New Sacraments" which include Uncertainty (also called Mystery), Relevancy, and (today's winner) Authenticity.

Authenticity is HUGE in the church today. Books, magazines, and blogs churn out a seemingly never ending diatribe chastising the church about how "inauthentic" it is and that it better start getting "authentic" real soon. I like to browse church websites on occasion and its very common for those sites to market how "authentic" they are. They usually explain how "this generation" only responds to authenticity, which always makes me think, "as opposed to my generation when we responded to in authenticity??"

What is the reason for this sudden rush to the authentic? There are a number of reasons of course and this simple blog entry will not begin to cover them all. However, I think part of the reason centers on evangelism and hell.

For the last 50 or so years evangelism has been centered on very overt techniques. Because the focus was on a very real hell of which only belief in Christ could save, evangelistic practices where designed to produce a very definite "decision" for Jesus in the least amount of time. The guiding adage was, "if you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity." These evangelistic techniques (such as the Four Spiritual Laws) were often noble in their intentions, but over time get marketed and packaged until evangelism begins to be viewed as an impersonal, assembly line, cookie-cutter entry road to the Christian faith. Or otherwise known as "inauthentic".

Authentic evangelism (and I use the evangelism term cautiously as even the term is viewed with suspicion in "authentic circles") centers on more passive practices. These passive practices focus more on introducing friends into a journey with Christ rather than escape from hell. With eternal damnation put on the back burner, the Christian becomes more the life coach, helping those around them in their joys and sorrows, rather than the fireman breaking down the door to save those inside from the flames.

With this transition, authenticity becomes key. If a fireman is saving us from a fire, we don't really care about his motivations. He could be doing it for his image, to get on TV, or for his own ego but we don't care as the life he is saving makes those secondary issues moot. However, if we are looking for a life coach, authenticity is essential. We don't want someone guiding us in the ways of Christ who is hypocritical or false.

The problem I see is that with one focus, lots of people get "saved" but lack discipleship and the teachings to help us deal with life this side of heaven. On the other side we have a lot of people liking Christianity much more than they did before, but often not really believing in Christ. I can't tell you how many times while living in Boulder (where authenticity is a major sacrament)a friend would tell me that I was a __________ (better, different, more real)Christian than what they have known." I used to feel good about that. I was "sowing seed" in these friendships and that one day when they were ready, they would accept Christ. Trouble was, that day never came. And the answer to this lack of impact was not that perhaps I was diluting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but that I was not being "authentic" enough.

The Apostle Paul addresses the issue of authenticity in Philippians 1:15

"15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. 19 For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.

For Paul, the message itself was more important than the heart or motivation of the one bringing the message. Obviously, Paul makes mention of the fact that pure motives are better, but even that is secondary to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that statement is anathema to those who have come out of years of evangelical "games" and are enjoying the Christian life that is a little more relaxed and "organic". I am with you and have been there...but I cannot ignore what the Word says on these matters. There is an imperitiveness which Paul brings in this passage that is being overlooked by the church in "emerging" circles.

It would be mindful to note as well that there is no inherant goodness in authenticity. I think we can all agree that both Gandhi and Hitler were very "authentic" people. However what makes us respect one and despise the other was not the authenticity they had, but the message they brought.

As for me, I am renewing my commitment to authenticity, but focusing on my message that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and through belief in him we can have everlasting life.

Now that is Good News!!!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman: 1925-2008

I was saddened to hear of the passing of actor Paul Newman. Mr. Newman was an icon for a number of generations starring in such classics as Cool Hand Luke, The Sting, and my personal favorite, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

But Paul Newman was more than just an actor. He was a dedicated philanthropist whose company to date has given more than 200 million dollars to charitable organizations. Organizations such as his "Hole in the Wall" kids camps that focused on gravely ill children. According to CNN, "He saw the camps as places where kids could escape the fear, pain and isolation of their conditions, kick back and raise a little hell,". There are 11 such camps around the world including Africa and Vietnam and they have touched the lives of over 135,000 children.

Paul Newman leaves his wife of 50 years, actress Joanne Woodward, and five children. In Hollywood, where marriages last about 5 years, to see a faithful and devoted husband, is extrordinary. Again according to CNN, "He observed that just because he was a sex symbol there was no reason to commit adultery."

"Why would I go out for a hamburger when [I] have steak at home?" said Newman.

A reunion movie featuring Paul Newman and Robert Redford was always talked about, but a script was never decided upon. Much to our loss. I'll close this entry with a remark by Robert Redford on his friend's passing:

"There is a point where feelings go beyond words. I have lost a real friend. My life-and this country-is better for his being in it."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chinese Space Walk

In the last 24 hours, two notable events occured. Senators John McCain & Barak Obama squared off for their first televised debate for the U.S. Presidency. On the other side of the world, astronaut Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese national to perform an orbital spacewalk. Having watched both events, I decided to write on the more interesting of the two.

