Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Here today, gone tomorrow

Pumpkin carving in 60 seconds:

And the sad aftermath. The kids might not like this one. Then again, they might.

"To everything there is a season, and a time under heaven."

The politics of emotional manipulation

Can this really be true?

Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's campaign uses a woman's description of her rape and assault in its latest ad to highlight Republican Mark Green's stance on abortion.

... The spot features a woman, identified only as Linda from Wisconsin, describing how she was assaulted, raped and left for dead on the side of a road when she was 18-years-old. Doyle's spokesman Anson Kaye would not release the woman's last name or say whether she had obtained an abortion.

"We're going to be respectful of her privacy and her wishes about this kind of question," Kaye said.

Green supports restricting abortions like South Dakota, which has a near-complete ban and no exceptions for the health of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.

In Doyle's ad, the woman states Green's abortion position and then says, "Congressman Green, after what I went through, it should be my choice, not yours." [emphasis mine]

Oh, my Lord. I'm ... that's ... it's ... what the?!?

There's a serious discussion to be had about abortion in America, but that's not going to happen in a 30-second campaign ad.

Rape and incest are obviously terrible situations. I am truly sorry for what this young woman went through. I can genuinely empathize with her horror and disgust. I would feel the same way if such an evil thing happened to my daughter. But there's another victim involved. The woman is carrying a human life inside her. Killing that child won't un-rape the victim, and may cause emotional problems later. There's more at stake than just what the young woman wants.

This ad shortcuts the debate by falling back on the liberal belief that particular victims have absolute moral authority. "I was raped, so I should decide what happens to my child. I have Parkinson's, so I am now an expert on biomedical research. I lost a son in combat, so I should determine foreign policy." Of course, they don't care to listen to Gold Star Mothers who support the war, quadriplegics who oppose embryonic stem cell research, or blacks who leave the Democratic plantation.

It's not just a Democratic tactic. Republicans have not hesitated to use patriotism and threats of terrorist attack to advance their policies. Anyone who disagrees is "against us" or wants the terrorists to win.

But the Democrats have been shameless in their use of pitiable people to gain political advantage. We're going to "respect her privacy" while publicly using her story to arouse sympathy. And anyone who disagrees must be a pitiless, inhuman monster.

It's not that one is better than the other. Both are offensive; both poison the well; both shut down reasoned debate and demonize opponents. So can we move beyond this emotional manipulation? America deserves better.

Pancakes for Peace

Come on, people, now; Smile on your brother"All Things Considered" has been running an occasional feature called This I Believe. Ordinary people share "the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives." Sounds interesting. One of the things that makes America great is the freedom to believe whatever you want, as long as you're not actively hurting someone in the process.

Yesterday's installment came from Ivory Harlow, a waitress in San Antonio:

I serve coffee at a counter-style diner in Texas. I often see a look of isolation in my customers' eyes. They come in the front door, wander to the counter, pick up the menu and look around the diner for something they can't short-order: a connection.

... There was a woman who had been sitting in a corner booth for at least three hours. She asked me, "How much is just one breakfast taco?" ... I offered her a free pancake breakfast. I fibbed that it was a leftover from an order I had messed up. She asked to borrow bus fare and promised to return and pay me back. I handed over tip money from my apron pocket. She smiled a ragged grin on her way out the front door.

Three weeks later she returned my two dollars. She had gotten a job and a friend's couch to sleep on. She offered to buy me breakfast on my break!

This kind of thing gets me wondering if something as simple as a short stack of pancakes can bring about a small shift in society. I'll go even further: Can one act of friendliness start to generate peace? I believe it can. Peace begins with one person but spreads like warmed syrup. When I connect with my neighbors, they return it in kind.

So I believe in friendliness and an open ear. For me, it starts with making eye contact when I pour coffee and ask my customers, "How you doing?" and then listen to their answer. My job is to take care of customers at the counter in a small Texas diner, but I also believe we're in this world to take care of each other.

I think what Ivory Harlow does is incredibly important. And I agree with her that we've been put here, at least in part, to care for one another. I am glad to know there are still people who bring such a sense of caring and significance to their work. What she is doing is genuinely good.

And I'm sure that at a personal level, she's right. Interpersonal peace begins with seeing the other as a person, worthy of respect and consideration.

But unfortunately, there are also people who don't want peace, who see others not as persons deserving of respect, but as enemies, sub-humans, infidels who must be shouted down, beaten, destroyed. We will not create peace in Iraq, Iran, or Israel, not on college campuses, or even in downtown St. Louis with pancakes.

And I'm sorry, but "Peace spreads like warm syrup"? Maybe our Secretary of State should be Mrs. Butterworth?

People of earth: We come to you in a spirit of hostility and menace!I'm glad that Ms. Harlow has found a place where there are warm-hearted and responsive people. In fact, I'm pretty sure there are areas even in San Antonio where knocking on someone's door to offer a short stack would get a gun in your face. The world can be like that. And no matter how tasty, sometimes pancakes just aren't the answer. I wish it were that simple and easy.

So keep on lending an ear, continue to be friendly and generous -- just don't be surprised when people turn on you and throw your kindness back in your face. You've befriended people in a San Antonio diner. That's great. All the same, I'd appreciate you not endangering my family with the delusion that you now have some key insight into global diplomacy.

I like pancakes as much as the next person. I believe in generosity, kindness, and consideration. But if it's all the same to Ms. Harlow I'd still like the Army to keep an A-bomb or two.

Monday, October 30, 2006

"This is not terrorist propaganda"

... said Wolf Blitzer, responding to Lynne Cheney's accusation.

Cheney was of course referring to CNN's decision to run footage from a terrorist snuff film. The major networks continue to do this despite the terrorists' stated intention to use the media to drive down American public support for the war in Iraq.

Blitzer's "Who, me?" routine is ridiculous on the face of it because CNN and other outlets are knowingly abetting the terrorists' use of popular media. But Blitzer's righteous indignation is even more indefensible when juxtaposed with CNN's own account of the video:

Chilling scenes from a videotape made by insurgents show the work of snipers in Iraq, targeting and killing American troops, taking them down with a single bullet from a high-powered rifle.

In one scene, U.S. soldiers mingle among Iraqi civilians on a city street as a U.S. Humvee with a gunner in its turret stands guard nearby.

From a distance, possibly hundreds of yards away, a sniper watches for his opportunity to strike as a fellow insurgent operates a camera to capture the video for propaganda purposes.

In the video, street sounds mix with male Arabic voices as the sniper and his spotter talk off-camera...

And then, the crack of gunfire is heard and the soldier in the turret slumps forward.

[emphasis mine]

For those of you scoring at home, that's an American soldier who was just hit by a sniper's bullet. I was physically sickened as I read this account.

How can an American news channel justify showing this? And how can one of their star reporters deny this is enemy propaganda -- especially when his own network defines it as such? CNN publicly admits it runs terrorist propaganda.

But don't question their patriotism.

(h/t: Black Five, via Gateway Pundit)

Don't let the facts get in your way

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Michael J. Fox admits that he hasn't even read the proposed Missouri stem cell amendment.

That didn't stop him from appearing in a disingenuous ad for Claire McCaskill, claiming that Jim Talent is opposed to the research that "offers hope." In point of fact, Talent does support promising research -- adult stem cell research, the kind that's actually treating people with Parkinson's. What Talent opposes is medical research that destroys human life.

To be fair, Fox didn't actually mention Amendment 2 in his ad. But it's obvious that's what Fox is talking about when he praises McCaskill's support for stem cell research. Amendment 2 is a huge issue. The Stowers family of Kansas City (and of the Stowers Institute) have set a new record in Missouri for spending on a ballot initiative. Michael J. Fox wouldn't be appearing in McCaskill's ad if it weren't for Amendment 2.

