Monthly Archives: December 2007

Looking Back at 2007 – A Reality Check

The last year has been a reality check of sorts for most Americans. We have learned that indeed the economic laws of the universe have not been suspended by our lust for more (aka the mortgage crisis/housing bust). We have seen that extra low prices (aka cheap toys from Asia) has its price (think toy recalls and outsourced jobs).

Record oil prices point to a world where energy will become the battleground for the future. The world is facing ever increasing demand with a limited supply. How we respond in the next few years will have a profound impact on the next 100 years. I hope we see more than just political photo ops about this issue in the years ahead.

War is messy and you should count the cost before ever engaging in one. All you have to do is see the increasing number of war casualties and injuries to realize this historical reality. The Iraq surge reminds us that war is seldom over quickly.

The U.S. immigration debate in Congress reflects a divided country that is facing difficult issues to solve. All sides have valid arguments. But what we really need are imperfect solutions that we can all embrace.

The drama surrounding the 2008 presidential election has produced some surprises and revealed a high degree of voter discontent boiling beneath the political surface. The question remains, “Are we dissatisfied enough to demand revolution or just a different suit on the same ole political process?”

The Va Tech shootings remind us that even the young are vulnerable to tragedy. We can never take tomorrow for granted. It points to deeper fundamental problems in society where breakdowns in self identity, family health, community and morality have created an environment where young people don’t know how to process through their rage, fear and personal struggles. The story also reminds us that we are responsible for our own actions. Sometimes we can become the enemy if we listen to the wrong influences and walk down dark paths. The Omaha mall shootings point to some of the same concerns.  

The forest fires, snow storms and natural disasters around the world point to a planet that is constantly in flux. We as stewards must do a better job of protecting the planet and using natural resources in responsible ways.  

Unrest in Pakistan remind us that global issues are important. The world has many hot spots. USA is not the center of the universe. We should be aware that our actions and the actions of other countries  can have worldwide impacts.

At the same time, we see that our infrastructure at home needs to be addressed. Overcrowding of U.S. ports and congestion on highways points to future growth and trade limitations. The collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis raised questions about the safety of U.S. bridges and roads. Many of these structures were built years ago and were designed for less traffic than they accommodate today. Can we really afford to pay for necessary infrastructure repairs at home if we are off saving the world?

collapsed during the evening rush hour on Aug. 1, killing 13 people and injuring about 100. The disaster fueled concern about possible structural flaws in other bridges nationwide.

Okay, maybe not everyone has nuclear weapons in the world. A U.S. intelligence report concluded that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. This has raised questions about what other things politicians and military leaders are paranoyed about that might not be a problem in the future.

America always new it had some bad apples in politics. This year the scandals, resignations and mudslinging left even more voters apathetic about Congress and the Bush administration. Just so we don’t forget that greed and desire for an edge extend beyond politics, there was the Mitchell Report that confirmed the degree of drug abuse by professional baseball players, including some of the biggest stars in the sport.

Of course, there was this year’s slew of celebrity stories that received far too much attention in my opinion. From rehab problems to the bizarre events surrounding the death of Anna Nicole Smith, America seems obsessed with news about famous people. Why? I think this reality is just as much an indictment of America as its celebrities.

I agree with what one journalist wrote. Mike Bailey, managing editor of the The Courier Newsin Elgin, Ill., wrote, “Anyone who picks the Anna Nicole Smith story in the Top Ten should be beaten with sticks.”

Then there are the stories that should have received more exposure, such as, the military crackdown in Myanmar. One of the problems is that these stories are so far from our understanding as Americans that we don’t even know how to process through them even when we do hear about horrible atrocities going on around the world.

AP’s Top News Stories of 2007: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jn5ezyBjgKHdk7p9Hh79JddC6wvQD8TLBI4G1

Top Discoveries of 2007: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/12/071213-top-discoveries.html

Best Songs of 2007: http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/17601363/the_100_best_songs_of_2007

Top 10 Missed Stories of 2007: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4101

Time‘s Top 10 Lists from 2007: http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/top10/article/0,30583,1686204_1690170_1691130,00.html

Most Peculiar News Stories of 2007: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22218865/

Mute Math

Mute Math has a new DVD out. I just watched it. And although it is not as good as a live show, it is the next best thing if you want to see this innovative band in action. Mute Math’s songs have daring lyrics filled with profound truth. The band’s music is high energy with tons of creative nuances thrown in for good measure.

