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I know how unfair it is that innocent Palestinian people have lost their land and wealth and even their lives.  I know that many of them have legal titles to land that has been confiscated, keys to buildings that they rightfully owned which have been taken from them.  I don’t know firsthand but I have read that the Israeli authorities permit assassinations and destruction of private property.

But here’s another thing I know:  I know that “There is no Israel” is the road to ruin.  There is an Israel, like it or not.  “There is no Israel” is a slogan that makes some people feel good but it isn’t true and it never will be true again.  There are millions of people living in Israel who are not going to give up their land, and the only way to get rid of them would be to desecrate the land by killing every single one of them.

The real problem in Israel/Palestine isn’t land.  It’s alienation.  It’s that a large minority on one side says “There is no Israel” and a large minority on the other side says “There is no Palestine” and those minorities are loud enough and powerful enough to drown out the reasonable majority.  This video is proof of that.

Until there’s dialogue there will never be a solution.

Henry Louis Gates Jr, a distinguished professor at Harvard University, was arrested at his home after a neighbor saw him forcing open his back door and called the police.  According to news reports, the neighbor thought that someone was breaking into Gates’ house.

If that were the whole story, it would be a funny headline: “College Professor Arrested for Breaking Into Own Home.”  But that isn’t the whole story, because Gates is black.

So the story that’s presented to us now is that in a grave injustice, a “mild-mannered, bespectacled Ivy League professor who walks with a cane,” “one of the most recognizable African-Americans in the country” has been “pulled from his own home and arrested on a minor charge.”

But let’s think this through.

Did the police officers do something wrong by showing up?  How would Gates feel if someone had reported a break-in at his house and the police hadn’t shown up?  The fact is, Gates was breaking into the house.  His story is that upon returning home from a trip overseas he found his door obstructed, and he had to force it open.  So whoever called the police evidently thought that a break-in was in progress.  In an act of neighborly kindness they called the police in to protect Gates’ property.

Was Gates arrested simply for being black in his own home, as has been asserted?  No, he was arrested for and initially charged with disorderly conduct, or “loud and tumultuous behavior.”  The officer’s report of the arrest states that when he asked Gates to show identification, Gates replied “No I will not.”  Then he demanded the officer’s name and badge number three times, and when the officer tried to explain that he was investigating a report of a break-in, Gates “opened the front door and exclaimed, ‘Why, because I’m a black man in America?’”

Should the arresting officer have known who Gates was?  It shouldn’t have mattered.  In this country we still believe that no one is bigger than the law.  Nevertheless, Gates’ supporters ask us to consider his fame.  It has been said that he is “one of the most recognizable African Americans in the country,” (see CNN) but is he really?  Are there not at least 500 professional athletes, former athletes, entertainers, businesspeople, news presenters, and other private citizens who are more recognizable?  There certainly are that many, and probably more.

Finally, we should ask ourselves what Gates could have done differently to create a better outcome.  All indications are that Gates could have defused the entire situation by cooperating with the public servant who showed up at his front door that day, smiling and saying, “Thank you so much for coming out to protect my property, but it’s okay.  I live here.  See, here’s my drivers’ license.”

Unfortunately, as this episode has shown, some Americans aren’t ready for a post-racial society.

Being the chief executive of a state government is the best on-the-job training you can get for being the chief executive of the Federal government.  Many of the same elements are in play; budgetary concerns, legislative relations, muckraking opponents, the press, and a hundred other mundane challenges that the average person never hears about.

Sarah Palin had the opportunity to gain more executive experience – heck, she had the job! – and she just blew it off.  This is a problem for Palin’s fans and a boon for her detractors because Palin (to date) has given no coherent reason for her resignation.  The most likely reasons for the resignation seem to be that (1) She was unable to adequately perform the duties of her office due to the numerous (bogus) ethics complaints and attendant investigations pending and (2) She hopes to cash in on her fame by selling a book and/or giving speeches.  Unfortunately for her, Palin hasn’t personally gone on the record stating (1) and her ex-future-son-in-law has gone on the record theorizing (2).

