faith, life, depression, struggle
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
I've had a small-but-decent amount of surgery. Don't know the exact number, but less than 20 operations, for sure. Most of it succeeded in building up the damaged tissue in my face that I lost to a dog attack when I was five. (Grandfather's dog; came out of nowhere; and yes, with help I overcame my fear and now adore dogs.)
So, no big deal. Another taste of my failing flesh, in a life where the seconds are counted. However many more breaths I get, I thank God for each. None are promised; all are gifts.
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.There: Another deep breath, filling my chest. I hold it, and feel the sweetness of oxygen. I let it out, and feel peace in my heart ... a sinner redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ.
--James 4:13-14 (ESV)
Now playing: Sigur Rós - Heysátan
It just ain't so. Hasn't been for many Americans on the lower end of the economic scale for a long time, either. But myths die hard.
Economist Jared Bernstein has a new book out, Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries, in which he apparently examines the economic forces that are pressing down on American families. We're all much more keenly aware of broader economic trends now, it's true, but this has been happening over the course of years, as Bernstein points out.
Alternet.org, a left-leaning site with some very good content, has helpfully excerpted an important passage from Bernstein's book. As Bernstein points out:
What happened was that the real earnings of lots of people, mostly male people, so husbands in this case, started to slip. At the same time, some of the very costs mentioned -- a home and a college education -- grew a lot faster than average inflation.
Also, over the last 30 years, the job market has opened up much more for women, who have made impressive gains that have helped to offset their husbands' wage stagnation.
But it also means that family members are spending a lot more time in the job market. That's bad, or at least it's stressful.
Here's another way of looking at it, from chapter 1 of Bernstein's book:
The economy grew by 15 percent between 2000 and 2006, but the inflation-adjusted weekly earnings of the typical, or median, worker were flat (down 0.7 percent).At or near the top of the list of "obvious things" is the skyrocketing price of nearly everything considered essential to obtaining any level of survival and/or success in our society and system: a college education, health care, gasoline, and increasingly, food.
Now, I am not one to imagine that government can solve that problem. If anything, government can make it much worse (except for health care -- I don't see how free market principles can bring costs down in what is a supply-driven market; that works best when demand drives price, and that just ain't so with health care, nor will it ever be).
I bring this up in part because I used to be a member of a church where a very traditional model of the family was espoused. I agree with much of what was taught; but this piece of their teaching, that dual-income families were an option Christians are better off opting out of, simply didn't reflect the reality of the economy, at least from where I sat and still sit. Most people don't have a choice, and that's only becoming more true by the day.
It's going to get a lot rougher, too. But then, perhaps that's just the kind of test our faith in God needs.
UPDATE: Just stumbled across this Brett Ahrends piece in The Wall Street Journal. A few more inflationary figures to measure against that flatlining income growth (all figures current/annual):
- Cereal: 8%
- Flour and rice: 13%
- Milk, cheese, bananas, peanut butter: >10%
- Eggs: 30%
Ahrends recommends actually stocking up on food as an investment. Since the pressures on prices are not going away (growing middle class demand in China and India; conversion of farm lands to biofuel production, straining supply), it's not a bad idea, as he puts it, to consider this:
Economic necessity dictates that food preservatives, once banished to the closet of inauthenticity, have been let back out to play in our crisis economy. And the lowly Crunchberry may one day soon hold more trade value than our sinking dollar.
If this seems a stretch, ponder this: The emerging bull market in agricultural products is following in the footsteps of oil. A few years ago, many Americans hoped $2 gas was a temporary spike. Now it's the rosy memory of a bygone age.
The good news is that it's easier to store Cap'n Crunch or cans of Starkist in your home than it is to store lots of gasoline. Safer, too.
Now playing: Popol Vuh - Du tränke mich mit deinen Küssen
The friend laughs, too. "I always tell the folks at the airport that I'm going to light that thing up," the friend says. "I've got it front and back, too."
