Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Much punditry yesterday, so today I'll just quote a section from Tennyson's "In Memoriam A.H.H."


Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light:
    The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    For those that here we see no more;
    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
    And ancient forms of party strife;
    Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
    The faithless coldness of the times;
    Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
    The civic slander and the spite;
    Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
    Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
    The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
    Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Martin Roth asks some tough and interesting questions, including:

I suppose I'm not surprised that I feel my hand going up in answer to his second question, nor that I have serious misgivings about his other two. Roth's basic argument is that justice demanded that Pol Pot be removed, that Hitler be assassinated, and it demands that Hussein be removed from power in Iraq. To him, then, Christians should support and advocate these goals--in particular, Christians should support a war against Iraq..

I think we need to examine the whole idea of a Christian's relationship to justice. As Christians we know that justice will be fulfilled; God's perfect righteousness will ensure that all who have not been forgiven their sins will be punished for them. It is not at all clear to me, though, that we are called to enact that justice here on earth. We are explicitly told not to seek justice when a fellow Christian wrongs us, but to live with the injustice (1 Cor 6:7-8). So it is clear that not all injustices must be corrected by us here on earth.

But what of grave injustices like those of Pol Pot, Hitler and Hussein? Surely scripture must teach us that such monsters must be removed, for the sake of justice. I don't believe that is the case. Injustice--grave injustice in fact--is an integral part of the gospel. We know that Jesus suffered and died unjustly. In fact it was this very injustice which precipitated Philip's conversion of the Ethiopian in Acts 8. When faced with this grave injustice, Jesus himself acknowledges that he could prevent what was going to happen, but he chose not to:
Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" --Matthew 26:52-54
So Martin Roth could be right. Justice could demand that Hussein be removed from power. But that does not mean that Christians should seek it. It may be the right thing to do politically--or better, governmentally--but that does not make it the Christian thing to do. It may be in the best interest of the U.S. to remove him, but my ultimate allegiance is to Christ, and I don't believe he taught us to take justice into our own hands.

Was there justice in not removing Hitler or Pol Pot? I don't know. Let me ask a different question: Was there justice in allowing the various Herods to continue their reigns of terror?

I'm beginning to worry about the word "terrorism." I'm worried because I think it is beginning to be a code word rather than a description of a type of activity. For example, according to an AP story, "The White House said Monday terrorism was not being ruled out in the slaying of Laurence Foley, a U.S. diplomat in Amman, Jordan." What does terrorism mean in that sentence? The "slaying of Laurence Foley" was clearly an "assassination", that is, the murder of a prominent person by surprise attack, likely for political reasons. In fact, the same story notes that "President Bush deeply regretted the assassination." Since the mode of the attack and the crime itself are so clearly described by the verb "to assassinate," what does adding the term "terrorism" convey?

My concern is that "terrorism" is being used in a way to mean "perpetrated by Islamic extremists." We saw the same thing happening with the sniper shootings in the DC area. Often in the media there would be questions of whether "international terrorists" were behind the attacks. Since I live in the DC area, I heard quite a bit of speculation among my associates that the sniper might be a "terrorist." When I asked, they universally meant that the attacker(s) might be an Al Qaeda operative(s). For these people, the word "terrorist" and the phrase "Al Qaeda operative" are synonymous.

That worries me. "Terrorism" and its various forms are useful words that have useful meanings in English. One source defines terrorism as "The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons." Not everything that scares us is terrorism and not all acts of terrorism are carried out by Al Qaeda or Islamic extremists. We know this objectively, but perhaps in our fear in not wanting to blame a particular group, we are in danger of losing an important word in our vocabulary. Rather than classifying every frightening crime as "terrorism," I think we need to clarify what we mean by the term. Only then can we hope to end such actions permanently.