Below are the lyrics for Control.

Take control of the atmosphere
Take me far away from here
There is no better loss than to lose myself in you
In a parachute to glide, I am captive in your sky
Surrender has somehow become so beautiful

Take control of the atmosphere
Take control of the atmosphere
You can take my world you can fill the air
Take control, take control

It’s such a beautiful surrender
It’s such a beautiful surrender
It’s such a beautiful surrender
It’s such a beautiful surrender

Move me up through the darkest clouds
Till I’ve lost in the sun every shadow of doubt
There is no better find than to find myself with you
In a fog you are all I see
I’m inviting you closer with each time I breathe
Surrender has somehow become so beautiful

Take control of the atmosphere
Take control of the atmosphere
There is no reason I should breathe unless you’re in the air
Take control

Its such a beautiful surrender
Its such a beautiful surrender
And I’m calling out
would you take control
And I’m calling out

The Leprosy of Singleness

Single adult households have become a much more common phenomenon over the past ten years in this country. I am one of millions of single American adults. But despite the demographic shifts taking place in society, there are still places where singles are viewed with suspicion or at least pitied for not having a full life.

It is as if some believe that you can’t be happy or fulfill your divine purpose without marriage and children. This is especially true in the Church. While I believe my church is better than most, there are still people who say or do things that make me feel weird that I am in my 30s and not married. It is almost as if a single person has a new form of social leprosy.

Most of my friends are really great about recognizing the wounds called by the “social leprosy” of singleness. But there are always the tough questions by aquaintances or old friends, such as, “Are you dating anyone right now?” I hate that question even when I do have a new girl friend. Even worse, is the question, “Don’t you want to get married?” Questions like that are laced with the thought that somehow life is empty unless you have found the person of your dreams. That is simply not true.

Increasingly, I am learning that until you learn who you are, you will never be able to really know who would be a good fit as a marriage partner. And more importantly, until you are secure and content with yourself in a deep relationship with God, you can’t truly be content in other relationships. This includes marriage. I meet many married people who are miserable because they never learned to be single. Their identity has been wrapped up in another person, which is a prescription for eventual disappointment or rejection.

As a Christian, I believe my identity and value comes from God. It is a joy to be married. Children are a blessing. But none of that works without God as the center. Being single provides a period of self discovery and refinement. In an increasingly dysfunctional society, this space is needed now more than ever. Many people bring an unhealthy amount of baggage to relationships. Space to heal could help turn the tide of America’s high divorce rate.

Honestly, I feel judged sometimes for being single. It seems like married people in churches have more social standing as adults. Married individuals are viewed as somehow more mature, knowledgeable of real life issues, emotionally stable, unselfish and the target demographic compared to singles. I have found that singles can be critical for running church programs, ministering to the unchurched and doing things that married couples with children just don’t have the time to do. Why then does this demographic get overlooked?

I don’t believe that singles are put upon by society or should be exempt from paying their fair share. I don’t even mind ways that everything from tax laws to corporate policies to church activities tend to favor married couples with children. I am all for doing more to help the next generation. At the same time, I think that singles should be embraced for what they contribute to the whole of society.

Consider this rant from a Forbes writer: http://www.forbes.com/2007/08/21/talbot-singles-discrimination-forbeslife-singles07_cx_lt_0821talbot.html

Or look at what the 2000 Census tells us about singles and couples: http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p20-537.pdfhe 

Should We Take the Bible Literally?

It is always interesting to hear someone say that they usually try to take the Bible literally. Most people generally mean that they try to live by Biblical principles and regard the Bible as God’s Word. However, I have stumbled upon someone who has taken the concept of literal interpretation quite literally. I am reading a book about an agnostic who tried to do live by the Bible as literally as possible for a year.

The book is titled The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. I got it as a Christmas gift and absolutely love it. Thanks mom and dad.

Jacobs does a good job of identifying the quirky aspects of the Bible as well as the profound insights it offers. I particularly enjoyed his comments about coveting.