"We've both got new metal in there to replace the old," the inpatient says, laughing. Everyone chuckles again.
"Plenty more like us," says the friend. There's a pause. "Does it bother you to have that tube around you while they're taking pictures?"
"Yeah, it does," the old inpatient says. "I have to pray to get through it. I don't like having things behind me or around me that get too close, or if I can't see 'em good."
"I'm sure that's the war, too," says the friend. "I'm the same way."
They're both WWII and/or Korean War vets, it occurs to me, given their age. Doesn't matter which one; they bear their scars without pride or shame, and with no more comment than that.
Given how little men of their generation talk about their war experiences, I feel like I've been privy to deep secrets. I haven't really, of course; their words are restrained, even in the saying of them. The horrors behind every syllable remain in their memories, I have no doubt.
The conversation winds around easy topics in a genial flow: a good steakhouse in a neighboring county ... why Yanceyville Road doesn't actually go to Yanceyville (no one knows, but it may have to do with the fact that you can get to Yanceyville without too many more turns from Yanceyville Road, as the friend offers) ... comparing handicapped access at their respective churches ... a brief mention of Joel Osteen's recent visit to our area, about which what isn't said shows real grace in restraint ... how hard it is to eat right when you know where to get "a good piece of fried flounder."
I keep thinking of the metal in the bodies of these two men. Shrapnel? Perhaps. Definitely a plate in the friend's head, as he later describes later it, from a grenade blast. They fought through it, lived through it, and they share it now as the old inpatient fights his battle against cancer.
I think of all the vets living among us here who have artificial limbs, or parts of their bodies (including their minds) that don't work as they should because of what the war left them with. I think of something Jesus Christ said:
" ... For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. ..."
The war and occupation of Iraq is a case of failure to count the cost. When Gen. Eric Shinseki first estimated that the cost of the war could exceed $100 billion, he was roundly criticized by Bush administration officials (Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, et al.) who promised that Iraq's oil production would cover whatever costs arose. But they didn't count the cost. They had no idea how to.
They were not merely wrong; they were criminally, insanely misleading because they didn't know, and pretended they did. They lied. And who is paying the price for that? In the smallest way, we are with financial resources we do not now have but are borrowing against our future. In the largest way, the people of Iraq -- and our soldiers.
Point being this: Before we send our military anywhere for any reason, our leaders should be responsible enough to count the cost. All of it. Worst-case scenario. Make *that* case before us as a nation. Then let us look at our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives, and ask how much metal they'll have to carry around in them -- the ones who live through it -- for these policy goals. Let's count the cost first, and let's do it every time.
And let's revive the Constitution, while were at it. Congress, and Congress alone, has the sole power to declare war. Our Founding Fathers -- far wiser than anyone crawling through Washington D.C. right now -- knew all too well how much it cost to take on foreign adventures. That's why we have, or had, a balance of powers built into our Constitution. Both parties are responsible for the mess we're in; it may take both to fix it, but it must be fixed.
The era of the executive branch wars must come to an end now.
Now playing: Shearwater - La Dame Et La Licorne
Saturday, April 26, 2008
And I'm so blessed. The health care people I've met have been terrific, both as professionals and as warm, caring, good-humored people. I love to chat with folks, so I've found much joy in sharing little moments with people. God has showered me with love through their healing efforts.
Word to the wise: Want to make friends in North Carolina? Wear your Ernest T-shirt. Black, white, even Hispanic folks love Mayberry! (I relish the joy of hearing a Hispanic man imitate Ernest T. Bass with his accent.) A little girl excitedly yells, "It's Ernest T.!" An older black lady and I trade Ernest T. lines and just fall over laughing with each one. We did this scene, much to the delight of her collagues:
Ernest T.: The universal language of joy.
All I can add: "You ain't heard the last of Ernest T. Bass!"