Monday, October 28, 2002

I finished reading Dallas Willard's Spirit of the Disciplines this weekend. It's a very good book, and I recommend it to anyone who is trying to deepen their relationship with Christ. I don't make that recommendation without reservations, though. Willard is an excellent thinker, but he's only an average writer. As a result, he can be vague and verbose at times. I also think that sometimes he is trying to popularize a complicated philosophical argument, and he ends up in a no-man's-land between clarity and critical thinking. I really enjoyed the chapters on the spiritual disciplines, but I was less convinced by his chapter on poverty. He makes a strong case that poverty is NOT a Christian discipline, but he makes the argument primarily through logic. I want to believe him, but I'm just not sure that scripture doesn't dictate otherwise. So on balance, this brief review sounds decidedly mixed, but I really think the book is worth reading. Next on my list: Phillip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew.

If any of you prayed for us to have good weather on Saturday (see 10/25's post below), your prayers worked because we had perfect weather. It was a wonderful day and we collected sports balls and money for sports equipment for Parkview Elementary. We also introduced at least one new family to our church--a single mother of 3 came for the fun and ended up coming back on Sunday for worship. Praise God for helping us "make a difference" in many different ways!

Friday, October 25, 2002

Tomorrow is Make a Difference Day." I admit to feeling ambivalent towards the day itself--it seems to me to balance between corporate cynicism and genuine good will. Of course, I'm sure that most of those taking part are heavily leaning toward the latter. My church is sponsoring "Hop, Skip and Jump for Kids" to benefit Parkview Elementary school in Washington, DC. They are a very needy school and I think this is a wonderful program that people on my Outreach Committee have developed. I'll be at church pretty much all day tomorrow, as I'm going to help set up, play, clean up, and I have my first Covenant Discipleship meeting too! It should be a glorious day, but please, pray for good weather for us.

I also wanted to share my pastor's sermon summary for this week. He prepares this every week, and given all that his happened this week with the sniper, I'm sure his message will be refreshing.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

I was hopeful on Monday when their was activity in Richmond, but it turned out to be nothing. Now it looks like there are real developments in the sniper investigation. From what I can tell, it was hubris that brought these guys down--by bragging about a crime they had committed in Montgomery, Alabama, they may have given the police all the information they needed.

And may God bless the person who identified the car in the rest area and called police!

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

As my reading list below indicates, I've been reading some of Tennyson's poetry. Yesterday, I started "In Memoriam A.H.H.," and thought the prologue a very pretty piece of Christian poetry.
Everyone has already seen the story of the ossuary that may have held St. James' bones, but now I'm wondering about the timing of the announcement. I just realized that today is the day the church commemorates James. Coincidence?
"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit"--Luke 12:35 (NRSV)
I reread this part of Luke's gospel yesterday as part of the Daily Prayer Online. This is one of those verses where Jesus speaks something that invites and challenges me to change my life in a fundamental way. It is easy to dismiss this and the ensuing verses as pretty poetry or water it down into the Boy Scout motto--"Be Prepared"--without any application to real life. As I went through the prayer, though, I found that God would not allow me this luxury.

Instead, I was asked to consider this verse seriously. What would it mean for me to live my life in such a way that I am "dressed for action?" As one of Jesus' servants, I am called to be prepared to do Jesus work wherever and whenever it needs to be done. My moods and inclinations cannot and should not leave me unprepared to take such actions whenever necessary. Even when Jesus was parched with thirst, he was prepared to minister to the Samaritan woman at the well. This morning, as I walked up the stairs from the subway, a man coming down the stairs was rudely shouldering people out of his way. I fumed about this for a good block as I finished my walk to work. Was I at that moment "dressed for action?" I don't think so. If he had knocked someone down, would I have been quick to aid the victim, or quick to denounce the rude man? I don't know, but I have little doubt what Jesus expects his servants to do.

And if I am "dressed for action," how do I keep my lamps lit? The idea of being a lamp for God is one of Jesus' favorite metaphor. To me, it sums up nicely the idea of servant leadership. If you have a lamp, you naturally become a leader (after all, who would put the light at the back of a group?). At the same time, though, your job is to light the way for yourself and others and to draw others to your light. In this manner, you serve those who you lead. By keeping my lamp lit all the time, I am not simply displaying preparation; instead I am in a constant state of servant leadership. With the two parts of this verse together, I am a transformed person, someone who lives always in the expectation of doing Jesus' work. Like the exhortation to pray without ceasing, this verse invites me to focus my whole life on serving the Lord.