Jacobs wrote, “Since I break the commandment every day, I decide ‘You shall not covet” is most in need of attention. This commandment is the final of the ten, and the only one to regulate a state of mind, not behavior. It’s also arguably the hardest, especially in modern-day New York. This is a city that runs on coveting.”

Jacobs’ book is a good read for anyone who enjoys the unusual side of God’s Holy Word.    http://www.ajjacobs.com/content/home.asp

Catherine of Siena

In my Christian history class, we read some of the letters and prayers by Catherine of Siena. She lived in the 1300s and represents the theology of the Monastic period of Christianity. She spent lots of time in isolation and silent prayer. Her discipline and theology challenged people both then and now.

 Catherine wrote to the powerful, the famous, clergy, the pope and the ordinary person too. I found Catherine’s statements to be both encouraging and enlightening.

“God cannot free you from the world when you are smothered and suffocated by your worldly affections and disordered desires.”

“We can see neither our own dignity nor the defects which spoil the beauty of our soul, unless we look at ourselves in the peaceful sea of God’s being in which we are imaged.”

“If you had only self-knowledge, you would experience confusion of mind; and if you had only knowledge of God, you would fall into presumption. The one therefore needs to be seasoned by the other, so that together they become one and the same thing.”

“Our sin lies in nothing else, but in loving what you (God) hate and hating what you (God) love.”

“Take care not to love your neighbor for your own profit, for that would not be responding to the love which God has for you.”

Middle East Peace from a Jewish Perspective

I recently read the following article about the Middle East peace process. It was written by a friend who is a Jewish Christian living in Israel. Ron is an assistant pastor at a church in Jerusalem and a missionary voice for Christ in the Holy Land. I agree with his assessment about the peace process and thought his perspective would be interesting for whoever reads this blog. You can find out more about his ministry at http://cantorlink.com/

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Annapolis, Shamapolis or Can Anything Good Come out of Annapolis?

A Brief Analysis of the Middle East Conference in Annapolis

By Ron Cantor

“It’s not right to negotiate with the Palestinians when they are firing rockets at us every day.” (jpost.com) This quote by Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Israel Beiteinu (Israel, our Home) political party and the minister of strategic affairs in the Olmert cabinet, pretty much sums up my position. Aside from the biblical admonitions of carving up God’s land (Joel 3:2 – read it!) and the judgment that comes upon those who insist upon it, the idea of giving into the demands of the “kings of the earth” (Psalms 2:2) is ludicrous from even a human standpoint.

Even my daughters understand this concept. Just the other day Yael (15) came to me, offering to massage my shoulders, telling me how much she loved me…in no time I was agreeing to do for her whatever she wanted…and she definitely wanted something – I just can’t remember what. However, had she come to me with insults and curses, seeking to hurt me physically, it is highly unlikely she would have received anything from me other than punishment. Since the infamous handshake between former Prime Minister Rabin and that chameleon, Yassar Arafat, the Palestinian leadership has done little to cause Israel to believe that they genuinely want to co-exist peacefully with us.

  1. We gave them Gaza and they repay us with a continuous onslaught of Kassam rockets on our southern cities.
  2. We release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and they kidnap ours.
  3. In the mid-nineties we developed economic partnerships between Jewish and Arab cities in the West Bank, and they sent suicide bombers into the very markets we established for them.
  4. They have never changed their charter that calls for the destruction of Israel.
  5. The Palestinian people elected Hamas, one of the worlds most infamous terror groups, to lead them in their parliament (although that was probably more a reaction against the corruption in the Palestinian Authority than it was a vote of confidence for Hamas. I don’t think Hamas will win again, as Palestinians prefer corruption to being beheaded).

My point is this: With each agreement, summit, meeting, or conference between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, both parties come away with a list of obligations. Israel fulfills hers for the most part and the Palestinians rarely do anything. This is why a majority of Israelis saw the Annapolis conference as a joke; another failure in long list of fruitless gatherings. Even left-leaning Israelis have become quite skeptical that the Palestinian leadership truly wants peace with Israel, and if they do, that they have the power to enforce peace upon their people.

Gaza, as was predicted before the disengagement, has become Hamas-controlled. Lieberman remarked that, “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is as much a representative of the Palestinians as he himself is a representative of the Norwegians” (jpost.com)—meaning that he is powerless to implement any agreement that he makes with Israel.