Now playing: Lilium - Angels
Thursday, April 24, 2008
In this election season, it's hard not to think of the many factors that bind us together and separate us as a nation of Americans. It's also hard not to think that the latter is growing, while the former is growing smaller. It's not just the red state-blue state divide; really, it's more enclaved than that, even. It's neighborhood by neighborhood, core issue by core issue. And there doesn't seem to be much inclination to speak across the divides.
University of Arkansas political science professor Todd Shields has an interesting comment on this in connection with a just-published book he co-authored with Harvard's D. Sunshine Hillygus:
“The idea of a national election has expired, and the notion that the president takes office with a mandate from the public is a joke in today's presidential election,” Shields said. “The public is not voting on the same issues. Thanks to sophisticated campaign technology, polls and targeted messages, my campaign experience as a white male will be very different than my neighbor, an African American mom.”Hillygus and Shields have a new book out that explores this in detail, called The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Political Campaigns. It sounds like a fascinating and very timely read.
I don't think that's due to major differences between what we conservative white guys need and what moderate black moms, elderly Inuits, liberal married Hispanic grad students, or anyone else needs. Healthy food, clean air and water, good infrastructure (including education), economic opportunity -- that could be a long list, of course, but I'd wager both groups would check off many of the same needs. So what's different?
Everything else. Values. Priorities. Principles. Communication styles. Not that they're diametrically opposed; they're just emphasized in varying ways, and those variances create enormous division.
Moreover, all of that goes into the stew of how those needs are communicated -- rather, spun -- by the political class. There is much hay to be made driving home our differences, and the more wedge issues and battleground states become the keys to winning elections, the more the media focuses in on whatever groups are being identified by campaign strategists, and the more the rest of us check out of the discussion. (I wonder if "battleground states" is getting too broad a concept, even -- are we soon to confront "battleground counties"?)
And the more diverse our nation becomes, the more enclaved we get. Getting back to what Sheffield said ... Since we latch on to those who share what we hold dearest, we're getting bunkered up pretty tightly. That's the thesis Bill Bishop and Robert G. Cushing explore in another new book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. As Alan Ehrenhalt notes in his Wall Street Journal review:
In Mr. Bishop's view, resorting is what happens when individuals in a society become more affluent, better educated and freer to make their own personal and political choices. But he also believes that the Big Sort has been a form of escape. As the country attracts more and more immigrants, and as large metropolitan areas become multiracial and multilingual, people feel a strong desire to retreat to the safety of smaller communities where they can live among those who look, think and behave like themselves.I think this is the hinge of the problem: We no longer believe that other Americans even share the same values as we do. And in many cases, that's actually true. Increasingly, we don't speak the same language (or see a reason to); don't share a common understanding (however fluid it may be) of our history; and certainly don't agree on what our goals should be as a nation.
"Americans," Mr. Bishop writes, "lost their sense of a nation by accident in the sweeping economic and cultural shifts that took place after the mid-1960s. And by instinct they have sought out modern-day recreations of the 19th-century 'island communities' in where and how they live." Not red and blue states, he is quick to insist; he calls that cliché an illusion. The reality is red and blue wards and precincts, suburbs and counties.
Why is this? I imagine that the reasons are manifold, and 50 different people would give you 50 very different lists -- which illustrates the problem. If we can't even agree on what the issues are, or how to characterize them, what chance do we have of making any headway against the problems that face us?
I give Barack Obama credit for at least articulating the possibility that we can get past this, but I'm afraid I don't believe it. I really don't think there's any reason to believe it. Eventually, even Sen. Obama will have to roll up his sleeves and get down to the dirty business of legislating from the Senate or administering from the Executive Office, depending on how the '08 election turns out (ditto his rivals).
Regardless of who wins, the many neighborhoods across this nation that don't even speak to each other, even in an implied sense, will dash the admirable sentiment behind Obama's campaign slogan, "Together we can," on the rocks of reality. There is no "together," and there are many, many "we's" in the dis-United States of America.
I take great comfort in knowing that ...
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.... and ...