Honestly? I have no greater credentials for speaking to the issue than does Michael J. Fox. I don't have a degree in law or science. I'm not a medical researcher. But there is this difference -- I have at least read the amendment. Carefully and repeatedly.

You may, too, if you've got 1) the time to read something longer than all the U.S. Constitutional Amendments combined, and 2) the stomach for a dishonest piece of legal chicanery.

I don't like being lied to -- not by Claire McCaskill, not by Michael J. Fox, not by the people behind this Amendment. Amendment 2 creates a constitutional right to clone and kill human embryos, to pay women for donating eggs, and to circumvent the legislature in opening the state treasury for unproven medical research.

And it's especially angering for Fox to arouse our pity and tell us that what we do here in Missouri will affect people around the country when he won't have to live with the consequences of this Amendment.

I'd be less angry, though, if Michael J. Fox knew what in the hell he was talking about.

(h/t: Gateway Pundit)

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Our oldest went to a "trunk or treat" with a friend last night. For the uninitiated, here's what I've been able to piece together: Parents gather at a central location (a church parking lot, in this case) where they sit in their cars. The kids (in costume, of course -- did you think this was easy? They do have standards) go around from car to car picking up treats as per usual. Except that it takes all of 20 minutes to score a couple of pounds of loot.

I don't know what traditions you have in your house, but Halloween is a great opportunity to teach kids the sad realities of the grown-up world. We take a chocolate tax from the little beggars. Now before you respond in outraged horror, we don't hit them that hard -- it's just a little lesson in government intrusion. Call it a use tax. But it has to be chocolate. We don't accept Mary Janes, Tootsie Rolls, Dum Dums, or anything Willy Wonka.

The girl tried to pay us with this horror.

I had never seen such an abomination, and still wish I hadn't. This is a confectionary Nightmare on Elm Street. I'm not a big marshmallow fan to begin with. About the only way they're edible is in S'mores. So marshmallows are bad enough, but then to cover one with the cheapest chocolate you can scrape off the bottom of the vat? I think they used the leftovers from this poor guy's mishap. This was not the premium stuff, in case you were wondering. And to top it off -- a grape-flavored goo center (brrrrrr).

This thing looks like the output of the new Candy-Combinator (tm) software designed by Hershey to randomly select ingredients and coatings. It smelled about like you'd expect, too -- industrial candy slop.

I didn't eat the thing. Are you kidding? One of the boys volunteered. We made him bite it in half so we could see the purple haze running through his mouth. It was disappointing. Just a little purple dot in the middle of a springy mass.

I think it could have benefited from fresh, dew-picked baby frogs.

It has our vote for nastiest treat of the '06 season so far.

We'll keep you posted if anything worse shows up in the kids' bags. Feel free to add your own suggestions: What's the worst thing you or your kids have received on Halloween?

UPDATE: Sippican explains Halloween (pretty much).

UPDATE2: We had a light turnout this year, and 3/4 of the homes in our neighborhood were dark. Strange! Doesn't anyone celebrate Halloween anymore? Or is it all trunk or treat now?

And the older boy came home with another nasty Mallow-Jel -- this time strawberry flavored. WIll the horror never end?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cards win it all!

Last night the St. Louis Cardinals won their tenth World Series championship, the most of any NL club (but still well behind those Damn Yankees).

They struggled throughout the season, and had to go to seven games against the Mets in the NLCS, but a combination of tight pitching (allowing only 11 runs in five games), strong defense, and making the most of Tigers' errors pulled it all together. They rose to the occassion and won when it counted most.

The Series MVP, David Eckstein, personified these traits.

He started out 0-11, but finished 8-22, driving in four runs and scoring three. Eckstein hit three doubles and a single to win Game 4, then singled twice and drove in two runs in Game 5. Plus, he gets a totally sweet Corvette. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.

And for those pundits who are complaining about the field conditions and saying they shouldn't have played, I noticed the Cardinals played in the same weather and on the same field as the Tigers, and yet they didn't commit 8 errors in five games.

Parade and celebration downtown tomorrow afternoon.

Woo hoo!!

Gateway Pundit's friend sent in some live photo-blogging of the game via Treo 650. How cool is that?

Friday, October 27, 2006

In praise of common people

On a regular basis, Sippican Cottage does an outstanding job singing the praises of common people, common sense, and the wonderfully diverse freedom of America. His most recent, though, is especially good.

Someone in China wants to make this tool for me. Someone that can negotiate transnational contracts and shipping wants to broker a deal to make and ship the things. Somebody wants to drop enormous coin in advance to buy and distribute the item all over these here United States, so there will be a big stack of them everywhere. Somebody wants to go through all the hassles of finding, permitting, building, and maintaining enormous box stores all over the landscape so I the average Joe can get to the things they're selling...

That's a lot of people who want to do things.

...tinkering with the process whereby a willing seller hooks up with a willing buyer because you think you know better than everybody what everybody needs, is where the chattering class comes in.

They don't think the guy in China needs that job. They don't think the importer should be able to do that... They don't think that warehouse should be built. They don't think those clerks make enough money to bother working in that big box store. They don't think... why am I bothering to list all this? They don't think anybody needs anything they don't need, and only if it's offered in a format they understand and adheres to their cranky worldview.

Yes I do need it. Everybody in that endless concatenation of events and people need what we got, and what we especially don't need is you mucking up our lives by saying we don't know what we need.

I purchased a replacement for a tool I've been using -- hard -- for 15 years. The new one cost 1/2 of what the old one cost, and that's not even adjusting for inflation. And it works better than the old one did, even when it was new.

I lost most of a day because of this. Twenty years ago I could have lost the better part of a week or more, and pulled out some of my hair in the bargain. And whoever sold me what I ultimately got would have performed the highway robbery pricing routine on me to boot.

Somehow he's managed to channel Adam Smith. I love his writing.

So I want to be clear that none of what follows is aimed at Sippican or anyone in particular.

Markets can get screwed up. People get lazy and greedy, and they want all the profits for themselves with no competition. They'd be glad to let kids work in dangerous factories all day long for pennies. They'd throw diseased rats in the food. That's the way it actually was in this country not so long ago. And if you got hurt, or complained, or tried to organize, you lost your job, got blacklisted and possibly starved.

There's a proper role for government to protect against the abuse of power to skew markets. We need honest referees and fair rules. But nowadays we mostly we need fewer nannies.

I'm more more of a conservative, but there's enough libertarian in me to dislike special interest groups with cramped worldviews who want to stomp out other people's choices or impose their cranky life on the rest of us. MADD started out with a noble purpose, but it's become a shrill prohibitionist group.

And if that makes me inconsistent for opposing embryonic stem cell research, so be it. I'm still conservative enough to say that if we can't cure cancer without destroying human life, then I'll take cancer. There's still a role for government to tell factory owners they can't sacrifice kids for profits. Just replace "research labs" for "factories."

The common people who make this country great all started out as embryos, after all.

Now I've ended my rant. Even if you disagree with everything I've said, you should still go enjoy Sippican's writing.

Disinterest, disease, or disgust?

In light of the upcoming elections, Peggy Noonan does an excellent job, I think, of capturing conservative frustration with -- and loyalty to -- George W. Bush.

There remains a broad, reflexive, and very Republican kind of loyalty to George Bush. He is a war president with troops in the field. You can see his heart. He led us in a very human way through 9/11, from the early missteps to the later surefootedness...

But there's unease in the base too, again for many reasons. One is that it's clear now to everyone in the Republican Party that Mr. Bush has changed the modern governing definition of "conservative."

He did this without asking. He did it even without explaining...

And Republicans, most of whom are conservative in at least general ways, and who endure the disadvantages of being conservative because they actually believe in ideas, in philosophy, in an understanding of the relation of man and the state, are still somewhat concussed. The conservative tradition on foreign affairs is prudent realism; the conservative position on borders is that they must be governed; the conservative position on high spending is that it is obnoxious and generationally irresponsible. Etc.