So what do some of you think about this verse? How do you try to live your life in such a way that you are "dressed for action and have your lamps lit?"

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Sigh...I just posted something on Luke 12:35, but it seems to have vanished into cyber-space. Maybe I'll have time to try to reformulate my thoughts later.

Monday, October 21, 2002

This artifact may not prove anything to sceptics, but it's still mind-boggling to think about.
I have several things I want to blog about but I can't do justice to them all. The biggest thing is that they may have arrested someone in connection with the sniper shootings. A man was taken into custody in my hometown of Richmond, VA (my parents had been so concerned about me, then with the most recent shooting, I started worrying about them). If it is the sniper, then this story will just underscore the lack of reliabillity of some eye-witness accounts. It's a white Plymouth mini-van (not a full size, though with a similar look). What gets me though is that several people apparently had reported parts of a license tag, but this one has temporary 30 day tags--a detail no one mentioned. Still, I am hopeful they have put an end to this madness.

I'd also like to ask your prayers for my wife's safety as she travels on business the first part of this week. I also pray for me and my 2 boys that we may be safe and happy together while Mom's away.

Friday, October 18, 2002

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today is the day that much of the church celebrates St. Luke the Evangelist. The prayer I quoted is today's Collect from The Book of Common Prayer.

I have had a love affair with the BCP since before I became a Christian. While working on my Ph.D. (in Renaissance Literature), I read about Cranmer and decided to take a look at the BCP. I was instantly hooked by the beauty of his prose. After my conversion, my (former) pastor encouraged me to begin my devotions with the daily office of the BCP. I use the "traditional," though to tell the truth it isn't quite as beautiful to me as the original. Still, I like knowing that I'm reading in the Bible what others across the world are reading on the same day, and the service of the daily office is a good way for me to focus my prayers. The BCP has always seemed to me one of the great achievments of world literature; since my conversion it has meant much more.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Now what do we do? The U.S. seems prepared to go to war with Iraq who denies having weapons of mass destruction. But now North Korea (another member of the "axis of evil") admits that they have a nuclear program and have developed "more powerful weapons" (whatever that means). The development of such weapons is in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that North Korea signed, but the admission can be taken as a good sign. It would be interesting to watch how the Bush Administration and the rest of the world handles this crisis if it weren't so scary.

My prayer list is getting long. Thankfully, God has plenty of time to listen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Throughout my life, I've been a sporadic journaler (diarist, whatever). So I found this article about re-reading one's journal on a yearly basis to be interesting. Do many of you go back to read old entries?
Our youngest has a(nother) fever. Yesterday my wife stayed home with him and today it was my turn. Somehow, in gathering up him and his shoes and bottle to take him up for a diaper change, I pulled a muscle in my back. I had to call my wife to come back home to take care of both of us. I went to the doctor, and he told me to strech, take ibuprofen, and take it easy but not too easy. I should be better in a few days.

I like getting older.

I've added Xavier+ to my link bar. I have trouble linking sometimes (I think some routers dislike the plus sign), but it's always worthwhile when I'm successful.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

I have to admit that up to this point, the sniper shootings in the DC area have seemed strangely distant to me. Several people I work with live within a few miles of the original shooting spree, and I'm someone who has shopped at Michael's stores and paid no attention to the surroundings of the locations where I fuel my car. I've read many moving blog entries on how people feel about these sniper attacks--like MeanDean's at blogs4God and Pascale's at Both2And--but I haven't felt personnally involved. And I certainly haven't felt scared.