Expanding on my theory that gubernatorial experience is the ideal training for the presidency, let’s look at Palin’s potential competition for the Republican nom in 2012:

  • Mike Huckabee served one half-term (appointed) and two full terms (elected) as governor of Arkansas. 
  • Tim Pawlenty is serving out his second term in Minnesota.
  • Haley Barbour is serving out his second term in Mississippi.
  • Mitt Romney served one full term in Massachusetts.
  • Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has less experience as governor than Palin, but by 2012 will have surpassed her.

In this sample group of sixRepublican prospects, Palin will come be the least experienced executive come 2012, and she is no longer gaining experience.  At the same time she is tied for the least legislative experience, with none.  Please, Palin backers, don’t try this at home.  Touting her mayoral experience won’t cut cheese with me.

I’ve waited this long to express an opinion on Sarah Palin’s resignation because I kept thinking that there’s more to it, that there’s a statement or revelation forthcoming that will make it all make sense.  But that isn’t happening, and if hasn’t by now, I don’t think it will.

It’s over, Sarah.  You were a longshot, but you still had a shot.  And now you’ve blown it.

I’m going to cast my vote with this guy, even though he’s an Iowan.

He had a string of catchy pop songs that were hits. He was an innovative dancer. He was an extremely talented guy in his prime, which was long ago now.

But that’s it. In no way, shape or form does Michael Jackson deserve the incredibly vast attention he’s gotten the last week-and-a-half after his death, a death that probably was caused by his own foolishness.

The amount of coverage Jackson’s Tuesday funeral service in downtown Los Angeles will receive on national television and other media forms is absurd.

This was not a statesman. This was an entertainer. This was not someone who made important songs, who wrote important lyrics, who said important things, who did important things.

This was a celebrity, and an awfully silly one at that…”

For the full article: http://hlog.iowa.com/2009/07/07/no-kidding-around-now-this-michael-jackson-stuff-must-stop-but-it-wont/

Steve McNair is dead, evidently courtesy of a murderous mistress.

Steve “Air” McNair was a very good (not great) quarterback who played football in the NFL for 13 years.  As a good professional football payer with a very long career, McNair made a lot of money.  So much money did McNair make, in fact, that he was able to create a parallel life for himself.  So while all the world thought that McNair was a model citizen, a community hero, a good husband and devoted father, the Nashville police are now revealing that (with a friend) he had leased a townhouse where he arranged rendezvous with a female “companion.”

Shooting the breeze with a friend yesterday, I made the offhand remark that “I wouldn’t set up a double-life like that for myself, even if I could.”  “Yeah,” said my friend, “You’ve got to be able to live with yourself.”

This exchange has been on my mind ever since.  I’ve been contemplating how it is that smart and successful people like McNair can fool themselves into thinking that they can successfully live a double-life like the one he had allegedly set up.  On a more philosophical level, I’ve been pondering what principles, had they been present in McNair’s heart and soul, would have precluded his finding himself in the tragic position in which he ended.  I’ve boiled my thoughts down to a few core principles, and I hope that I can communicate them to the reader without sounding too sanctimonious.