This is not how Mr. Bush has governed. And so in the base today personal loyalty, and affection, bumps up against intellectual unease.

I've always liked Noonan's writing. There are some critical local issues at stake in this election (see below). I am involved, and I care deeply. But she does a fair job of summing up my feeling of general ambivalence about Republican leadership in general and Bush in particular.

I think it might do them good to lose the House. Maybe they'd quit worrying so much about holding on to power and get back to governing on actual conservative principles. And putting the Democrats in charge might force them to do something besides try to stymie the President.

It's going to be an interesting election, that's for sure.

(Thanks to Icepick for pointing out the article)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hope, Fear, and Lies

As I've written previously, Jim Talent is in a close Senate reelection race here in Missouri. One of the big issues effecting this race is proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 in support of embryonic stem cell research. Talent is opposed and McCaskill is in favor.

During game 2 of the World Series, we saw a McCaskill ad featuring a visibly stricken Michael J. Fox (he suffers from Parkinson's Disease). Fox pleaded for passage of Amendment 2 and for McCaskill.

I feel for Michael J. Fox and the millions like him who suffer from incurable diseases. Those aren't just empty words. I provide pastoral care for a number of people suffering from Parkinson's, strokes, and cancer. People I love are suffering. I hate those diseases.

But embryonic stem cells are not going to cure diseases anytime soon -- and probably never will. That's what stem cell researchers themselves say. The day after McCaskill's ad ran, there was another report of embryonic stem cells causing tumors. There have been a number of proven treatments using adult stem cells, but none with embryonic cells. Amendment 2 would enshrine in our state constitution support for cloning and destroying human life. Those are facts which Amendment 2 proponents have gone to great lengths to conceal and obfuscate.

Fox also states that what we do in Missourah (nice coaching there) will affect others around the country. That's a lie on two counts. Embryonic stem cell research is already legal in Missouri. Voting down the amendment will not make it illegal. And there's plenty of ESCR going on all over the U.S. and in foreign countries. Even if there were cures around the corner, what we do in Missouri with this amendment would have absolutely no impact on Michael J. Fox.

Besides its basic dishonesty, this ad is especially repugnant because it trots out a sick man to elicit sympathy and derail any reasoned consideration of the facts. This is no better than John Edwards claiming that if Kerry were elected people like Christopher Reeve would get up out of wheelchairs and walk again (in fact, Reeve did make progress in his motor control -- thanks to adult stem cells).

We're left with the impression that Jim Talent is an evil man who for no good reason simply wants to deny life-saving research. Jim Talent is not "denying hope" to Michael Fox or anyone. He has taken a principled stand in the face of incredible opposition, blatant distortions, and personal attacks. And he responded last night with a calm and well-reasoned ad of his own (no video yet).

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Amendment 2. But this ad is near the top of the list. Shame on Claire McCaskill for using a sick man in such a dishonest and manipulative way. Nobody should want elective office that badly.

More on stem cells and the McCaskill ad at Anchoress.
More on Amendment 2 at Missourians Against Human Cloning.
And a tip of the hat to Gateway Pundit for his reflections.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Stationery Movies

Viking Office supplies has a cute online movie quiz:
Can you figure out the titles to 20 well-known movies reenacted with office supplies?

I got 15 (inclduing a few I've never actually seen). How many can you get?

(h/t: Neatorama. Comments there include the answers if you get stuck)

Sloth: No Caring

(This is a condensed version of a message preached at Salem Church on October 22, 2006).

The Bridger Wilderness Area covers more than 400,000 acres of western Wyoming. It contains beautiful granite formations, alpine forest, and open meadows. It holds 7 of the 10 largest glaciers in the Lower 48 states, more than 2,300 lakes and ponds, and the highest point in the Wyoming Rockies. The following are actual responses from comment cards left for the staff at Bridger Wilderness Area:

Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
Too many bugs and spiders. Please spray to rid the areas of these pests.
We need chair lifts to get to the wonderful views without having to hike.
A McDonald's would be nice at the trail head.
Nobody would claim that sloth is a virtue – a human weakness, a character defect, maybe. But who thinks it’s a sin? God does. And the book of Proverbs is especially tough on lazy persons.

M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist and author, says that laziness is a major source of psychological illness and the main reason we are failing at human relations. It takes effort to maintain relationships. Sloth is the attitude that says, “I don't care” -- about anyone or anything. It poisons and paralyzes the will.

There is a difference between laziness and restfulness. The Italians have a phrase – dulce far niente – which roughly means “the sweet doing of nothing.' Rest and relaxation are a healthy necessity. It's easy for us to become too absorbed in what we are doing, too serious. We become so driven that we don't live. So this isn’t about necessary relaxation.


When we think of sloth, the most common picture we have is plain old laziness. In this sense, sloth is self-protecting. We will not exert ourselves or expend our energy. We give just enough effort to get the job done but not enough to really excel or make a difference. We’ve all heard about sloppy jobs that are “good enough for government work.”

Listen to what Solomon writes in Proverbs 6:

How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:9-11)
We talk about “opportunity knocking.” Thomas Edison once famously said, “Most people miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

We look instead with admiration at Tom Sawyer who tricked his friends into whitewashing the fence for him. We work at making things easier for ourselves so we don’t have to work. Think of how much money has been spent in the last 50 years or so on recliners, remote-control TVs, riding lawn mowers. Now you can get a robot vacuum which will sweep the floor for you.

Yet we lack the will to improve ourselves. We’d like God to drop money or a mate or a miracle in our laps, thank you. We’ll pray for patience or kindness, but we don’t want to actually work at being patient or kind. And so we miss out on the blessings God offers to those who are diligent, hard-working, and faithful.

We live easier lives with less work than our grandparents, and yet complain much more. We basically have all we need. So the only thing to do is enjoy what we have. Work is then seen as a necessary evil, something we get through only to provide for our pleasure. We justify sitting in front of the TV because we’ve worked so hard. I deserve to be a slug!

But how much effort do we put into making life comfortable as opposed to making ourselves better persons?


A second form of sloth is apathy. “Chill out. Calm down.” If there’s one word that describes our age it is: “Whatever” (usually said with dripping scorn). There’s nothing worth caring about. Why bother? In this way sloth is self-debasing. We don’t care enough to try. We are indifferent. We don’t even love ourselves enough to care what other people think. "Why should I care? No one else does. Why doesn’t someone else do this?"

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth! (Proverbs 19:24)
There’s the couch potato, 1000 BC – stretched out on the sofa in sweats with food dribbling down his front. He can’t be bothered to wipe himself off. Who cares? Sloth discourages us from taking proper pride in our appearance. We can't extend hospitality because there's too much effort in cleaning the house. It's a bore to balance the checkbook, so we live from paycheck to paycheck.

In our relationships, we think love is something we feel rather than something we do. But Jesus commands us to love, to deny ourselves for the good of others. Sloth creeps in and says, “You don't feel anything, so you're off the hook.” Wrong. Jesus says “Choose to love.”

Marriages and friendships fall apart because we’re too lazy to care. So we say, "The feelings are gone. We’ve grown apart. This isn’t what I want." Well, then make an effort to change it! What would you do if you felt “love” for that person? Do that.

Wash the dishes when you don't want to. Serve in a ministry even if it's not what excites you. Get involved in a care group and learn to care for other people. Start treating people like you love them, and your feelings will follow your actions.


The third expression of sloth is the most extreme. The French have a word, ennui, that means boredom, or a state of weariness or dissatisfaction with life. The Latin for sloth is acedia, literally "no caring." We are immobile, ineffective, because "it doesn't matter." There is no caring about anything. "What’s the use? I tried to forgive, to love, to be honest, and all I got was hurt.” So we retreat into ourselves. Sloth is also self-pitying.