--Gal. 3:28-29 (ESV)
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
--1 Cor. 12:12-13 (ESV)
So where I see division and conflict, strife and competition, God sees the gathering of His flock from every tribe and every nation. That's how I avoid despair when I think of these things: by turning my eyes anew to the cross.
Now playing: Black Cobra - Lazarus
Monday, April 21, 2008
But that would indeed be naive, as David Barstow's thorough investigative piece in yesterday's New York Times makes clear. They're not just talking heads; they're shills for defense contractors, with a decided financial interest in a) parroting the administration's talking points in order to keep their access to the Pentagon's inner workings, so they can b) cash that in for their clients. Denials abound, of course. But Barstow details lie after lie these talking heads mouthed at the insistence of their gatekeepers in the Pentagon. It's sickening. As Barstow documents:
The Pentagon’s regular press office would be kept separate from the military analysts. The analysts would instead be catered to by a small group of political appointees, with the point person being Brent T. Krueger, another senior aide to Ms. Clarke. The decision recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism. Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.Those last references point to the payment of columnists, such as Armstrong Williams, by government agencies (in Williams' case, the Dept. of Education, to promote the No Child Left Behind initiative) to write glorified press releases on behalf of the Bush administration's programs. The TV segments included fake reports by non-journalists, such as Karen Ryan, to praise Medicare reform and other Bush programs. The Pentagon's paid newsfeed to Iraqi media has been covered at length elsewhere.
Particularly chilling is then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's cynical manipulation of a select crew of "analysts" who were continually fed talking points -- and dutifully repeated them on air so they could keep their access. The punishment for veering from the party line was loss of access to the inner sanctum, as several shills found.
This is, of course, business as usual in the fetid swamp that is Washington, D.C. What's particularly telling -- and galling -- about this episode is the naked greed, the utter lack of candor, and appalling lack of honor among a few of our nation's more public former military leaders.
Our men and women in uniform deserve much, much better. These men should be ashamed.
Now playing: The Sound - Golden Soldiers
I helped a friend from church move a washer and dryer for another friend at church. Nothing too complicated, except I split my shorts from stem to stern while hauling the washer up the steps (and what a glorious sound and feeling that is). Whatever dignity I imagined myself to have was easily shattered, and I invented new ways to stand strategically obscured from the common field of vision.
So, I'm driving home, hoping I can make it those few miles to remedy the sudden exposure ... looking forward to going to the theatre to see an adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry IV (both parts in one package) with a friend, when my recently excised ear melanoma wound starts spurting blood. Not quite a Lone Wolf and Cub-style roaring font, but enough of a fountain effect where I grabbed a nearby T-shirt and pressed it to my head. Fortunately, I was driving by an ER as it happened, and pulled in without further incident. All was treated in short order, and I was released with a few new stitches and some shared laughs with the ER staff. As the security guard observed, "You're falling apart, huh?" Yeah, that's me! Still, a pretty good day.
Why pretty good? My theatre plans were shot. My back hurt. My shorts were split all the way around. I was feeling ill all the sudden. So why pretty good? Because I had spent a good afternoon doing something useful together with people I genuinely care about: brothers and sisters in our church. I thank God for them. It is wonderful to be useful to them, and to be held in prayer by them as I begin fighting this cancer.
I am blessed beyond belief. God has ministered tenderly to my heart through them, through very ordinary events, even with minor disasters (split pants, bleeding ears) along the way. I'm falling apart in some ways, truly, but He is holding me together with many, many hands.
Bottom photo: Thad Zajdowicz
Now playing: WCPE
In short, even with the much-hyped "surge," we're exhausting our national security resources on an unwinnable military adventure. As the Sacramento Bee's Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott quote from the report:
"Despite impressive progress in security, the outcome of the war is in doubt," said the report. "Strong majorities of both Iraqis and Americans favor some sort of U.S. withdrawal. Intelligence analysts, however, remind us that the only thing worse than an Iraq with an American army may be an Iraq after a rapid withdrawal of that army.