  • Don’t mistake a lifestyle for a life.  We live in a superficial society, in an age when many of the most desirable commodities and sought-after experiences are available in “virtual” form.  We believe that image is more important than substance, and we pursue hedonistic pleasure with dogged determination.  It’s no wonder that many people have fooled themselves into believing they can be a total wreck on the inside and yet be happy, as long as they can maintain a particular lifestyle.
  • Don’t be a slave to the flesh.  A Biblical principle that has been left by the wayside by most of the world, this item goes hand-in-hand with the first one.  When we pursue animalistic pleasure we become irredeemably like animals.  At the other extreme, total and encompassing self-denial serves no constructive purpose.  Self-control and moderation are the watchwords here.
  • Be what you appear to be.  McNair has left behind a grieving widow, four fatherless sons, and tens of thousands of fans who had honestly believed that he was really the heroic figure he appeared to be.  His agent, who had helped him to create the ‘good guy’ image, claims to be as stunned as anyone that McNair had leased a second home and had a kept woman on the side.  McNair must have taken great care to conceal this deception from the public, but it’s no secret now.
  • Do the right thing for the right reason.  This is the one which, as the father of three little boys, I think about every single day.  As a father, I’m all too aware of the aspect of human nature that is concerned with getting away with things.  When correcting my sons I frequently ask them this question: “Do you know why you shouldn’t [insert transgression here]?”  Almost as often as I ask the question, I receive the answer, “Because I’ll get in trouble.”  That’s also the first response to formulate in the minds of most adults, but it isn’t the right answer.  The right answer is, “Because it’s wrong.”  Yes, there are such things as right and wrong; we should do the right thing because it’s right, and we should refrain from doing what we know is wrong just because it ain’t right.  Why is this moral precept so important to me?  Because I believe (and history shows) that the absence of this kind of morality results in people doing what’s right only when they have to, and doing things that are wrong whenever they think they can get away with it.  And that is as sure a recipe for heartbreak as you will ever find.

David Letterman quipped on his show this week that Sarah Palin cultivates an image as a “slutty flight attendant” and then joked that when Palin and her daughter visited Yankee Stadium and watched a baseball game, an awkward moment arose when Palin’s daughter was “knocked up” by Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez in the seventh inning.

Letterman isn’t always funny – in fact he hasn’t really been funny in years – but seldom has he stooped so low.

Sarah Palin is a lovely woman and millions of American women view her as a role model.  She is also an intelligent and accomplished woman, but her religious and political views have made her a favorite target of the left-wingers who dominate the American entertainment industry.  It’s no surprise that Letterman doesn’t like Governor Palin, but we may be forgiven for our surprise at the sliminess Letterman’s attack.  I’ve never heard Letterman link the word slutty to any other female politician, but maybe that’s because they just aren’t attractive enough to arouse him the way Palin does.

But the really disgusting moment, the moment when he really hit rock bottom, was the asinine joke about Governor Palin’s daughter getting impregnated by Alex Rodriguez.  Presumably Letterman and his overpaid writers assumed that Governor Palin was accompanied by her 18-year old daughter Bristol, who is an unwed mother.  At least that’s what he claims.  But the governor was actually accompanied by her 14-year old daughter Willow.  Consequently, Letterman was actually making a deroguatory sex joke about an underage girl.

In a lame attempt to get credit for an apology without actually making one, Letterman spoke about the incident during his monologue yesterday, making a variety of inane jokes that further illustrated his contempt for the entire Palin family.  He also said that he would “never ever” joke about a 14-year old girl being raped or otherwise engaging in any kind of sexual activity, but on the other hand, he did it in front of God and everybody.  And by the way, is it really so different to talk about an 18-year old in the same terms?

Personal note to Dave Letterman: Mr. Letterman, I’m no fan of yours.  You aren’t amusing and like I said before, you haven’t been in years.  So that you don’t think I have no sense of humor, I want you to know that I’m a big fan of your employee Craig Ferguson, who is funny in a way you have never been.  But you are just a huge jerk, a train wreck, and a laughingstock.  Most Americans aren’t laughing at your jokes any more, Dave Letterman.  They’re laughing at you.

On Tuesday morning my wife and I (and both of her parents, and my mom) all crammed ourselves into an ultrasound room at the local clinic. About ten minutes into the ultrasound session our technician announced that she was having a technical problem and excused herself from the room. She returned about ten minutes later with a doctor who regretfully informed us that our baby had no heartbeat and was dead.

The next morning my wife and I walked into the birthing center at our hospital, and after about eighteen hours my wife had given birth to a “fetus” which had survived to about seventeen weeks gestation before dying due to a knotted umbilical cord. It’s one of those things that happen, just a “luck of the draw” sort of thing, and absolutely not preventable.