You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements? Certainly evildoers prosper, and those who challenge God escape.’ (Malachi 3:14-15)
Despair tells us to give up on ourselves, give up on others, give up on God. Then we turn to drugs or drink or any number of pointless amusements, looking for something to make us feel alive. But we still have the haunting fear that there’s nothing worth doing.

Sloth won't run risks – the costs and the demands are too great. It makes us hold in any expression of emotion or show of vulnerability. We lose spontaneity, freedom and joy. We do little and risk little because we care little.

And ultimately, we feel there’s nothing worth living for. We hear this among the elderly who say, “Why am I still alive? What good am I doing here?” We are seeing the slow death of church and family in western civilization. In many European countries the birth rate is below the death rate. Children are noisy, messy, and expensive. Let’s take a vacation instead. Let’s live in a bigger home. Why invest in the future?

God’s Cure for Sloth

What help is there for the sloth that paralyzes, discourages, and defeats us? We're going to look at a challenge – an exhortation – Paul gives in Colossians chapter 3. Paul is speaking in the context of how we approach our work, but it applies to all of life. I want to share three simple principles God gives us for overcoming sloth.

1. Live with Passion

This is what Christians used to call fortitude. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t quit.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23)
When people are frustrating and disappointing, love them anyway. Give it your best effort. Don’t just punch the clock. Go the extra mile. If the garbage needs to be taken out, take it out. Don’t wait for somebody else do it.

This is the cure for laziness. Apply yourself. Work hard. Don't worry about what others are doing. Take pride in your work. Do your best. Pursue excellence.

2. Live with Purpose

If I don’t live for anything bigger than my desires or pleasure or comfort, I will make myself miserable. We need a cause to believe in.

work ... as working for the Lord, not for men … It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24)
You are not working for the company or the school district or even yourself. Whatever you do, you are serving Jesus and his cause – demonstrating and sharing the love of God. You and I are to be living expressions of the love of Jesus Christ.

There are all kinds of opportunities to do this: community groups, neighborhood associations, volunteer programs at hospitals and nursing homes, service organizations. Host a block party in your neighborhood and be the one who brings neighbors together – not with an agenda, but just to be a good neighbor.

Care. Love. Give. We are called to be good news – to share the love and hope of Jesus. That is something worth giving yourself for.

3. Live with Promise

God promises that nothing that we do for him is forgotten or unimportant.
“you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” (Colossians 3:24)
This is the cure for despair. Whatever you’re going through, whatever you’ve suffered or endured or given up or failed in, it’s not the end of the story. God will not forget your service, your compassion, your faithfulness.

This isn’t about earning something with God. Even our service is a gift of God's grace. But we will reap what we sow. If we invest in eternal priorities, there will be eternal rewards. When you apply yourself to grow spiritually, there are positive results.

God has given us the resources and tools we need to grow in wisdom and love and goodness. Do we use them? You need to make a priority of developing regular habits in worship, prayer, fellowship, service, generosity. When you love and give and serve, you are blessed.

Jesus wants to cleanse you and release in you a Spirit that will give you peace, joy, and confidence like you've never known before. Jesus says that as the Spirit is released in you, He will be like a fountain of living water bubbling up inside. You will radiate the joy and the love of God.

I suppose that the worst thing we can do with our lives is to actively pursue evil. But doing things that don't matter is nearly as bad. God created us to love, care. We were made to live like Jesus. And what do we do most of the time? Nothing. We go about our daily routines, rarely asking whether what we're doing matters, and not really caring.

In different ways we all fall prey to laziness, apathy, indifference. Let’s ask God to root out the sloth and renew our hearts and wills.

Friday, October 20, 2006

National League Champs!

On the 9th inning homer of Yadier Molina, the strong pitching of series MVP Jeff Suppan, and the nail-biting relief work of Adam Wainwright the St. Louis Cardinals will head to the 2006 World Series.

The Cards have not had an easy season. They didn't have a very impressive won-loss record. They've been inconsistent. They probably shouldn't be in the World Series. But they are.

Matthew Leach writes:

The Cardinals won their 17th pennant in franchise history by gutting out a difficult series against the NL's best regular-season team. They became the first Major League team since 1975 to win a series after losing Game 6 on the road.

Teams are not supposed to recover from that blow. Then again, 83-win teams like the Cardinals aren't supposed to go to the World Series -- St. Louis will have the second-fewest regular-season wins of any Fall Classic participant in history. Teams with rookie closers aren't supposed to win pennants. And a Cardinals team that gives Carlos Beltran an extra chance to beat it? That never ends well.

Except that it did.

"That's Cardinal baseball," said David Eckstein. "Ronnie [Belliard] came up to me and he said, 'This is the way the Cardinals do it. We don't do anything easy.' We found a way to come through one more time. We're heading on to the World Series, one more chance."
Here's to the hard-fighting Cardinals. They deserve it.

Let's hope the Tigers are tired from resting all week.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

For Sippican

I ran across this one and had to share it:

Jimmy was 18 years old and eager to get off to a good start in the trades. He had just started his first job as a delivery guy and general gofer at a furniture factory. His first task was to go out for coffee.

He walked to a nearby coffee shop carrying a large thermos, and asked the man behind the counter, "I need six cups of coffee. Is this thermos big enough?"

The counter man eyed the thermos, hesitated, and finally said, "Yeah. It looks like it's about six cups to me."

"Good," said Jimmy. "Give me three black, two light, and one decaf."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Pray for Pastor Jeff

I've got to keep my nose to the grindstone this week. Much to do, many people to see, and too little time (insert Robert Frost or Jerry Reed reference as appropriate).

Posting will be light to non-existent for the time being.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Finally, a use for spam

Not the meat product, the annoying (and sometimes amusing) junk mail that floods inboxes.

You all know what it's like. Here's a recent one:

From: Taylor Duke
Re: Using kowalewski the buckskin

Does he say all this asked Mr Messer Say My chattanooga sir Mrs Fields the absorption fellow says to the terbium himself where is it Oh "I am sorry to inform you should like it And I am very well persuaded that whatever you do Yvette will alway
Suppose you were to go down into the old part of the country again for instance and see that Young gentlemen likes poultry in general have a fowl
I saw Julius Caesar and the new screwdriver To have all those noble Romans alive beforeas she sat at work as if I were the late Miss Larkins
What a delightful and blat entertainment Holland My torque young Davy was dismissed and other topics occupied us he remained so seldom

If, as someone has suggested, spam is like the internet trying to write poetry, then the internet hasn't been taking its meds. It's delightfully random and senseless.

Along those lines, some British animators have created a perfectly fitting Flash video which illustrates the contents of some recently received spam.

Hopefully there will be more to come. This is internet art. Imagine what Dali would have done with spam.

Also, check out the Spam Name Generator. Some I came up with:
Jackstraw J. Ammunition
Graybeard F. Tranquilizing
Ethene Y. Sturmarbeiteilung
And some "people" from whom I have received email:

Frostbite J. Ornithology
Croaking O. Mayfair
Sharron Kang (I didn't know he was married. No word from Kodos, though.)
Jemima Diaz
It sounds like a Lemony Snicket book.

Any you'd care to share?

(h/t: BoingBoing)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My 900 seconds

Sippican has somehow become a Googlewhack (a Google search (without quotes) returning only one result). He's hasn't yet said how, but I have a feeling he'll spill eventually. In any case, Googlewhack is something of a rare achievement. It gives one a notoriety, at least -- a notoriety which I am sorely lacking.

Meanwhile, Ann Althouse has a great post today about the new University of Wisconsin campaign to discourage "bigotry." The Chancellor of the University says of the program: "We will not tolerate bias, racism, disrespect or hate." Let those words sink in.