I still don't feel any fear about the sniper, but the latest shooting near Falls Church has changed my perception about personal involvement. The Home Depot where the sniper struck last night is one I have been to dozens of times (I can't begin to calculate how much money I've spent there!). Our first home was a 60+ year old home in Arlington, so we were constantly at Home Depot getting something for the house or the yard. A couple years ago, we moved further out in the suburbs, but I still go to church in the area and go by that store fairly often. Though the chances are miniscule, it is now distinctly possible that I know the victim. I doubt it, but the fact that I know the location so well and that I even could have known the victim have changed these attacks for me. I know my prayers sound different than they did before. In fact, Psalm 10 has more meaning for me now than ever before:
1 Why dost thou stand afar off, O LORD? Why dost thou hide thyself in times of trouble? 2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes which they have devised. 3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his heart, and the man greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD. 4 In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, "There is no God." 5 His ways prosper at all times; thy judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them. 6 He thinks in his heart, "I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity." 7 His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity. 8 He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the hapless, 9 he lurks in secret like a lion in his covert; he lurks that he may seize the poor, he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net. 10 The hapless is crushed, sinks down, and falls by his might. 11 He thinks in his heart, "God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it."

12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thy hand; forget not the afflicted. 13 Why does the wicked renounce God, and say in his heart, "Thou wilt not call to account"? 14 Thou dost see; yea, thou dost note trouble and vexation, that thou mayest take it into thy hands; the hapless commits himself to thee; thou hast been the helper of the fatherless. 15 Break thou the arm of the wicked and evildoer; seek out his wickedness till thou find none. 16 The LORD is king for ever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land. 17 O LORD, thou wilt hear the desire of the meek; thou wilt strengthen their heart, thou wilt incline thy ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Speaking of prayers, we had one answered last night--one that truly borders on a miracle. As I posted below, our cat had disappeared last Tuesday. We were certain she had gotten out (she's an indoor cat) and we were about to give up hope of finding her. Then last night my wife heard scratching in our living room. After a frantic search, she found our cat closed in a corner cupboard. She had been in their 6 days without food or water. I don't see how she could have survived that long without water, but she did. A vet once told a friend of ours (whose cat had gotten caught inside their walls) that a cat couldn't survive much more than 24 hours without water. Apparently, some can survive much longer than that. What's even more miraculous to me is that now she seems fine--a little thinner, perhaps--and is acting normally today. What we can't understand is why she hadn't made noise before. We are in that room fairly regularly, and because our kids have been sick, we've been home often too. Or course, we also can't understand why we didn't think to check there (actually, I know why--it's so rare we get anything out of there that we still don't know how it got open or closed with her inside). Anyway, we are praising God for returning our cat to us, but even more for caring for her through something that should have killed her.

Monday, October 14, 2002

Before you read the silliness below, I just wanted to send my heartfelt prayers out to the families and friends of those killed in Bali over the weekend. I have many Internet Friends from Australia and New Zealand, and they seem to have a high number among the victims, and so my prayers go out particularly to them.
Columbus Day...It's probably--no, definitely--my least favorite holiday on the calendar. I don't dislike it for any of those johnny-come-lately PC reasons. I just don't see what the guy did to deserve a holiday. Putting aside the fact that he is remembered for "discovering" a continent that had been inhabited for thousands of years, just try to imagine what he might have said when he finally struck land in the Carribean. As I imagine it, he turned to his crew and said, in his grandest voice, "Welcome to India." It would have been difficult for him to find a point on the globe further away from India! We teach our children that he convinced an ignorant Europe that the world was round and not flat (a canard if I've ever heard one) when in point of fact what he did was make the biggest navigational error in the history of the world. Now some people would forgive him and say that no one knew how big the Earth really was, so he can be forgiven this error. Those people would be wrong. Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of the earth pretty accurately about 1700 years before Columbus sailed. I'll give Columbus the benefit of the doubt and call him brave (though foolhardy might be a better description), but I will not call him a great navigator.

