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

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Obama & Gitmo

Like most people I have a little "I told you so" reflex that I have to keep under wraps on occasion. But whenever I make a prediction, particularly a political one that comes to pass, I have to crow just a little bit.
The Oval Office chair was still warm from George W. Bush when the recently inaugurated President Obama signed an Executive Order closing the detention center at our Navel base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba which housed over 700 terrorist suspects. It was done amidst a lot of hoopla, flashing cameras, and a proclamation from the president that it was being done to "restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism." He stated that the facility would close by Jan 2010.

Sounds noble right?

And it was, but not very realistic or well thought out. Indeed, my first thought was, "OK, so where are they going to put all the prisoners?" I knew even as Obama was smiling there was no way Gitmo was going to be closed in a year. And now CNN reports that the Obama administration ackowledges that the deadline might not be reached.

Lets face it, if you are fighting a "War on Terror" your're going to have terror suspects. I don't know about you but sticking them in a detention facility at a U.S. Navel base 90 miles off America's shores seems like a pretty good idea to me.

Of course, if you don't keep them there, you have to keep them somewhere. The first suggestion was maximum security prisons in America, but the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) voices came (ironically often from Congressmen who were arguing for the closure of Gitmo) saying that housing terrorists on U.S. soil was to dangerous.

So the Obama Administration turned to other countries. "Hey, we're closing that nasty legal cesspool created by that evil predecessor of mine, but we need to put some guys in your countries for awhile...'K?

And the response was mostly "Mmmmm...No thanks" (except for some countries that reportedly received cash and other political concessions for doing so). Why else would the mostly Roman Catholic south Pacific Island of Palau offer to take some?

First of all, I support the President in bringing better legal accountability into the process. We are a nation of law, and if people's civil rights and due process are being violated, I fully support inquiries and policy enforcement to correct those wrongs.

But if a local prison has reports of abuse, the action to take is to stop the abuse, not close down the prison. The answer to Gitmo is to fix Gitmo not close Gitmo.

However, the President has already smiled and taken his photo op. Gitmo will eventually be closed.

But there is a reason Gitmo exists. Arguably some suspects were found to be innocent...others were not. And some of those thought to be innocent turned out to be terrorists after all. CNN reported earlier this year that 18 released Gitmo detainees have been directly involved with terrorist activities upon their release and another 43 are suspected to have including Adballah Salih al-Ajmi, who blew himself up in a suicide attack in Iraq after leaving US custody.

Obama is essentially betting that one of the detainees released to third party countries will not be involved in a direct attack on U.S. forces, or even worse, an attack on the U.S. homeland in the future.

That is a scenario that would haunt him the rest of his days and I just hope he wins his bet.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tragedy in Zimbabwe

This week the government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe lifted the ban on a number of foreign journalists and news agencies. CNN is going to shortly be airing the first interview Mugabe has given to the Western media in years. In the run up to that there have been a number of stories at their website featuring some of the tragedy that has befallen the country since Mugabe came to power in 1980.

This post may be off the normal radar for some of the readers of "Beyond the Pale" but over the years I have known and worked with a number of white Zimbabweans and have listened to their heartache as they tell the almost unbelievable stories of their homeland descending into madness.

Since the Mugabe government came to power in 1980, replacing the previous white led government under Ian Smith, the country had slowly came unravelled as crime, corruption, incompetency in administration increased. But the bottom finally fell out beginning in 1999 when Mugabe ordered the country's prosperous farmlands, and cornerstone of the economy, to be redistributed to the county's black citizens.

Although many, including most of Zimbabwe's white population, were open to some policies to address years of racial inequalities, no one was was ready for the violence and thuggery that descended on the country. The agricultural sector collapsed and hundreds of thousands of black farm laborers were suddenly unemployed as the farms they had worked on were seized by militia groups. In the years since, the economy has continued to disintergrate. The local currency, recently acknowledged by the government to carry no value, has been replaced by foreign currencies and a make shift barter system.

Only today I was talking to a white Zimbabwean coworker about his country. He said, "Steve, I can't even watch the media on the issue because my blood boils when I see what is happening to my country". I sympathized and could only imagine how I would feel if my country had collapsed and thugs, like those in the CNN clip, were running loose.

For the first time though, a glimmer of hope has arrived. In the recent election, Robert Mugabe was forced into a power sharing agreement with a new prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

My hope is that the nightmare unleashed by Robert Mugabe will soon be over and peace will prevail once again in that wonderful country.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why I'm into Organized Religion

When I was in the U.S. during August I was perusing the shelves of the local Bible book store. Ignoring the promotional display for the #1 book by Jon & Kate Gosselin on marriage and family (are you kidding me?) I grabbed a little book whose title caught my eye, Why We Love The Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. I grabbed it!

I for one am a little tired of the church becoming the whipping boy for every perceived injustice, real or imagined, since Cain slew Abel. I'll be honest, when someone says to me, "I'm spiritual, but I'm not into organized religion" I quench the need to throw up right there and then with a straight face usually respond, "That funny because I'm not really into spirituality, but I LOVE organized religion." (Yes, I do have fun at other people's expense but they make it SO easy and the Lord is dealing with me on it :)

Another group of people that need a re-boot are the "I love Jesus, but have serious problems with the church." crowd. If someone came up to me and said, "You know Steve, we really like you, but Tammy, wow, she can be a real jerk" how positively inclined toward that person am I really going to be. You can't love me and hate my wife.