Students are encouraged to report "bias incidents" via a downloadable form and turn it in to the Office of Dean of Students. The Dean's website states:

A bias incident is a threat or act of bigotry, harassment or intimidation -- verbal, written or physical -- that is personally directed against or targets a University of Wisconsin-Madison student because of that student's race, age, gender identity or expression, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, veteran status, or other actual or perceived characteristic.
This is disturbing on so many levels. The Chancellor's words alone should give pause. Then the bias language is astonishingly broad -- What is a "threat" of bigotry? Doesn't "perceived characteristics" open up to door to anything anyone wants to think is offensive? Why are students being encouraged to tattle on each other to the Dean instead of learning to resolve differences or let things go?

To whom are the people running this program accountable? What protections make sure this isn't abused by people wanting to get even with their enemies? What happens to the records of lodged complaints? And what happens when a person is found to be "biased" or "disrespectful"?

As many commenters rightly noted, all this sounds very Orwellian -- especially when one considers the logo for the program:

"I think. I respect."

It is a very well-designed logo. And it's a very clever piece of double speak, since it does the exact opposite of its claim. Students will neither think nor learn respect for themselves or others. It's that logo that led me to remark: "It will look great on armbands."

All this is background to say that now I have my 15 minutes -- I started a meme!

The armband quote was picked up by Ann who started a second thread to feature some other ingenious takes on the design. This one is particularly good:

Of course, this kind of politically-correct campus speech codes is nothing new -- which is ironic given the supposed purpose of a university as a forum for study, learning and inquiry. It's doubly ironic that UW itself had an earlier speech code struck down as illegal on First Amendment grounds.

Here's hoping that this program and all like it are thrown on the ash heap of history, and those responsible for them are asked to find employment elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I want to thank the Academy, my agent, the producers; of course, my life coach, and all the wonderful people who made this possible. Hi, Mom!

And in case anyone is wondering (and is still reading at this point), I really don't care about the starting a meme thing. I mean it's nice, and I thought the comment was humorous, but mainly it was just a somewhat unique way to start a thread.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"How can the Amish forgive?"

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the Amish school shooting story is the response of the Amish to the brutal murder of their children: forgiveness.

Mark Daniels has some great reflections on how the Amish are able to genuinely forgive the perpetrator, pray for his widow, and grieve over his brokenness.

Forgiveness, as Mark writes, is not approval, does not imply God's acceptance of the sin, and does not replace the need for justice.

For more on what forgiveness is and why we must extend it to others, see Mark's post.

Do any of you have any stories to share of struggling to forgive?

Q: Who own the Mideast?

A: Depends. What time is it?

For the last 5,000 years or so, Canaan/Israel/Palestine has been fought over by the Egyptians, Hittites, Hebrews, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks, and Europeans (among others).

Check out this awesome Flash visual of the flow of armies, nations and empires over southwest Asia. The ending rapid-change sequence is especially impressive.

Gives some perspective, doesn't it?

It's hard to fully explain the special significance of Jerusalem in biblical thought. David, envisioning Jerusalem as the special dwelling place of God's presence, wrote this in Psalm 122 almost 3,000 years ago:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels."

The city claimed by three religions and a dozen or so empires has known precious little peace since David's time. His plea is a good one for any era.

(h/t: Neatorama)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hide the women!

Here in Missouri Republican Jim Talent is in a close race for reelection to the Senate against Claire McCaskill, former State Auditor.

McCaskill's racism doesn't seem to have hurt her chances much. Speaking on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, she told a group of supporters, "George Bush let people die on rooftops because they were poor and because they were black." Her explanation? McCaskill says she doesn't really think that Bush is racist; she was just reporting what other people believe. As you can see, she definitely has the skills for a career in politics.

Tim Russert had both candidates on "Meet the Press" yesterday, and from the transcript, it appears Russert did a creditable job of equally grilling both. On of my favorite exchanges, though, was this one:

RUSSERT: You’re having Bill Clinton come in to raise money for you. Do you think Bill Clinton was a great president?

McCASKILL: I do. I think—I have a lot of problems with some of his, his, his personal issues. I said at...

RUSSERT: But do you...

McCASKILL: I said at the time, “I think he’s been a great leader, but I don’t want my daughter near him.”

What higher praise for the leader of the free world? Democratic women expressing this kind of double-standard on Clinton rightly drives feminists crazy.

Bill Clinton: "A truly great President. Hide your daughters."

(h/t: James Taranto)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Greed: Misplaced Values

(This is a condensed version of a message shared at Salem Evangelical Church on October 8, 2006, as part of a series on The 7 Deadly Sins)

"Our children seem convinced that they have a McDonalds-shaped vacuum in their souls."

So said pastor John Ortberg when his three children were small. And tug is based on the truly inspired name the folks at McDonalds came up with for their kids’ meal: the Happy Meal. It is "the meal of great joy," Ortberg says. You aren’t just buying McNuggets and a plastic car. You’re buying happiness.

The problem is the happy wears off. You never hear of a young adult coming back to his parents and saying, "Dad, remember that Happy Meal you gave me? That’s where I found lasting contentment."

You’d think that sooner or later the kids would figure it out: "I keep getting these Happy Meals, but they don’t really make me happy." It never happens. We keep buying Happy Meals and they keep not working.

Here’s the thing: It’s not just kids who think that you can find happiness in what you buy or own. As we grow up, our Happy Meals just get bigger and more expensive. And the world tells us that contentment is always just one Happy Meal away.

We’re all looking for something to satisfy us. It’s so easy to think we’re going to find it in having more. But having more doesn’t make you better adjusted or more secure. It doesn’t help you handle trials any better. Temptations aren’t less seductive because of what you own.

We know all that, but we still struggle with greed – that gnawing desire to have more; the belief that in having more, I will be happy. Look at what Paul writes in his first letter to his young protégé, Timothy:

"men of corrupt mind … have been robbed of the truth and … think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called …" (1 Timothy 6:5-12)

Paul tells us three things: how greed exercises power over us, why greed exercises power over us, and how we can break the power.

Greed blinds us.

Greed has been defined as an “inordinate desire or dependence on money and material things.” Its Latin form is avaritia, form which we get “avarice” – not so much the love of possessions and the love of possessing. We buy things we do not need and will not use, just to have them. And it blinds us spiritually; it distorts the way we see and value things.

That’s what Paul says. Greed corrupts your mind. It leads us into traps and foolish desires. It drives us to ruin. It pulls us away from God. Paul summarizes this in the famously misquoted verse:
“The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10)

Greed is different than other sins. It blinds you to its presence. Jesus didn’t say, "Watch out, you might be angry." If you're angry; you know it -- and so does everyone else. But Jesus does say, “Watch out, you might be greedy.” Greed hides itself.

Here’s a test: Think of a greedy person.

Who did you think of? Probably someone rich, somebody who spends more money than you do. That's the danger. We don’t consider the possibility that we are greedy. Paul is saying, "Watch out."

Why are so many families working two or three or four jobs? Our expectation of what we can't do without has changed dramatically. Things that used to be luxuries are now necessities. We don't ask ourselves: Do I need to put this much money into my home? Should I spend this much money on clothes? Are there ways I could be giving more to do good? Greed blinds us to what our needs truly are.

And greed binds us to other people and their needs. Our quest for wealth leaves little time to give to others. “I’d like to help,” we say, “But I’m too busy. I’m too tired from work. I don’t have time.” Greed blinds us.

I'll be honest: When I spend money, I don't want to ask, Did I really need that? I don't want to talk to God about it. I just want to do it.

That is Paul's point. Greed will keep you from asking questions about how you make your money and how you spend your money and how it influences you.