"For many analysts (including this one), Iraq remains a 'must win,' but for many others, despite obvious progress under General David Petraeus and the surge, it now looks like a 'can't win.' "
The financial cost of this war will become more apparent as our economy falters, but the real cost in terms of national security will manifest over time. Suffice it to say that the U.S. will have a hard time ginning up support for more military interventions in the future -- a good thing, in my view, in terms of net results; but at what a terrible cost to Americans and Iraqis alike.
Iraq's plainly corrupt government faces multiple insurgencies as "external" threats and its own rampant corruption as its chief internal threat. That is a cultural problem, as much as anything, and there is nothing we can do about that (save for expending even more blood and treasure on forestalling the inevitable collapse).
Meanwhile, the Taliban has been resurgent in Afghanistan for two years, and the U.S. now anticipates a spring offensive against our troops some time this spring (assuming it hasn't started already). No real surprise here; a General Accounting Office report on our efforts in Waziristan assessed in detail our total failure to execute a coherent foreign policy in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. As terrorism authority Douglas Farah points out:
Mind you, the Taliban and its al Qaida support network were nearly routed back in 2002, before the bumbling Bush administration (and its chief architects of utter failure, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) diverted vital resources to Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with the terror network that launched the 9/11 attacks. We devastated bin Laden with our initial raids in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan; we revived him by invading Iraq. Almost makes you wonder what the goals of our "war" on terrorism really are.
Few in NATO, including U.S. leaders, appear willing to face the fact that the war in Afghanistan is growing to be one of the longest in our history and could be one of the costliest. Not just in economic terms, but because no one has been willing to commit the resources to win the war, despite the fact it was nearly won four years ago. The cost of not finishing the job is staggering.
The Taliban, in a move the seemed inconceivable in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, is back, moving easily through the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with secure supply lines, money from heroin and other criminal activities (ransoms paid for foreigners included), and a will to win.
I continue to pray for our military personnel deployed in these hotspots, and I continue to admire their valor and service to our nation, even as I decry the unconstitional misuse of our fighting forces by yet another in a long line of rogue administrations.
Now playing: Bain Wolfkind - Burning On The Brink
Friday, April 18, 2008
--James 2:26 (ESV)
In our weekly Bible study group, we've gone back and looked at the Greek words in this passage (among many others in our study of James), and we've seen that the word for “spirit” in this passage is the same word used for “breath.” We saw that using “breath” as a (temporary) substitute for “spirit” in this passage conveys an even more intimate sense of the comparative relationship being described here. To wit, if you are have real life, your body has real breath; if you have real faith, your faith results in good deeds.
Now, it’s true that good deeds are hardly unique to us Christians. That’s obvious. It's the motivation behind the works that God measures, as Scripture makes clear repeatedly. Works alone account for no one's salvation; the heart must be personally and intimately directed toward God, through Jesus Christ.
I received a moment of "blessed assurance" of my faith yesterday in a "small" way. I went to an appointment with an ENT physician, who will be performing the wide-angle excision to remove more of the cancerous tissue from my ear (and possibly performing a sentinel node biopsy along with that). The office manager of this small practice was extremely harried, having obviously way too much to do and not enough time to manage it all. The mood in the office was pretty dark for this reason, and I was a little tense, my mood darkened a little, as I waited for my appointment. But once I had the opportunity to deal directly with this lady, I found to my delighted surprise that she is very personable, very warm, and responded just that way to my smile and small talk. It made all the difference in my mood. My brief meeting with the doc was very productive, and as I left the office, I had another nice exchange with the lady "out front."
Now, I know I didn't do one thing to change her mood. But I know she did change mine -- or the Spirit, working through us both, perhaps softened us both, built that moment in the midst of a tense day for her and the agitation I was feeling over my diagnosis and the many unknowns hovering around my health right now.