For that reason, I propose that we abolish Columbus Day, or at least rename it. As a replacement, I suggest we change the name of this holiday to Copernicus Day or even Kepler day. Anything but Columbus Day.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Lest anyone think that God doesn't have a well-honed sense of irony, on the same day that Congress gave President Bush power to wage war on Iraq, the Nobel Academy awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to former President Jimmy Carter. Just as we are preparing to toss the Middle East into further war, we are reminded of a person who had so much influence in bringing some peace to that region.
Last night, my three-year-old son put on a skit for me. In Sunday School last week, he learned about Moses and the Burning Bush, and he has a little story book to go with it. We've been reading the story book to us, and he began acting it out. So my wife encouraged him to do it as a skit. So here's what he did (actually, my wife did it with him...for the most part):

Son: We're Moses!
Mom: (whispering) What do you see?
Son: (covering eyes) A burning bush. We're scared.
Mom: (whispering) What do you hear?
Son: Talking (stands up). God is with us! We're not scared anymore.
Mom: (whispering) What does God tell Moses.
Son: Tell Pharoah to let my people go. C'mon, let's go (marches off)
Mom: (whispering) What does Moses say to Pharoah?
Son: Pharoah, will you let my people go please? [OK, so we've been working on manners :-)] The end.

It was very cute, but I have to admit that the presentation wasn't quite as orthodox as I've made it out to be. You see, between the point where he leaves the bush and goes to Pharoah, my son added a seen of his own:

Son: There's a mean bunny in the bush. I'm gonna crush it. Wanna see me crush the mean bunny, daddy? Ready, daddy?
Me: Uh, yeah. I'm ready.
Son: (stomping) I crushed the mean bunny...

I guess I'll worry later about him adding words to scripture :-)

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Make sure to check out this quotation from Abraham Lincoln on the President's power to wage war vs. that of congress (courtesy of Locust Eater). Thought provoking, as one would expect from that source.
The pastor of my church is away for a couple weeks on a mission in Honduras. He has recently been working with Honduran immigrants by helping them fill out forms, get medical treatment, and get other basic support. He is starting a local mission of attorneys and paralegals to help such people with their INS forms (if you are in the DC area and are interested, contact him). In working with these people, he has discovered that many men come to the United States to try to start a life here before bringing the rest of their families. As a result, many of them have little or no contact with relatives for long periods of time. So at his own expense, our pastor decided to make an effort to help these families reconnect. He has taken video messages of the people here and is now travelling back to their home villages where he will show the video to families and film return messages from the families to the immigrants. I think this is a wonderful act of love that will give these people hope and memories to help them through the long period of separation.

According to the State Department, Honduras is not the safest country to visit, particularly since he will not be staying in the tourist sections. So I as that you pray for his safety and the success of his mission trip.

I'd also like to ask a personal prayer. We haven't seen our cat, Cicely, since Tuesday morning. She is an indoor cat, and we are afraid she may have dashed outside while our housecleaner was here on Tuesday. That isn't like her, though (she has never really been interested in going outside), so we keep searching for her inside too, in case she is just sick. Anyway, she has been a part of our family for 10 years now, and so we are praying for her safe return.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

It's all going according to plan...

I scheduled today as a vacation day to get some things done around the house and get our youngest his 12 month shots. Then Sunday a.m., about 2:30, our oldest began coughing and had a fever. We kept him out of daycare yesterday, and today he probably could have gone, but since I'm home anyway...Then last night, about 2:30 (what's with that hour?!) our youngest woke up screaming. An hour later and he was finally back asleep. Then he slept until 10:00. So why take him to daycare only to pick him up a few hours later, right? The only reason I can write this now is thanks to Seseme Street for the older and a semi-frozen "boo-boo" cube for the latter.

I just wanted to thank Mute Troubadour for the welcome, and to welcome someone to my link bar: a daughter of Christ also trying to hear the Lord's call, Jen (aka This is Most Certainly True). Welcome, Jen. I look forward to reading about your journey with Christ.

Monday, October 07, 2002

No one told me, but apparently today is Blog about Poetry day (witness Sainteros and Overflow). So, in that spirit, I offer a little-known poem (and poet) about this month:


October is the treasurer of the year,
And all the months pay bounty to her store;
The fields and orchards still their tribute bear,
And fill her brimming coffers more and more.
But she, with youthful lavishness,
Spends all her wealth in gaudy dress,
And decks herself in garments bold
Of scarlet, purple, red, and gold.