Now thats not to say that if someone was hurt by Tammy that they can't come to me and discuss the situation. Honest critique done in love is God born but...

...don't you get the feeling that many who bash the church (and some even make a living doing it) really enjoy doing it! I mean they make it sound like they are doing the world a favor by exposing and critiquing certain issues but you don't get the feeling they are doing so to see the Bride of Christ cleaned and ready for the Bridegroom...

...rather it feels more like the smile an assassin gives when he plunges a knife into his victim's back and turns.

While some see the church only as a hotbed of boredom, hypocrisy, and scandal I instead see the people who tirelessly give of themselves day after day around the world, often in harsh conditions, to feed the poor, heal the sick, defend the downtrodden, and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The book of James says this in Chapter 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

And so that, my friend, is why I'm into organized religion...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ernie Harwell: My Tribute

There are certain things in life that can instantly put me in a good mood. Reading the Bible, the smell of a pine Christmas tree, or anything Disney related will quickly turn a sour mood for me. The voice of Ernie Harwell also does the trick. However it was deep sadness I felt when I learned that Harwell, who was the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 40 years, was recently diagnosed with inoperable cancer.

When I hear Harwell's voice I instantly become 11 years old again. It's Saturday afternoon circa 1977, my dad is fixing the brakes on the car and Harwell's southern drawl is calling the Tigers play-by-play on the transistor radio blaring from the garage. I would have both my baseball glove and my father's pleading with him to take a break so we can play catch for just a few minutes. Aahhh!! I loved my childhood and for many 30+ yr old native Detroiters Ernie Harwell was an integral part.

More than just being the Voice of the Tigers, my respect for him extends beyond baseball. At 91, he is still happily married to the wife of his youth, Lulu Harwell and as a devout Christian believer he has been heavily involved with Baseball Chapel which serves as an evangelistic organization for professional baseball players.

In Colorado I would often have coffee with a dear friend named Bob who was a fellow Christian and lover of baseball. I confessed to him one of my dreams was to be in heaven one day playing at Heaven's Field of Dreams with some of my baseball heroes. Farmhouses and cornfields would surround, kids would be playing to the side, hotdogs would be grilling on the Bar-B-Qs and a young Ernie Harwell would be calling the play by play. Just the thought of it makes my eyes well up...

Yesterday the Detroit Tigers had Ernie return to Tiger Stadium (I still can't call it Comerica Park) for possibly the last time so fans and players alike could show their gratitude and say good-bye. The video of the event moved me to tears.

I'll be praying for you Ernie. You and you precious family as you prepare for your final journey home. God Bless you...and thank you for being part of my life!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bad Form Rep. Wilson

In 1998 President Bill Clinton, along with Hillary and Chelsea, made a trip to Hong Kong where we were living at the time. The President's limousine slowly traveled right past Tammy and Gabriel at one point quite near. Chelsea saw Gabriel in Tammy's arms and motioned to her father to have a look. Bill waved, Chelsea waved and Tammy excitedly waved back.

Now, we're Republicans who never voted for Bill Clinton and probably given the chance again, still wouldn't. So why were we so excited...

Because at the end of the day, he's still the President of the United States!

It's for that reason I join the rest of the blog-o-sphere in loudly proclaiming the "bad form" of Republican South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson. Wilson delivered a MAJOR faux pax by yelling out "You Lie!" to President Obama during a speech to a joint session of Congress.

The particulars at this point are irrelevant. I don't care what your position is on the health care debate...I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat. There are a number of things one can do that quickly earn my contempt;

and disrespecting the office of the President is high on that list.

Honest disagreement?...fine. Anger at certain happens? Some political parody on Saturday Night Live?...its part of the American way.

But when the the President of the United States addresses you in a joint session of Congress you have one, and only one, responsibility.

You shut up and listen....

Bad form Rep. Wilson. Very bad form!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Edward Kennedy: 1932 - 2009

I know its a little late but I wanted to add my personal eulogy on Sen. Edward Kennedy's passing this past week. Despite any political differences I had with the man, he sat in the U.S. Senate for 47 years and had a passion for securing justice for the working class people of America...a passion I share.

I have to echo what my friend Bob said when he mentioned he wouldn't have voted for him, but I think I could have been his friend. He was a diplomat who was known for his ability to make relationships and form bonds even with political rivals.

And here lies one of the problems with politics today. Gone are the days it seems when we could argue together during the day and drink together during the evening.

When I was at the University of Colorado, my Public Affairs school hosted a talk with former Senator Alan Simpson and Congresswoman Patricia Schroder. When asked what was different in the legislative halls from when they were there they responded that the partisanship had gotten more personal. They remarked how President Reagan and House speaker Tip O'Neil would be political foes during the day but afterwards they were both Irishmen who enjoyed beer and each other's company.

Senator Kennedy seemed to enjoy people across the aisle from himself. The testimony and eulogies from his political foes following his death demonstrate he was a man of respect who overcame many obstacles to become one of America's greatest legislators.

So, farewell Senator Kennedy! You'll be missed.