It struck me, driving home, that every day is made up of many such “small” moments where we communicate with each other in public places. God has given me a sense of awareness where other people's moods are concerned, and I try to engage them with gentle tidbits of shared laughter, warmth, or whatever we can find in a few seconds to latch onto. And my heart warms when it happens, as it often does. I am blessed, and fulfilled in some not-so-small way, when God inclines me to care about a grocery store clerk, or medical office manager, or postal delivery person, or whomever. They're all His creations, all bearers of His image. And as Jesus reminds us,
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant) does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another."--John 15:12-17 ESV
In these encounters I experience every day, I feel joy in sharing in moments of kindness, humor, consideration ... however one might characterize those small moments. This does not come naturally to me; I was an angry, semi-misanthropic atheist for many years before the Lord stirred me to faith in Him. So, I find assurance in the breath I breathe, knowing that the Spirit works in me and in so many others for the glory of God, which is the source of my joy always.
Top image: (c) Ian Britton | FreeFoto.com
Now playing: Popol Vuh - The Christ Is Near
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Good thing the Son of Perdition was missing one critical digit. Today, we're still safe from the Mark of the Biscuit.
Lest anyone think I'm making too light of prophecy or the eventual end of this world (and no matter what you believe, that is going to happen) ... I'm not. Honestly. What tends to crack me up, however, are the endless scans for signs of the coming return of our Lord (which I believe is going to happen, of course -- but I have no idea when, and neither does anyone else, and every guess/"vision" thus far has been consistently wrong) and the furious efforts to proclaim prophetic authenticity among certain of my fellow believers.
Thing is, we're not called to do that. The Bible informs us that no one knows when He will come again. The Bible is very clear, however, on how we're to live until throughout our lives, regardless, and it's not with our heads buried in newspapers, shower fungi, or fast-food receipts looking for signs of the coming Lion of Judah. Yes, He's coming back; yes, we are to live confident of that fact, while loving our enemies, submitting to the Lord all things, forgiving without end, humbly serving one another, and keeping our eyes on the cross every step of the way.
A tall order? The tallest, indeed. Impossible, in fact, save for His constant aid and comfort, strength and love. And for that we are to pray continually.
And as we do so, thank God for good biscuits!
H/T: My buddy Jan
Now playing: Nurse With Wound - Two Shaves and a Shine (Concerto for Bouzouki and 3 Piece Rock Group In 93 Six Second Segments)
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
He told us about a C.S. Lewis account of praying for a colleague to receive faith for years. Finally, Lewis prevailed upon the man to attend church with him. But Lewis was dismayed to learn that the sermon would cover Gen. 5, the genealogy of Adam to Noah. How, Lewis wondered, will this man hear the good news of the Gospel today?
Well, Lewis later asked the man what he thought, and was surprised to learn that the man had indeed come to faith in Christ. Through Gen. 5? Lewis wondered. What was in that passage that could possibly lead someone to Jesus Christ? The man answered that he kept hearing "...and he died..." after each name, and it occurred to him that he was going to die, too. Then what?
I'm sure I've fumbled the details of that story somewhere, but the point remains for me. All the more so, as I learned Monday morning that I've been diagnosed with stage III melanoma. Don't know more than that yet; I meet with an oncologist later today to begin the journey of diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. I feel good, and I'm ready to fight this thing.
But it did put me back in touch, in a more immediate sense, with mortality. And I'm grateful for that. I'm more keenly aware of the Spirit's hand in my life now, and that's a wonderful thing. I have no idea how all this will turn out, obviously, but at some point I will die, as will we all.
As the writer of Hebrews put it:
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Heb. 9:27-28 (ESV)I do look forward, anxiously, to the day when He returns to shine the light of the truth on all of creation. His judgment will remove all that stands opposed to Him; His mercy will save all that cries out for Him. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Top image (c) Ian Britton | FreeFoto.com
Now playing: Ulver - Doom Sticks
Friday, April 11, 2008
I am reminded of that strip every time I visit Garfield Minus Garfield:
Now playing: Isis - Hive Destruction
Well, there's a problem with acting in haste, no matter how good our intentions: Call it the law of unintended consequences. To counter the impending doom, the U.S. and many other nations have been pursuing biofuels as a purportedly superior environmental alternative to those awful fossil fuels. But are they actually better for the environment? Increasingly, the evidence suggests the contrary -- that they're much worse.