After the birth was completed the doctor and nurses left us alone with our baby.

At first neither of us wanted to hold the little angel. He had been dead in the womb for possibly as long as three weeks and we were afraid of what we would see. But after about a half hour our hearts were breaking and he was just on the other side of the room, so we decided to hold him. Here’s what we saw.

A face…eyes, nose, mouth.

A well-formed head…with hair.

A thin and damaged body, but one with arms, legs, hands, feet, ten perfect little fingers, and ten perfect little toes.

Today (Saturday) my wife was out and about in the neighborhood and saw a car cruising along the boulevard sporting a pro-choice bumper sticker. She tells me that she barely resisted the temptation to use her minivan as a weapon. I can’t say that I would have demonstrated such restraint.

That perfect little 5.6 ounce, 8-inch long baby of ours illustrated something to me, something I have always believed but could never state with authority. Now I can. Unborn babies are people. They aren’t just a collection of undifferentiated cells waiting for the touch of biological magic to turn them into humans; they are helpless little human beings with the capacity to live a life as long as they are given the opportunity. They are loved by God and they should be loved by their parents. And no doctor ever ought to do to an unborn baby what unlucky chance did to ours.

Thanks for reading.

Recently I read Andrei Markovits’ interesting and challenging book, Uncouth Nation – Why Europe Dislikes America.  Then this morning in church I had the opportunity to listen to a sermon based on the 73rd Psalm.  What connection could there possibly be between these two texts?

Uncouth Nation, if I may provide a ridiculously short summary, explains the why and the how of Europe’s centuries-long dislike for the United States.  Markovits offers a number of reasons for this antipathy; some are plausible and others, I might say, seem stretched.

The 73rd Psalm is a confession from the writer (Asaph, the king’s poet and minister of music) about how he was nearly undone by his fixation with the worldly success of arrogant and careless men.  Perhaps my interpretation of this psalm is the result of having read Markovits’ book.  Read a sample and see whether any of this rings a bell:

…[the arrogant and the wicked] have no struggles;

Their bodies are healthy and strong.

They are free from the burdens

common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace;

They clothe themselves with violence.

From their callous hearts comes iniquity;

the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.

They scoff, and speak with malice;

In their arrogance they threaten oppression.

They lay claim to heaven,

And their tongues take possession of the earth.

…This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth.

 Psalm 73 verses 4 through 7, and 12

Oddly, I don’t remember ever reading this passage before.  What strikes me about it now, entirely apart from its spiritual significance (which is great), is that this is exactly how much of the world views Americans!  What we Americans see as a virtue (confidence, a positive attitude) is construed by others as arrogance or self-superiority.  “Psychotically optimistic” was the expression that one BBC reporter used to describe American combat troops who he met in Iraq.  This description may have seemed all the more apt to the writer in light of what he knew (or thought he knew) about the American psychological makeup.

More specifically, this passage could be (probably  has been) related to our former president, George W. Bush.  His relentless optimism and determined can-do attitude, which inspired such admiration in some people, has offended the sensibilities and turned the stomachs of many more.

Obviously this passage of scripture has all got me thinking about politics, as I am prone to do.  It’s got me thinking about the difference between reality and interpretation.  Maybe what W needed in the White House was an attitude czar; someone to help him moderate his language and his attitude to avoid offending our friends and allies.  After all, the US population comprises only about one-twentieth of the world’s population, and that means that if we have no friends, we are badly outnumbered.  Maybe what W needed more, what we Americans all need, is to remember that much of the world’s population views us Americans as the winners of life’s lottery, born lucky and determined to remain oblivious.  A little bit of accommodation and a lot of genuine humility is in order if we wish to reverse the worldwide trend that sees us that way.

A while back I spent a weekend as a guest at the house of some friends.  While I was there, another of their friends came to visit for the afternoon, a woman whose adult son is gay.

This lady, whom I have met perhaps a dozen times over ten years, wanted to talk about religion and sexuality.  Knowing myself and desiring to stay out of the conversation, I busied myself watching some sporting event on television in the living room, which happens to be attached to the kitchen, which is where this conversation was taking place.

