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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.

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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.

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.

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.

John McCain wasn’t originally my guy – I was a Huckabee man in the primaries – but I’m proud to have voted for such a great and accomplished American for president.  In his concession speech McCain showed that he possesses class and self-possession that Barack Obama can only dream of.

You can expect this blog to remain mostly silent for the foreseeable future, but I remain a committed supporter of conservative Republican principles.  There will be postings from time to time and I’ll use this blog as an outlet for my philosophical murmurings when my wife gets tired of listening to me.  Most of all, I’ll be watching and waiting for Mike Huckabee to signal his intentions with regard to 2012.

Pray for Barack Obama.  He’s our president for the next four years and there’s nothing to do now but hope for the best.

If suffering builds character and struggling builds strength, then John McCain is a very strong man of great character.  His life story is well known, but just in case you missed it, he is a graduate of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis MD, he served heroically during the USS Forrestal fire, suffering injuries while attempting to save another pilot from the flames and explosions.  Later McCain was shot down by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire, held captive for more than five years, and endured countless beatings and torture sessions both before and after refusing to be released ahead of other prisoners who had been held longer.  By the time he retired from the navy in 1981, McCain had received 17 awards and decorations, including a Silver Star, Legion of Merit with a combat V and a gold star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star with a combat V and two gold stars, two additional Bronze Stars, Purple Heart, and others.

A short question: what is the hardest thing Barack Obama has ever done?  Was it the long flight from Hawaii to his first college in California?  Was it his successful application to Harvard?  Maybe it was serving in the un-prestigious Illinois state assembly.

Just wondering….

I am a born-again, Bible-believing, evangelical Christian man from the midwestern United States.  Tonight, before turning out my bedsight light, I was reading a book called The Heavenly Man.  The Heavenly Man is an autobiographical account of the life of a Chinese Christian known as Brother Yun.  Brother Yun is fond of quoting a scripture for every situation he encounters, and while reading his book tonight I happened upon a passage of scripture that intrigued me.  Wanting to read more of it, I looked it up and read some of the surrounding text as well.  I should say right up front that despite my faith and trust in Jesus Christ, I don’t read my Bible as much as I should, so what I share with you here, I share as a layman and as a fellow believer, not as a teacher or a preacher.

The Biblical book of Revelation is perhaps the most misunderstood (or misinterpreted) of the books of the Christian Bible.  I can say this despite my own limited and imperfect understanding, because anyone who will look can see the conflicting understandings and interpretations of its text which exist in the modern church; it just can’t mean everything that people think it means.  It’s doubtful that any of the other Biblical texts have been interpreted in so many conflicting fashions.

But one of the beautiful aspects of the book of Revelation is the messages to the seven churches of Asia, which are present in chapters 2 and 3.  At the time of its writing, the so-called seven churches of Asia were the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

These messages were written specifically to each church: a unique message for each of the seven churches named, each message tailored to the character of each church, its strengths and weaknesses.  For instance, the first message in the series was written to the church in Ephesus and acknowledges first the virtues of that church: hard work and perseverance, a refusal to tolerate wicked men, and discernment of which apostles were true and which were not.  And yet there is also a shortcoming in this church: it had lost the fervor with which it had originally embraced the Gospel.  “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love…Repent and do the things you did at first.”

To each church an edifying word was sent, first praising the virtues and then pointing out the particularly grievous sin or shortcoming of that particular group of believers.

The reason I got out of bed to write this message to you tonight is found in the message to the church in Sardis.  When I happened upon this passage tonight I was struck by its perfection in describing the evangelical Christian community in North America.

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.  But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Revelation 3:1-3)

I won’t waste your time by attempting to interpret this passage for you.  Its potential application to the complacent and self-satisfied modern evangelical church in North America seems so obvious to me, I’m going to trust that upon meditation you will also find it speaks to you.

Wake up, Christians!  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

One struggling small townIt’s time for Americans to recognize the value of our small cities and towns, and to take steps to help the people who remain outside of our large cities to see fair value for their work; rewards for their investments.  Our small towns are the strong, silent type – providing resources and contributing to the prosperity of our country while making little noise and asking for little in return.