Let me start off by saying I am a HUGE fan of manned spaceflight. When I was a child, all I wanted to be was an astronaut. My parents have pictures of me standing at Kennedy Space Center as a five year old with the ill fated Apollo 13 resting on it's launch pad in the distance. I got to stay home from school the day the Space Shuttle first launched in 1981 because it was so important for me to see it live.

It's been unfortunate that with the end of the Cold War, NASA's budget has been slashed dramatically. The fact that we landed on the moon in 1969, but have not been to Mars by 2008, is inexcusable. President Bush setting a goal in 2004 of returning to the moon and then funding a Mars landing has been one of the higher points of his presidency. (Although it lacked the charisma of John Kennedy casting the vision which originally took us to the moon.)

That is why I was so excited to see China beginning to develop a serious space program. This afternoon, Astronaut Zhai Zhigang stepped out of his spacecraft and performed a 15 minute spacewalk. True, its something America did 40 years ago, but China has set a serious goal of landing a man on the moon by 2020.

I watched a clip of the launch today on the BBC and realized that it doesn't matter whether it's China, Russia, or the United States, when man reaches for the stars, I get goose bumps. Perhaps a little interplanetary competition is what the U.S. Congress needs to get it's act together and fund NASA adequately.

Until then, "God Speed Zhai Zhigang"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Addicted to I Tunes

Since moving to China, the availability of English speaking TV shows have taken a bit of a nose dive. I always knew people that watched TV on their computer either by streaming or download, but that always seemed a little inefficient to me when all you had to do was turn on the TV and flick through 100 channels. Besides, my internet usage at home consisted of me manipulating my laptop in strategic postions to catch my neighbor's wireless signal and get my e-mail out.

Now I'm in China and frankly am quite happy to be (mostly) TV free. However, we have discovered some shows that we enjoy watching as a family that are available on I-Tunes. Like any addiction, it starts out small. An episode of "Friends" here, a Travel Channel selection there. (Ironically, I download almost no music)

Soon though, its not enough. You begin to experiment. "I've always heard about such and such a show...think I'll give it a try" And like any good dealer, the first one (in this case, the pilot episode) is free. After trying an episode of Jon Faverau's "Dinner for Five" I immediately downloaded another...and then another...the next thing I knew, I downloaded the whole season telling myself, "I'm saving money this way". Like many people say, "The more I buy, the more I save" mmmm....yeah...right!!

Now last night, I discovered I-Tunes University. Its the section with college lectures and documentaries from all over the country on every subject imaginable...and they are free! For an ENTP personality type, this is like winning the lottery. (Believe me, I had a much more witty line in my head on that one but in the interest of not offending anyone, and more importantly my Lord, I scaled it down a bit :)

Last night I downloaded lectures on Astronomy, Theology, Politics, and Art as well as documentaries on presidents Reagan, Carter, and Nixon...all for Free!!! I never have to leave the house again. Did you know that because of a velocity of 6,141 MPH, the first stage of the Apollo / Saturn V rocket would climb another 30 miles unpowered after separation, eventually falling into the Atlantic Ocean 350 miles out from the launch pad? Amazing!

Excuse me though, I have to leave. Tammy is calling me for my 12-step recovery program now.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tina Fey or Sarah Palin???

Last Saturday the 34th season of Saturday Night Live premiered. After hearing the buzz of Tina Fey's performance portraying vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, I decided to download it and see for myself. I watched it three times in a row...and it just kept getting funnier. Now in the name of full disclosure I, like most thinking men, harbour a small crush on Tina Fey. Its OK, my wife is fully aware of this. (As a disclaimer to anyone reading this with no sense of humor, I don't REALLY have a crush on Tina Fey, it was just a witty attempt to convey my very real respect for her comic genius)

Anyhow, Tina, who looks like Gov. Sarah Palin's twin sister, performed a 5 1/2 minute opening sketch with Amy Pohler playing Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately, the whole sketch seems to be removed from YouTube (except clip pieces which I include) but is available from I tunes.

It's also unfortunate that the McCain camp lashed out of the portrayal of Palin who was made, admittedly, to look like an airhead (The "And I can see Russia from my house" was priceless). However, Sen. Clinton was made to look like the ambitious, Lady McBeth character she is usually portrayed as but no accusations by the left were made on her behalf.

To her credit, Gov. Palin found the portrayal of herself "amusing" so come on McCain camp- it's comedy...lighten up!!