Is there anybody who dares to say, "I couldn't give any more away, I couldn't live any more simply, I couldn't be any more generous"? We know better. Yet, it’s astounding, given the time and place we live in, with all we have, that we don't think that we could be greedy. That shows the blinding power of greed.

Greed Defines Us

But why does money have this power?

One reason is that money is a way of getting significance. We want so much money to spend on ourselves because money gives us identity. We feel important because we live in a certain place, eat at certain restaurants, move in certain social circles and wear certain clothes. Money makes me feel good. It gives me identity and worth. That's why greed is opposed to the gospel:

“Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

It isn’t enough that Jesus died for me and I have all the treasures of God in Christ. We measure by a different standard, like income. We feel sorry for the poor, and then we feel superior. If we're better off economically than somebody else, we feel like we're better. We feel good about ourselves for all the wrong reasons: because of what I have, where I went to school, what I do for a living. Greed gets tied up with significance.

And it’s also tied up with security. Money gives us control. That’s why we find it so hard to give money away. We feel, “I have money, so I'm safe; I have confidence in an uncertain world. I have control over my life.” That’s why Paul says:
“We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:7-8)

There’s a false gospel going around. It says that God wants you to be rich and successful. If you just work hard enough and have enough faith, God will reward you and bless you. You can have “your best life” not in heaven, but here and now. That’s exactly the corruption of the gospel Paul mentions:

“men of corrupt mind … have been robbed of the truth and … think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:5-6)
The real gain, the real security we have isn’t financial but spiritual. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Howard Hughes was fabulously wealthy, but his money couldn't make him happy or healthy. He died a miserable, lonely billionaire.

Do we really think a master's degree or big home in the suburbs and a professional career are going to give us confidence or contentment?

Money cannot make people love you. It can’t heal a broken relationship. It can’t stop death or pain. Money cannot do God's job. It's not going to make you happy or safe.

So how do we break the power of greed in our lives?

God’s Cure for Greed

At the center of everyone's soul, there is a treasure – something about which you've said, "I must have this thing ." Whatever that is, you live for it and you will pay any price for it. It fills your heart with longing, and you value it above all else. It might be money, career, romance, or family. Paul writes in verses 11-12:
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called …”

Paul is saying: “Quit worrying about what you’ve got, about what they’ve got, about what you think you need to be happy. Make this your treasure: righteousness, love, and gentleness.”

How much time do you spend focused on money – thinking about it, worrying about it, trying to get more, or guarding what you have? Now how does that compare to the time you invest in spiritual growth, in pursuing God and his work in your life?

Here's one final test: When greed no longer has power over you, you get really generous. A Christian who has learned contentment by taking hold of Jesus is freely giving, always looking for opportunities to give to friends, neighbors, church, the poor, the community.

I know; Americans are the most generous people on the planet. You give. I give. But how much?

Based on Old Testament standards, a lot of Christians talk about the tithe, or 10%, as a good rule of thumb. If you see what Jesus Christ has done for you, that doesn’t seem like so much. 10% is a good way to get started, but the cross is the standard. Is there a cross of self-sacrifice in your financial life?

Jesus gave up everything to make you his treasure. He gave sacrificially. Taking hold of eternal life means more than just believing certain things about Jesus. If faith has really transformed my heart, I will get serious about greed, and flee from it. I will give enough money away that it sacrifices my comfort and lifestyle. And I can do it deliberately and happily.

Statistics say that in most churches, 1/5 of the people give 80% of the money, the next 1/3 of the people provide the remaining 20%, and 1/2 give nothing of record. If that’s true, it proves we’ve fallen into temptation and a trap. The church is withholding the resources needed to do God’s work. And it means at least half of all people in church think they’re serving God when they’re really only serving themselves. If God looked at your checkbook, what would He say about your priorities?

An early Christian, Mathetes, wrote a letter to Diognetus, explaining Christianity and why the first followers of Jesus amazed people. He said, "We share our table with all, but we do not share our bed with all."

In other words, the pagans are promiscuous with their bodies but stingy with their money. And Christians stood out because they were stingy with their bodies and generous with their money.

Christianity does not mean grim self-denial. It means joyful self-denial. God says having more will never make us happy – unless it is more service, more generosity, more prayer, more humility, more love.

Jesus gave up everything to make you his treasure. That humbles you. That lifts you up. That changes how you look at possessions.

Fight the good fight – because this is a fight. Flee from greed. Pursue godliness. And ask God to help you value what really matters and discover true contentment.

UPDATE: I should have clarified in condensing this message that I am indebted to pastor Tim Keller for his excellent work on this subject in a sermon on Matthew 6, especially his comments on generosity and the conclusion. Thanks to a gracious visitor who brought this oversight to my attention.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Greatest Entertainer You've Probably Never Heard Of

Quiz: Who was the popular jazz and swing band leader who played a key role in the early roots of rock and roll? He was third behind only Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder for #1 R&B songs. Only James Brown had more Top-10 hits.

Still don't know? Don't feel bad, I wouldn't have been able to answer either until a few years ago.

Louis Jordan was one of the most popular jazz band leaders of the 1940s. He was known as the Father of R&B and the King of the Jukebox. He had 18 R&B #1 hits and 54 songs in the Top-10. Three of his songs were #1 on the Pop or Country charts. He was an entertainer in the truest sense of the word, with great expression, commanding stage presence, and broad appeal. From the Encyclopedia of World Biography:

... in 1936 he joined drummer Chick Webb's orchestra -- a 13-piece ensemble that featured singer Ella Fitzgerald... During his stint with Webb Jordan developed his skills as a frontman. "Louis would go out and just break up the show," recalled former bandmember Garvin Bushell in his autobiography Jazz From the Beginning. "Nobody could follow him."
Few people today (outside of musicians and jazz buffs) are aware of Louis Jordan's work. It's a shame, because Jordan was incredibly gifted and endlessly entertaining. Compared to today's overly-produced, studio-driven pop music, his music sounds dated and simple, but it definitely stands the test of time.

Let's start out slow. "Buzz Me" is a classically simple jazz/swing number. It was #1 on the R&B charts for 9 weeks in 1945. You can tell the band's doing okay because the trumpeter uses an actual mute and not the bottom of a toilet plunger.

Most of these clips are either from one of the movies Jordan made as studios cashed in on his popularity; or from Soundies, a very early version of MTV shown in movie theaters. For you younger folks, before TV people went to the movies all day. You got a newsreel (which was like "Headline News" -- except on film, in the theater), cartoons, two features, and things like this thrown in. It was like cable, except on a larger screen. Did you also know that people used to wear suits? To play music?

"Buzz me, buzz me, Baby;
I'll be waitin' for your call.
If you forgot the number, come on over;
You won't have to call at all."

Dude is smooth as glass.

The poster on YouTube calls this, "The first rock video." It's hard to argue. If you wondered where Bill Haley got his stuff, look no further. "Swing Blues" is what they called it before white people got hold of it, threw in more instruments, and came up with something less rocking than this.

Don't believe me? Do the side-by-side yourself.

No offense to Billy Haley, but Louis Jordan is mopping the floor with "Rock Around the Clock."

And it's not just that Louis Jordan lay the foundations for rock and roll, an argument can also be made that he invented rap -- or something like it.

"Beware" obviously comes out of the call and response preaching of the black church, but you can see how he's taken that and turned it into a musical form that would later make countless lesser-talented people rich and drive sales of Escalades through the roof.

I have no videos, but "Jumpin' and Jivin' at Jubilee" is another great example of Jordan's ability and popularity. "Jubilee" was an Armed Forces Radio Services program that featured popular entertainers. It was a morale booster for the troops. Louis Jordan and his Tympani 5 sound just as good here as on any studio track (Sippican can explain how the Beatles and the studio record ruined pop music). It's easy to forget how young the Army was in WWII. Louis Jordan was about 35 here. He's performing for a bunch of 20-year-olds, and they absolutely love him.