This is what I heard.

“Most people think that the Bible says homosexuality is immoral, but they’re wrong…It’s like an urban myth.  The Bible doesn’t say that it’s wrong to be gay.  What it really says is…oh, I wish I had a Bible.  I would show you what it says.”  My friends, evidently not wanting to further incite her, didn’t volunteer the fact that in fact they do possess a Bible, and that it was within easy fetching distance.

Possibly encouraged by the apparent absence of a Bible, the visitor went on.  “I could show you, if you had a Bible, that the passages that most people think are anti-gay are actually not so.  They’re ambiguous.  They could mean anything, but people interpret them the way they want to.  It’s just that people have always heard that it’s wrong to be gay, but the Bible doesn’t say that.  The truth is, God just wants us to love one another, so as long as two people love each other, who can judge them?”

I wanted to speak up.  How curious I was!  I wanted to ask this visitor to show me that part of the Bible that has been misunderstood these many centuries.  I also wanted her to show me where in the Bible it is written that God only wants people to love each other, and doesn’t care who we give our love to, or how we give it.  But I also wanted to stay the rest of the weekend at this house, and I also wanted to be invited back.  So I held my tongue.

But here’s my pain.  I know what the Bible says about homosexuality.  I don’t know every word of the Bible, and I don’t understand everything I read in it – I’m no great scholar.  But I am a Christian who has studied and read the Bible.  So I understand both the content and the context of the Bible’s statements on homosexuality. 

And what does the Bible really say about this subject?

What God thinks about homosexuality:

“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.  Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it.  A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.  Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways…” Leviticus 18:22-24

Is homosexuality an example of perversion?

“Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Romans 1:27

Can one be a homosexual and enter the kingdom of heaven?

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  I Corinthians 6:9-11

What is the Biblical model for marriage?  (note: these passages speak of the qualifications for a church overseer, deacon, or elder; the virtues which he must exhibit.  In so doing, they reveal the design for marriage.)

“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…” I Timothy 3:2

“A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.” I Timothy 3:12

“An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobient.” Titus 1:6

Can one be a Christian and engage in sexual immorality?

“…among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person…has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”  Ephesians 5:3-5

The Good News:

But here’s the good news for anyone who is tempted to act out behaviors that are wrong: temptation is not the same thing as sin.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that even Jesus was subjected to temptation.  Read the gospel of Matthew.  “Then [following his baptism] Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.   The tempter came to him and said…” (Matthew 4:1,2)

So we can see that being tempted to do wrong isn’t wrong in itself; it’s when we fail to resist temptation that we sin.  And we can always resist temptation: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (I Corinthians 10:13)  The problem that most of us have is that we don’t want to resist temptation – we want to indulge in the behaviors and pleasures that have been forbidden to us here on earth.  The underlying reason is that we have a short view of our own future.  Most of us don’t live with eternity in view, nor with our own old age in view.  In fact, most people don’t even look five years or one year down the road; usually we’re focused only on the here and now.  That’s why James, the brother of Jesus, wrote with unusual frankess: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?  But he gives us more grace.  That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’  Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:4-10)  Later, almost poetically, James puts our lives in perspective: “…you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

Conclusion:

If you identify yourself as a gay person and you have read this far, then I thank you.  You have done more than I could have asked or expected of you, because this article includes a lot of plainly spoken truth that could have repelled you.  And as you may suspect, I’m not subject to your particular temptation, and I can’t speak to you as one who has been through your trials.  But like you, I am a human being, and we’re all essentially the same.  We are all in danger of being seduced by alluring and provocative temptations, and yet we all live under the same reality: We are loved and desired by a jealous God who will forgive all our imperfections if we put our sins behind us and trust Him.  Jesus said to one who was sincere and humble, “Your sins are forgiven.  Now go and sin no more.”  He loves you as much as he loved that woman 2000 years ago and he would do the same thing for you.

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