Now, if only Tina Fey can be convinced to continue moonlighting from her gig at 30 Rock to shoot over to Saturday Night Live and play the role she was practically born to play. If she does, this election could get a whole lot funnier!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Stuff White People Like

Ok, first book review! In the closing days of my tenure at Barnes & Noble I was asked by a customer if we had a particular book. I asked the book's title and the lady replied, "Stuff White People Like". I was startled at first. That sounded...racist? This was Boulder Colorado after all. This was White People CENTRAL!! Any good white person worth their salt knows that the celebration of ethnic and cultural diversity is one of the highest of all possible virtues...except the celebration of white culture which is racist.

The woman went on to explain that it was a satire book making fun of white people and the stuff they like. "Whew" I thought, "we're safe. Making fun of white people is certainly OK."

Plus, the lady said she heard the book review on NPR. (Just to digress, White People love to start their conversations with, "You know, I was listening to NPR this morning and...". As a side note, my cultural elitism runs to the other side of the pond so my conversations start out with, "You know I was listening to the BBC the other day and...")

Anyhow, as I was thumbing through I found myself laughing outloud and realized when I left for China and was missing Boulder, all I had to do was pull this book out and I'd be right back at home.

Its all right there. 150 topics such as:

Gifted Children: White People love gifted children. Do you know why? Because an astonding 100% of their children are gifted. Isn't that amazing?

Awareness: An interesting fact about White People is that they firmly believe all the world's problems can be solved through "awareness"- meaning the process of making other people aware of problems, magically causing someone else, like the government, to fix it.

Whole Foods: White People need organic food to survive, and where they purchase this food is as important as what they buy. Whole Foods stores have replaced churches and cathedrals as the most important buildings in society.

Knowing What's Best for Poor People: White people spend a lot of time worrying about poor people. It takes up a pretty significant portion of their day. They feel guilty and sad that poor people shop at Wal-Mart instead of Whole Foods, they vote Republican instead of Democratic, that they go to community college or get a job instead of studying art at college.

Anyhow, the book has been a runaway best seller and is based on the popular website

If you want to spend a couple hours repeating, "Oh God, thats so true" make sure to pick up a copy,

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Obama Question

My biggest facination this political season has been listening to people (and particularly Christians) talk on why they will, or will not, be voting for Barak Obama.

Sometimes they mention his strong points, such as his ability to cast an articulate vision and his charasmatic persona, but often their first response is because of "George Bush", "the war", or "the Republicans". I'll be honest, I get nervous when we start electing presidents based, not on record and accomplishment, but as a reaction to something else.

One of my first political memories was of another time when the country was just extracting itself from an unpopular war and scandal was rife in the White House. It was during this time that a young governor from Georgia named Jimmy Carter burst on the scene. He was charming, sincere, and seemed to posess so many of the qualities the embattled Richard Nixon lacked. He was embraced by the Christian community by being the first president to publicaly proclaim of being "born again" and he rode a ground swell backlash all the way to the White House.

The problem?: He wasn't a particularly good president. His foreign policy left us neutered, his domestic policy left us broke, and his liberal social policies alienated the very Christians that once embraced him. My father, a life long labor Democrat to that point, voted for Carter the first time, and never voted Democrat again.

Let me just say, "I like Barak Obama" I think he is a genuine, sincere man who truly wants whats best for this country. (and I will say the same for John McCain). Its just that to much of this ground swell of popularism relys on him "not being George Bush" and thats not good enough for me.

Many Christians I know also worry me because their support for Obama seems to be a declaration of their independence from the Republican party rather than a conviction to vote Democrat. They remind me of the girl who jumps on the back of the bad boy's motorcycle, not because she's in love with the boy, but because she wants to show her parents she's her own person. Living in Boulder I met many people who were Buddhist. When I would talk with them, I realized (many times) their Buddhism stemmed not from an internal conviction of having reached some truth, but as a tool of self-expression, often to convey that they were NOT Christians.

I agree that the Christian community needs to disentangle itself from its complete devotion to the Republican Party, But voting for Obama seems (often) to be an expression about what you are against, rather than what you are for...and that makes me worry for this country.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

T. Austin-Sparks

There are a number of Christian writers and ministers who have influenced me throughout my life. Some years ago I went through a "dead writers" phase with another missionary while living in Hong Kong. By dead writers, I mean I would only read the writings of teachers who had passed away. The logic behind it was that writers who had passed away and still had an audience had "stood the test of time" Their teachings were not the "fly by night" writings of thousands of books that line the impulse purchase tables at the latest Christian convention. No, THESE were the respected writings of the great pillars of the faith who had gone before.