The bonus on the "Jubilee: CD is getting to hear all the jazz-era lingo thrown around:

"Are you bothered with jumpitis, jive-itis, gingivitis, or arthritis? Well, jack, try the fastest selling remedy on the market -- it's Jubliee!

Yes, brethren and sistren, roar in and park you bonnets on a cloud while we mingle with the majestic majors and minors. You're gonna dig a mess of music that will take you, shake you and bake you. This jumpin' Jubilee highlights such luminaries as ... the Lorenzo Flournoy(?) trio, solid disciples of rooty-toot and vulcanized boot ... "
Yes, people used to talk like that. With a straight face, apparently.

I could listen to Louis Jordan all day. In fact, I'm hoping that if I'm good, I will. Maybe Santa will bring me this incredibly-priced 5-CD retrospective. You ought to get one. It's a genuine steal for $30.

Aren't you glad I told you about Louis Jordan? So go tell someone!

More Louis Jordan at YouTube
"Louis Jordan and His Tympani 5" 5-CD box set at Amazon
"Jumpin and Jivin at Jubilee" at Amazon.

UPDATE. In the comments, Sippican gives timeless music-buying advice.

Friday, October 06, 2006

"Incredible Forgiveness"

I don't usually repost other people's work verbatim, but a friend alerted me to this piece by Ann Curry on MSNBC.com and I thought it was good enough to share in whole:

Today, with tears in his eyes, a minister described to me seeing an Amish mother embalming her 13-year-old daughter Marian, who was shot in the forehead at the school.

She was carefully and lovingly dressing her girl in white, even putting the cotton in her nose.

All around the family watched, crying softly, even the little children, who listened as their grandfather told them not to hate the gunman who did this.

"Forgive," he was instructing them... "forgive, as God forgives us..."

Reverend Rob Schenck, called it the most powerful moment in all his 25 years as a minister.

This forgiveness seems especially incredible, coming on the same day the coroner is being reported to have counted almost 20 bullet wounds in the body of a 7-year-old girl.

An Amish woman told me perhaps the good that might come of this tragedy is, "We can tell people about Christ and actually show you in our walk that we forgive, not just say it, but in our walk of life. You know you have to live it, you can't just say it. "

I realize I did not know what forgiveness was until now.

What a powerful statement. And what a sad commentary on the lack of consistent Christian forgiveness. This is what we're supposed to be about: "Forgive, as you have been forgiven."

Mea culpa.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Reporting on the Amish Tragedy

By now all of us are probably aware of that a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania earlier this week and brutally murdered five girls (others are still hospitalized) before killing himself. Details have come out from the man's life and suicide note that indicate he was angry with God, angry with himself, angry at life, and torn between guilt and pleasure from a sexual perversion he couldn't control. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all effected by this horrific act. The evil of this act, especially in Roberts' choice of victims, is almost unspeakable.

The Amish are radically counter-cultural Christians in the pietist tradition. They seek to limit their interaction with the larger world so they can better live out their faith as a community of like-minded believers. They are primarily farmers, and choose to live much as their ancestors did 150 years ago, with relatively few ties to the modern world. They are known for their pacifism, strong community, and their devout faith.

All this makes reporting on the tragedy something of a challenge for major newspapers -- which tend to shy away from matters of faith, especially Christian faith. Mollie at Get Religion contrasts the reporting by the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. It's a fascinating study.
NYT was hardly able to mention the faith of the Amish, simply noting that they are a traditional culture, but not why. Their reporting seemed almost condescending and didn't provide any insight as to how their faith might shape their response to this tragedy.

The Amish community in Pennsylvania, which numbers about 55,000, lives an agrarian lifestyle, shunning technological advances like electricity and automobiles. And many say their insular lifestyle gives them a sense that they are protected from the violence of American society. But as residents gathered near the school, some wearing traditional garb and arriving in horse-drawn buggies, they said that sense of safety had been shattered.

WaPo was slightly better, giving some background on the Amish and their origins, but again there was no mention of the Amish faith in particular or why it would matter.

The attack shocked the quiet people of this community, whose religion and traditions require them to remain separate from the outside world and shun the trappings of modern life, including electricity and motor vehicles. Roberts was not Amish, and Miller said he had no known criminal history...

The Amish are named for Jacob Amman, a 17th-century Swiss bishop whose followers in the Anabaptist movement were persecuted for their belief that infant baptism was invalid. The first Amish settlers arrived in Lancaster County in the early 18th century, according to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country Welcome Center's Web site.

LAT was the best in terms of addressing and understanding the religious angle of this story. Here's the opening paragraph:
Calling on its faith for guidance, the Amish community here coupled sorrow with forgiveness Monday after a milk-truck driver armed with a small arsenal burst into a one-room schoolhouse, killing four girls and critically wounding seven others.
The L.A. Times rightly sees religious belief as important to the Amish and therefore important in framing the story. The opening sentence recognizes the Amish's faith and their belief in the need to forgive even this horrible crime. That emphasis carries through the article:

Roberts' brutality evoked very little anger among the community Monday. Men in broad-brimmed hats and suspenders and women in bonnets and long dark dresses expressed grief and shock, but in hushed, muted tones. "It's a sad day," Jacob King, a 31-year-old stonemason said. He could think of nothing else to add, just repeated that one word, "sad."

Rather than dwell on the victims — though this is a close-knit community, where few are strangers — Amish residents spoke of their concern for Roberts' family; their sorrow that a man could become so unhinged, so alienated from the Lord.

"I wish someone could have helped him out, poor soul. It's obvious that something was troubling him," said Steve, a 54-year-old carpenter who, like many here, would not give his full name.

Of the tragedy, he would say only that it was "uncalled for," and unexpected.

An Amish woman who gave her name as Irene also expressed compassion for the gunman. "I am very thankful," she said, "that I was raised to believe you don't fight back. You should forgive." ...

Suburbs are creeping closer and closer, but the Amish "just go about their way," said Myron Stoltzfus, 48, a local butcher.

Stoltzfus was raised by Amish parents; he is now a Mennonite, but understands the Amish ways and anticipates that, even as the loss sinks in, few here will call for security guards at the schoolhouse — or even a cellphone in the teacher's desk. "The Amish see death as a part of life," he said. "They will grieve … but they have more resignation. They will take this as something God ordained."

That's excellent writing and reporting, and there's no good reason why NYT and WaPo couldn't have done better. Neither paper apparently talked to any Amish or Mennonites in their coverage, which is tragic in itself. The Amish's attitudes in face of their loss are important and uncommon, but because they are shaped by a profound faith they went unnoticed.

It's a shame that major newspapers have such a hard time talking about such an important aspect of this story. It's really a disservice to the readers and it makes it very hard to fully understand what has happened and the significance of the Amish response.
We would all be better off if the "papers of record" didn't treat religious belief as a vaguely embarrassing curiosity.

UPDATE: Janet of The Walrus Said has a great roundup of Amish expressions of forgiveness and concern for the family of the murderer. Amba points out that this is "radical" Christianity (meaning both counter-cultural and basic -- both meanings coming from the Latin radix, for "root") and launches a great discussion in the comments.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Get your Monday off to a good start

Jokes from our almost-10-year-old:

Q: What word is always pronounced wrong?
A: "Wrong"

Q: Why is a dog warmer in the summer than the winter?
A: In the winter he wears a coat; in the summer he wears a coat and pants.

(The second one came highly recommended)

Anger: The Devil’s Furnace

(This is a shorter version of a message shared with the people of Salem Evangelical Church on Sunday, October 1, 2006).

“Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun,” writes Frederick Buechner. “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, ... to savor to the last morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”

Anger is probably the most public and obvious of the deadly sins. We see it in resentment, bitterness, hatred, hostility, and violence.