And this is why Annapolis was not much more than a photo op for politicians. Most Israeli ministers have finally arrived at the place where they will not give up any more land or concessions before the Palestinians prove that they can govern that land. Internal Security Minister (and former Mossad chief) Avi Dichter, a key ally of Prime Minister Olmert, “stressed that Israel should not engage in negotiations over core issues before it has made sure that ‘the Palestinians were keeping their end of the bargain, by fighting terror and establishing a proper law enforcement system.’” (jpost.com)

Another minister, Shaul Mofaz, said that that Israel should not negotiate with the Palestinians over central issues until they enforce the rule of law over the territory that they presently govern – including Hamas-controlled Gaza. This is what opposition leader and former Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has been saying for years. Reciprocity! Reciprocity is a trade term meaning that each side gives up something of equal value. Up until now, Israel has been doing all the giving. He says that Israel should give nothing more until the Palestinians fulfill their obligations under past agreements. Who can argue with that?

For example: Imagine that I tell one of my daughters, “Clean your room before you go out with your friends.” I check and find out that she did not clean her room and went out anyway. Imagine that there is no consequence. There is no punishment. It happens again and again. I keep letting her do whatever she wants despite the fact that she never does what I ask of her. Is this any way to raise a child? Am I teaching her anything about responsibility or respect? Yet this is how Israel has been pressured by the international community to deal with the Palestinians… and that is why most Israelis would agree with me by saying Annapolis, Shamapolis.

So weak was the Annapolis conference that the only agreement they arrived at, was that they agreed that they would later come to an agreement (by the end of 2008). Both sides are expected to immediately implement their obligations under the infamous Road Map. This is good news for those Israelis who don’t want to see a Palestinian state, as they know the Palestinians never fulfill their obligations and thus, even the agreement to come to an agreement will be null and void.

Can Anything Good Come out of Annapolis?

There is one thing good that came from Annapolis. For the first time ever, many Arab states are more terrified of something other than the idea of a Jewish state. And that is the creation of a radical Islamic Middle East. Iran was furious that her new friend Syria attended this conference. Despite her connections to Hezbollah and Iran, even Syria understands that the goal of radical Islam is to destroy secular Arab states like herself and set up Islamo-fascist states like Iran and formerly Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. It is possible that President Bush is seeking to create a collection of moderate Arab states. He is seeking to woo states like Saudi Arabia and Syria into embracing more moderate positions, telling them that it is either this – or “you are on your own against Al Queda and Hezbollah.”

Israeli Messianic leader Asher Intrater wisely points out that, “Most Israeli political commentators see this conference not so much as a peace effort between Israel and the Palestinians, but as an effort by the Bush administration to gather a coalition of moderateArab national leaders to stand together with them … against radical Islamic extremists that threaten their own regimes as well. Ahmadinajad is reported as having made angry phone calls, both to Saudi Arabia and to Syria, for their cooperation with this conference.”

Summary

While I have written this report from a mostly political or pragmatic point of view there can be no doubt that the Middle East is ever the tempest that it has always been. We know from scripture that the world will always seek to control Jerusalem, but the Lord will have the last laugh as He installs His King in Zion (Psalm 2:4-6). She will be the praise of the earth (Isaiah 62:7) and the nations will stream to her to worship the King (Zech. 14:16). There will be war first (Ezekiel 38-39; Zech 12), but in the end Yeshua will reign over all the earth (Zech 14:9).

Ahmadinewho?

If you were an editor of a respected news magazine, would you publish a guest editorial from the leader of a religious fundamentalist government that recognizes no secular rule of law or traditional concept of natural rights? What if this regime was known for torture of its citizens, suppression of the press and harassment of minority groups? That is a good description of Iran’s real political government.

Your answer to the above question might be “No.” Newsweek said “Yes.” It recently ran online a guest editorial by Iranian President  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

While I am all for equal time and a diverse viewpoint, I wonder where news organizations should draw the line. Would newspapers today let Stalin or Hitler have access to its editorial pages? While I would not put Ahmadinejad in the category of those two men, I certainly wouldn’t think of him as a guy you can trust either.

Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org) recently had this to say about Iran. It reported, “Scores of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continued to serve prison sentences imposed following unfair trials in previous years. Thousands more arrests were made in 2006, mostly during or following demonstrations. Human rights defenders, including journalists, students and lawyers, were among those detained arbitrarily without access to family or legal representation. Torture, especially during periods of pre-trial detention, remained commonplace. At least 177 people were executed, at least four of whom were under 18 at the time of the alleged offence, including one who was under 18 at the time of execution. Two people were reportedly stoned to death. Sentences of flogging, amputation and eye-gouging continued to be passed. The true numbers of those executed or subjected to corporal punishment were probably considerably higher than those reported. ”

Sure, the United States does not have a spotless record when it comes to human rights. But at least we don’t harass people for changing religions or throw people in prison for blog posts.

One of the things that makes America great is its free press. Does Iran have a free press? Would it allow President Bush to write a guest column in its major newspaper or magazine? I kind of doubt it. Amnesty Intl. recently reported, “Freedom of expression and association was increasingly curtailed. Internet access was increasingly restricted and monitored. Journalists and webloggers were detained and sentenced to prison or flogging and at least 11 newspapers were closed down.”

Ahmadinejad has made deliberate threats against Israel and even questioned the Holocaust.

Ahmadinejad said some interesting stuff in his Newsweek column. I don’t believe that he really believes a lot of what he said. Of course, the Iranian president did his share of Bush bashing. He also warned about U.S. “unilateral action” in the Middle East. But he also talked a lot about peace, eradicating poverty and injustice, mutual respect, human rights, etc. That last part was the section I found difficult to swallow given Iran’s record in the past. 

Ahmadinejad wrote, “It was hoped that the new world would enable all nations, in light of universally accepted humane norms and mutual respect, to advance together, eradicate poverty and injustice, and set aside bitter memories of the past that were nothing but war, bloodshed, violence and tension.”

Wow, it sounds like the Muslim fundamentalists in Iran have become peace makers. Get your shovel ready. There’s more.

Ahmadinejad also wrote, ” I think the common denominator of all these problems is distance from religious values, ethics and spirituality. With such distance from ethical and spiritual values, human dignity, love and kindness—which are the common elements of all great Abrahamic religions—and humanity’s moral, material and civic achievements have been jeopardized. The best way to avoid the deadlock is to emphasize common values and the natural desire of all human beings for perfection, benevolence, justice, brotherhood and kindness. These values can help us find solutions to all problems facing humanity. Global, sustainable peace and security will be realized only through the establishment of true justice and brotherhood. How can we expect to reach sustainable peace and security by humiliating others and acting in ways that depart from ethical and spiritual values?”

Well, let’s all grab hands around the camp fire and sing cumbaya. I believe the Iranian president showed his true colors when he commented on Israel.

Ahmadinejad wrote, “The U.S. government has succumbed to the demands of the Zionists and the Zionist regime. This is a lethal ailment that afflicts U.S. administrations. The American people do not like to see their leaders fall captive to the Zionist network. Surely the American people would prefer U.S.-inspired policies to those perpetrated by the Zionists… The U.S. government will bear the heavy responsibility for the Zionist regime’s massacre of Palestinian women and children in their homes and territory.”

Okay, that sounds more like the Iranian ruler we have all come to know and love. Well, maybe we don’t really love him. But you get the point.

Ahmadinejad makes it sounds like Jerusalem is running America’s foreign policy. That is just laughable. I wonder if he really believes what he is shoveling. I hope not or he might be crazier than we first thought.

All of this gets back to my original question. Should Newsweekhave given Admadinejad access to its pages? I have a hard time thinking this was the right decision. It’s one thing to interview someone for a story. It is another thing to give them cart blanche to say whatever they want in an editorial.

Critics might say that I have done the same thing. That is somewhat true. But at least, I am encouraging everyong to keep their BS detector on when they read what he wrote. I believe media outlets must be careful what they cover because they have a responsibility to the American public.

Knowing where to draw that line can be tough. It is one thing to let your crazy neighbor tell you what he thinks about your car. It is quite another to let him have the keys and take it for a lap around the block.

You can read more at http://www.newsweek.com/id/77945