She heedeth not how swift the hours fly,
But smiles and sings her happy life along;
She only sees above a shining sky;
She only hears the breezes' voice in song.
Her garments trail the woodlands through,
And gather pearls of early dew
That sparkle, till the roguish Sun
Creeps up and steals them every one.

--Paul Lawrence Dunbar(1872-1906), from Lyrics of Lowly Life

How many consecutive events makes a trend? That's right, my son and I went bike riding again yesterday (about 6 miles). If the weather could stay perfect and every day were a weekend, I'd be in great shape. We'll see how it goes...

As I said on the 4th, yesterday was "World Communion Sunday," and it was the first time I assisted in giving communion. It is amazing how something as simple as holding a loaf of bread and repeating the phrase, "The Body of Christ, given for you" can be so powerful. It was wonderful to see dozens of people--some friends, some strangers--to accept a place at the Lord's table. It was moving to hear the different responses to the taking of the bread, from the orthodox ("Thanks be to God") to the quotidian ("thank you"). But most of all, I felt exquisitely small and yet part of something infinitely large. There I was, anonymous me, serving at the Lord's table in the Church Universal. Praise God for the opportunity. It's not an experience I'll soon forget.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Well, it took a bit of work, but my wife and I took the kids for a bike ride today! OK, so the preparations took longer than the ride itself; still, now that the bikes are dusted (!), the tires are full of air, the rack is fitted to the car, and we know a good place to go, maybe it will become a habit.

Whoa, there, Russ, let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's just one ride, one bit of exercise. But it's a start.

Friday, October 04, 2002

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday in the United Methodist Church. This event was originally started by the Presbyterian Church during WW II as an interdenominational event. The UMC takes a special donation during this Sunday, but it also celebrates the Lord's Supper among believers worldwide. One of the things that distinguishes the UMC from other Christian denominations is its belief that Communion be open to all Christian believers, regardless of denomination. We welcome anyone to the Lord's table whose heart is right with God.

It is, therefore, a great honor that I will be assisting in the serving of Communion for the first time this Sunday. Our associate pastor who is finishing seminary this year is preparing the sacrament for the first time, and she invited me (along with 2 of her fellow seminarians) to assist her. I consider this quite a gift from her, and she has been very encouraging to me as I take steps toward becoming a minister myself. Communion for me has always been a time when I've felt most connected with the Church Universal. It is a wonderful feeling to know that as I take Communion, millions--even billions--of Christians around the world have taken or are preparing to take of the same meal. To be serving on a day that celebrates this sacrament around the world is a blessing, and I thank God for the opportunity.

I'm sure no one who is reading this is unaware of the murders that occurred in Maryland, and you've probably read MeanDean's summary. My prayers are with the families and friends of the victims, and with law enforcement as they try to catch a dangerous (group of?) criminal(s).

Thursday, October 03, 2002

I'm not a pundit. I have opinions, and I see a place for Chistianity in the political sector, but I don't see that as the focus of my ministry or my religious life. I never intended this cite to be a place for primarily political discourse. These days, that is getting more difficult.

So let me start by putting some cards on the table. I don't know that I'm an absolute pacifist, but I'm pretty close. I don't see anywhere in the Gospel where Jesus encourages us to violence. Violence of any type, it seems to me, should be entered into only with extreme sadness, if at all. I am opposed to war with Iraq as it is currently being debated, and I honestly don't know what would need to happen to make me "pro-war" in this instance. In the world of blogs, particularly Christian blogs, that probably makes me a minority. I wanted to lay that out before going on in the interest of honesty.

Because the latest comments by the administration are to my mind completely immoral. Essentially, the Bush administration is advocating the murder of Saddam Hussein. Call it assassination if it makes you feel better, but I prefer the more accurate word. It is now clear why the administration is uninterested in weapons inspections; they aren't really all that interested in Iraq's biological or nuclear weapons programs either (after all, we may have provided the germs). It's the man they want. Plain and simple.