In 1996 Gabel Taylor and another man began an informal match to see who could quote the most Bible verses. Eventually, Taylor won. The other man got a gun and shot his opponent. That's “powder-keg” anger – the least spark ignites an explosion. There’s also a brooding anger that simmers. A famous artist said in a US News interview: “I am against all war – it doesn't solve anything. I have a great interest in the world and in people ... and it annoys me that as I sit here … I would like to have cannons shooting all the people I don't approve of." No wonder the Parson in The Canterbury Tales called anger "the Devil's furnace."

James says in his letter:

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20)
Anger is obviously behind violence, murder, and war, but it also hides beneath the surface, fueling spiteful attitudes that tear up homes and destroy relationships. How do we deal with anger appropriately? We’re going to focus on a passage from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus where he talks about how to experience feelings of anger in healthy, God-honoring ways.

The Causes of Anger

My Camry has this little signal that lights up whenever I get below an eighth of a tank of gas. Sometimes that little light really bugs me. It has a habit of coming on when I'm in the middle of an important trip, or just after I've passed the gas station. Sometimes it makes me so mad that I'd like to take my car to the shop and have them remove that little light. But we can all see how that's ridiculous. My problem isn't the light. My problem is the empty gas tank.

That’s often the way it is with our anger. When you're angry, ask yourself: “What's the real issue here?” That’s what you need to address with God's help.

Because anger itself is not necessarily a sin. Even God gets angry. But Paul warns us:

“In your anger, do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26)

Not all anger is wrong. Jesus chased the sellers and money-changers out of the Temple in a holy rage (John 2:13-22). The first cause of anger should be Sin.

We should be angry at white collar criminals like Ken Lay who make themselves rich while destroying people’s retirements. We should be angry at corrupt politicians, unjust judges, dishonest reporting, abuses of power. We should hate whatever violates God's ways and hurts others. We should have a holy anger at the sin inside us, too – our pride, arrogance, and selfishness. It's rare, though, that our anger doesn’t have our self-interest mixed up in it.

More commonly, we get angry at personal Hurts. It may be physical pain, emotional suffering, or relational conflict. If we look closely, though, we can see a fair amount of pride behind our anger. We just can't believe what's happening to us. I deserve so much better, don't I? Sometimes we’re angry at God for something He’s done or allowed that doesn’t seem right. And then hurts can easily turn into bitterness and the desire for revenge – to see that other person hurt like they’ve hurt me.

Another cause of anger is Frustration. We get angry when things don’t go my way. Our three year old overturns her glass of milk at the dinner table, or the ten year old tracks mud onto the kitchen floor that we just mopped. My schedule is overwhelming, the checkout line hasn't moved in five minutes, I’m stuck in traffic and running late, and the kids won’t do what I tell them to. I feel helpless and disappointed, so I give in to anger.

Fear can also trigger anger. One time Jesus' disciples got caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus was sleeping in the back of the boat. The disciples wake Jesus up, demanding, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" You can hear the angry accusation in their voices. And Jesus responds to their anger by going to the root issue: "Why are you so afraid?"

We get angry at all our bills because we're afraid we may not have enough to make ends meet. When our teenage son he gets home thirty minutes late we yell at him because we were scared he was in an accident. We resent our employers because we're worried that some arbitrary decision could eliminate our jobs.

Here's the question: What is that causes you to get angry?

Once we start to see what makes us angry, then we're in a position to respond to our anger in the right way.

Responding to Anger

The next thing Paul says in Ephesians 4 is this:

"Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold." (Ephesians 4:26-27)
The pastor who married us said our first fight would be about Elvis, and he was right. Amelia and I were still newlyweds when we had an argument one night. For some strange reason she didn’t want to have a black-velvet Elvis painting hanging over our bed. I want you to understand the sacrifices I’ve made for my wife: I ripped that beautiful picture off the wall, stomped out of the room, and threw it in the trash, knowing that I was right and my wife was totally unreasonable. I went to bed angry. And every time I saw that blank space over our bed where Elvis should have been, I just got madder and madder.

Whether it’s literally going to bed angry or just brooding over the thing that’s upset you, Paul warns us to quite replaying it in our minds. Let it go. The longer it sits inside, the worse it will get. If you go to sleep angry, odds are you'll still be angry the next morning.

And that kind of anger gives the devil a foothold in our lives. You have a spiritual enemy who wants to create pain and destruction . When we give in to sinful anger we are letting Satan be in charge.

If this pattern persists, we become angry people. It's not just that we get angry; we are angry. It becomes a characteristic attitude. Would the people who know you best say you are angry, sarcastic, or bitter; or peaceful, patient and kind?

Don’t let your anger go unresolved. Don’t hold on to it. Then Paul says,
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)
We don’t realize how powerful our words really are. They can hurt or heal; they can encourage or enrage. Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

What would happen if the next time you're tempted to get angry you take the initiative to apologize for your part in the argument? Gentle words can bring healing and peace.

Sometimes our words are harsher than we realize. I tend to have a biting humor, and sometimes I take things too far. I joke and tease, but sometimes people get hurt by silly comments or something I didn't need to say. God intends our words to build one another up.

Paul sums all this up, saying:

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." (Ephesians 4:31)
Okay, I need to get rid of anger. How do I do that? The only way to really get rid of anger is to replace it with something better. Look at verse 32. "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

Paul says that if we've experienced the forgiveness of God, if we've humbled ourselves before him, it's almost impossible to be angry with others. How do we get to that place? I want to suggest three applications inspired by Pastor John Piper.

1. Cherish God’s forgiveness

Some people believe they are Christians and claim God’s forgiveness, but somehow that becomes the justification for grudges and anger. Something is wrong with that. Saving faith is not the simple belief in your head that God forgives you. True faith is looking at the holiness of God and the ugliness of my sin and being staggered and humbled by the reality that I am forgiven. When then happens it becomes impossible to tell others, “I'm not going to forgive you.” We hold on to anger because we treat our sins lightly and hold others’ sins against them. We should be more upset by our sin than by what others have done to us. When you are tempted to become angry, stop and look at what God has done with your sin.

2. Trust God's justice

One cause of bitterness is being wronged by someone. "He lied about me. They stole from us. She was unfaithful. He let me down." And we feel not only that it shouldn't have happened to us, but they should be punished. And you know what? You're right.

So what do you do? Listen to what Paul writes in Romans 12:

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
No wrong ever committed has ever been missed. God sees the wrong far better than you see it, and He hates the evil of it more purely and righteously than you do. But God says He will settle accounts; He will repay. His justice will prevail.

Do you believe it? Can you trust him when you're really wronged? God says, “I saw it. You're right. They're wrong. I hate what they did to you. Let go of your anger. I'm going to settle this for you, and I will do it better than you could.”

3. Believe in God's purpose

Believe that God has a purpose to turn the cause of your anger for good. Paul goes on:

“On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)
What God is after in your life is to develop faith and Christ-like character. Every single one of us has impure faith. There’s dross in the metal. So God allows us to go through trials, to be put in a crucible to burn off the impurities and refine us.

At the moment we're tempted to become angry, we have a choice. You can shake your fist in God's face and say, "I didn't deserve this and I won't tolerate it.” Or you can look at this frustrating circumstance as an opportunity for God to make you more like Jesus and to do good in another person’s life. Jesus said we are to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us. When is the last time you invited to lunch or sent a card or prayed for someone who hurt you? It’s natural to repay evil with evil. Jesus helps us to repay evil with good. Isn’t that what God has done for you and for me in the cross? That is God’s purpose for you.

We all experience anger and struggle to deal with it in God-honoring ways. But as we cherish God’s forgiveness, and trust his purposes, we can live with real peace.

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