It’s critically important that we help our small towns and rural areas to grow and flourish.  For too many generations we Americans have been neglecting our country cousins, leaving the countryside more desolate and unpopulated with each generation.  It’s true that some towns have survived, even prospered, but usually at the expense of the surrounding countryside and surrounding communities.

This isn’t a desperate last call to action.  There are still a lot of busy little towns in America and a lot of people who appreciate the advantages of the un-city lifestyle.  But as farms continually consolidate and grow larger and as many towns are either stagnant or shrinking, the population of the American countryside is becoming more sparse and prospects for those who live there are becoming more bleak.  The economies of these tiny towns and small cities are dependent on a variety of factors, but the biggest and most common is agriculture.

Farmers have been doing well the last couple of years, and we need to see to it that doesn’t change.  The advent of ethanol-based fuels for our vehicles and the general increase in commodity prices have been good for farmers and those whose livelihoods are dependent on the farm economy.  This is a trend that ought to continue.

Unfortunately, infrastructure projects have passed small-town America by for far too long.  Roads and bridges are in disrepair, schools are consolidating and closing, the information superhighway is bypassing far too many of America’s byways.  Local governments are hard-pressed to meet the needs of their communities, and diminishing populations result in fewer financial resources available to meet those needs.

The people of the United States ought to recognize that for more than two hundred years now, our farms and small towns have been pouring horsepower and brainpower into the national economy and helping to drive the success and prosperity of this country.  Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has correctly observed that a country that can’t produce its own food and manufacture its own arms isn’t really free.  I would add that a country of empty frontiers and ghost towns isn’t really prosperous, no matter how wealthy and luxurious its cities appear to be.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

It’s one of the best-known and most popular sayings of Jesus Christ, partly because it sounds so biblical, and partly because it’s such a useful retort for anyone who doesn’t want his behavior evaluated by others.  But what does it really mean?

As any first-year Bible student learns, the first key to understanding a passage is in evaluating the passage in context.  Understanding when and why the speaker said what He said, and reading what He said before and after what He said, can help us to more fully understand what He meant.

Here’s the context: Jesus is on a roll – He’s in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, described by the NIV Study Bible commentary as “the first of five great discourses in [the book of] Matthew.”  He’s just finished one of the most beautiful rhetorical flourishes in all of literature (“…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own”) and he’s beginning a new course of thought.  The statement from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 1-5, as it appears in the NIV (New International Version) is as follows:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

So what does it mean?

First of all, it must be noted that Jesus was no ordinary street preacher.  His rhetorical skills were fantastic, and His philosophical point of view was so at odds with the paradigm that he helped to revolutionize Western thought, not to mention world religion.

Secondly, it’s worth mentioning that Jesus wasn’t (as far as we know) responding to a specific situation, as He so often did.  Instead He was giving a long discourse on lifestyles and attitudes.  He was speaking of the way that we ought to live, and explaining why.

The passage itself contains no admonition against judgement.  That’s obvious when one considers the last sentence (…then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”)  But it is a warning.  It’s an admonition that judging others will result in closer scrutiny of your own faults, and a not-too-veiled warning about the possible consequences.  It’s also clearly a call to the hearer or reader to clean up his own act, because a clear conscience gives him a better platform for evaluating and judging the world around him.

What does this all have to do with Eliot Spitzer?  Eliot Spitzer judged others; he found them to be errant in their behaviors, and he prosecuted them.  And he didn’t stop there, to quote the Wall Street Journal, he “made his career by specializing in not just the prosecution, but the ruin, of other men.”  Ironically, Governor Spitzer prosecuted those associated with prostitution with a particular gusto.  And his destruction of others makes his own fall all the more painful.

It is perhaps a great pity that Spitzer’s humiliation and cleansing will probably leave him better qualified to deal with the similar problems of others, as Jesus suggested.  But by then we will have discarded him.

What is the great principle at stake here?  There are several:

  1. Judgement is not a bad thing, but it can be a very dangerous thing for one who stands in judgement.
  2. Sympathy is in short supply because most people have no use for it until they need it themselves.
  3. Redemption isn’t an easy thing to achieve, partly because of what must precede it (conviction) and partly because of what often prevents it (pride).  But once granted, redemption is a great gift that can facilitate even greater achievements.