I recognize that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous person. I recognize he likely attempted to assassinate the current president's father. But it's still murder they're advocating. Even if you want to translate the commandment "Thou shalt not commit murder" (to make war OK in certain instances), the Bible still prohibits this kind of action. It doesn't say that murder is permissible under certain circumstances. It doesn't matter to me how many high-minded, devout Christians have advocated murder in the past (Bonhoeffer, for instance), I still believe it is against God's word.

If we have learned anything in the "War on Terrorism," it should be that getting one person is not the answer. Killing or capturing Osama bin Laden would be a blow to al Qaeda and global terrorism, but it wouldn't make it go away. An Iraqi assassination of Hussein might make the Bush administration happy, but it wouldn't solve any of the root issues, and it wouldn't necessarily make Iraq a safer influence in the Middle East.

OK, that's all. I just had to get that off my chest.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

I just had one of those weird experiences...I was checking my referrer logs, and I had one from Google. It's a common practice to report how your name site shows up in odd Google searches (for example, once my site came up in a Google search for "w.b. yeats "love interest" "). Yesterday, though, someone searched...for me. They typed in my name, in quotes. "Russ Mayes" at google will yield 46 results, and the top 8 are all me. The question is, who's searching for me that doesn't know my email address already.

This is probably going to bug me all day...
Yesterday, I finished Blindness by Jose Saramago. It is a gut-wrenching, draining read, but it is worth every bit of time spent, every wince at painful details. The plot is fairly simple: a mysterious, trasmittable disease that causes blindness suddenly appears in a city. It spreads quickly, and the authorities attempt to stop it by placing a quarantine on the initial cases and those who had contact with them. Society is understandably paranoid about the cases, and there is some hysteria. The novel follows a small group of the initial cases as they go blind and then deal with that blindness.

In a sense, the novel is like a work of science fiction in that it lays out a premise (contagious blindness plagues a city) and then follows it logically. The difference between this novel and most works of science fiction is the ruthlessness with which Saramago follows his premise. The "society" that evolves among the blind in quarantine is savage, though it isn't clear that it's much better on the outside. Conditions quickly degenerate into unimaginable horror--dirt, illness, human waste, human cruelty all multiply as quickly as the cases of violence. Saramago adopts a very spare prose style with a matter of fact tone to describe the conditions. It would have been easy for his narratorial voice to get emotionally involved in the plight of the characters, but by resisting that temptation, he has made the novel all the more powerful. Similarly, by leaving the characters and location nameless, he allows the novel a more universal feel and yet allows the characters to distinguish themselves through their responses (rather than their backgrounds). There are times when the narrative voice takes on a "post-modernist" point of view (questioning how it could know certain things, etc.) which I did not think were necessary, though they didn't detract from the novel. Based solely on this work, it is little wonder that Saramago has such a good international reputation; if he has other works of this quality, one would have to include him among the best writers of the 20th century.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

I know I should do it? "Do what?" you ask. Exercise. There are numerous studies that tell us that 30 minutes of brisk walking is good for us--forget, for a minute, about the gym and all those buffed abs and flat tummies in the ads on TV--if walking isn't all it takes, at least it's a good start. I've heard all the excuses, but the one for me that is most difficult to get over is a lack of time. I commute an hour each way, and I'm lucky to get in 2 hours with my kids a day before bedtime. I should walk at work, but I convince myself that I'm too needed--that some problem only I could solve might arise--and that keeps me chained to my desk.

The worst part is that I am theologically certain that losing some weight, improving my overall health and simply treating my body better is the right thing to do. I have made prayer and meditation a regular part of my spiritual disciplines, and I want to add a regular fast. But I want to do it for the right reasons, and I don't think "dieting" is the right reason. If weight loss accompanies it, that is fine, but my reason has to be a focus on God. The only way I can see that I can begin regular fasts for the right reason is to begin exercising and modifying my eating habits on a regular basis. Then, having added exercise and temperence to my spiritual life, I can move on to fasting as a way to focus more on the Lord.

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