Of course, then you develop cocky arrogance as you look down your nose at people who DO buy "pulp" Christian teachings...and then the Holy Spirit has to come in and give you a spiritual spanking and...well, OK you get the point.

Lately I have been drawn back to the writings of one of these pillars of the faith. If you have never heard of T. Austin-Sparks or read any of his books, I encourage you to do so immediately. T. Austin-Sparks was a British evangelist who was born in 1888. He published the bi-monthly magazine A Witness and a Testimony from 1923 until his death in 1971 and his teaching ministry brought the Gospel of Christ across the globe.

During my personal prayer times this week I have been reading from his pamphlet, The Alter (The Cross) Governs Everything

"A truly crucified people are never in danger of the world. It is only when the Cross has not done its work that the world has a place. The world has no place with a crucified man or woman, or a crucified company of believers. The Cross is the great defensive against the world. If you want to keep the world out, put the Cross in its place. If the Cross is truly in its place in fulness, then everything else will come into order"

I find as I read this, the things that I thought were important burn away and are replaced by what is truly important. The Cross of Christ is a refining fire that will transform us if we let it.

Anyhow, if you want to check out some more Sparks, I encourage you to visit the online library and resource page

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

McCain & Obama: The VP analysis

After weeks of debate and discussion about who were going to be the presidential nominee's picks for Vice-President, the answer is in. Surprisingly, both Republican and Democrat chose running mates from small electoral states (3 votes apiece). This goes against the conventional wisdom that says your running mate should be from states able to deliver crucial electoral votes, particularly in swing states. Neither Alaska (Palin) or Delaware (Biden) are going to do that.

Instead, each VP pick completely balanced out the resume (and glaring weaknesses) of the top of the ticket.

Obama: By choosing Biden, Obama chooses the experience cred he so desperately lacks. Biden is a seasoned veteran with more than 30 years in the Senate. He has chaired the powerful Judiciary Committee and Foreign Relations Committee and is highly respected by senate members on both sides of the aisle. He also balances Obama's "liberal" moniker by being a Democrat with more centrist tendencies. The downside is that a liberal nominee choosing a running mate from the blue state heartland of the New England coast has not been particularly successful for the Dems in the past.

McCain: Completes his own balancing act by choosing Alaska governor Sarah Palin. As Democratic pundit Paul Begala notes, "Alaska has more reindeer than people" so adding Palin to the ticket was not to deliver the "Alaska" vote.
Instead, Palin brings conservative credentials to a ticket that was not winning over that demographic. She has been recognized as being a tough talking, anti-corruption proponent that has proved to be an effective governor. More importantly though she brings a breath of fresh air to a party that is often perceived as full of old, stodgy, white men (of whom McCain could be the poster boy). She is young and attractive, and more importantly...a woman. With thousands of Hillary voters still seething at the upset of their candidate by Obama, there just might be enough of a "lady vote" to deliver the election to McCain. The downside is that the recently announced pregnancy of her 17 year old daughter may make a mockery of her conservative cred and create enough media fodder to sideline her.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kicking Off

For a while now a number of friends have asked when I was going to start a blog. I have resisted doing so for a number of reasons:

1) When writing op-ed pieces I, like most people, tend to enjoy unsheathing the knife and attacking. It feels good to drive the pen, like a blade, deep into the the ideas of others and turn. I take great joy out of poping the balloons of others. Because I know that Christ is (often) not evident in me in those times...I have not blogged.

2) I have looked down at the cyber world with contempt. When I read other people's blogs, I was often disappointed at the irrational vitriol that seemed to be tossed back and forth. To put it bluntly, I found the "blog-o-sphere" filled with just to many weirdos and had no interest in becoming part of that world.

3) Although I probably won't, if I ever ran for public office again, I didn't want any silly blog entry I did coming back to bite me.

4) There seems to be a narcessistic desire these days for everyone to "express themselves". I know I am not immune to this. I didn't want to do the classic "express your individuality by doing what everyone else is doing" routine.

5) I enjoy building bridges with people, (or at least building a bridge so that they can cross over to my right way of thinking :) Because I have many friends on the Left and Right, Christian and not, multi-ethnicities, and from around the globe etc. I did not want to intentionally offend anyone who is close to me by writing some of the blog entries I'm sure to write.

So why start one now???

1) Because our move to China prompted the establishing of a family blog. Often there were things I wanted to write about, but a family update blog was not the most appropriate forum

2) My brother's blog. As I would start commenting on his blog about certain topics, I found I wanted to have my own forum for exprssion.

3) By willfulling ignoring and not thinking about the 5 reasons for not starting one that I previously mentioned.

So with that, welcome to Beyond The Pale. A hodge podge of my thoughts on Christianity, politics, religion, current events, movies, and baseball. Enjoy!!!