The problems are significant. The industries supporting ethanol production (and other biofuel sources) are not only sucking the food supply dry, driving prices dangerously high for the world's poor; they are also razing irreplaceable habitat, especially that massive carbon sink called the Amazon rainforest. Michael Grunwald lays out the case for bio-foolishness in in Time magazine.
Now, to the extent science and reason have anything to do with policy (and we all know that it's a small influence, at best), we should immediately disengage from subsidizing ethanol and any other biofuels until we have more information about the total environmental impact of manufacturing and using these alternatives.
That won't happen, of course; there is now a large industry built up around ethanol in the U.S., along with powerful lobbies to protect both the subsidy gravy train and every other protective device the feds can afford it. As Grunwald points out, it's all coming out of your wallet.
Of course, it's important to point out that there are significant meteorologists and climate scientists who, in spite of Al Gore's insistence, do not believe the planet is warming at all at this point -- rather, that it's been cooling since 1998. Among them is Steve McIntyre, the climatologist who completely debunked the data accuracy and predictive reliability of the infamous Mann "hockey stick" model (except for the true believers, of course).
Honestly, I'm not sure what to think, and regardless, I see great virtue in taking measured, reasonable "green" steps (recycling where it makes sense, reducing emissions, finding new ways to create energy that has less environmental impact, etc.) to nurture habitats and the earth's extremely complex climate.
All images (c) Ian Britton | FreeFoto.com
Now playing: Blue Öyster Cult - (Don't Fear) The Reaper
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I admit up front that I have some issues with the media's sudden obsession with overweight/obesity as a national health crisis. Yes, obesity has been linked to serious health complications. The sticky wicket in that equation, though, is the word "linked." "Linked" does not necessarily mean "caused by" or "directly implicated in," even. But much of the research is geared toward heaping blame on everyone who's overweight -- it's one of the last acceptable points of discrimination and public shaming. Even businesses are framing obesity in terms of bottom-line costs to profitability, again, rooted in some very faulty assumptions about what obesity actually causes. (Sandy Szwarc, an R.N. and health care journalist who blogs at Junkfood Science, does a great job of evaluating the consistently overheated reporting on weight issues, the unproven assumptions of much obesity "research," and the often unintended consequences of our growing anxiety over BMI tables, fad diets, and alarmist health care reporting.)
Where will all this lead? One possibility is Japan's new policy of punishing businesses that have too many overweight workers may indicate the direction of the future.
Now, that's not justification for failing to take care of oneself. It is also true that it makes good sense to exercise regularly and eat wisely. Leading a healthy life, to the extent it's possible for each of us, means moderation above all. It is unwise to eat like a glutton; it is also unwise to exercise so intensely you injure yourself, or starve yourself to get the body type you want. Both extremes have had tragic consequences for young people, especially.
I'm a big fellow. I have been losing weight very gradually, and hope to lose a bit more, too -- but that's not the point of exercise for me. I enjoy the way it makes me feel, both lifting weights and getting some aerobic work in (stationary bikes, treadmills, etc.) along the way. Even though I don't look all that dramatically different from my heavy frame before I started exercising earnestly again (back in October 2006), I can tell a huge difference in my fitness, my mood, and energy levels. But I'm still a big fellow. I have a gut. But I feel very good -- healthy, energetic, strong, and vital -- and my basic health numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, etc.) are all within healthy ranges.
So I would encourage everyone to get some exercise, particularly if you don't get much (or any) now. Nothing dramatic; just get up and walk. I went through a few years of being a total couch potato, and I'm glad I got up and got moving again -- very slowly at first, taking it one step at a time. That, along with some slight improvements in my diet and getting regular examinations from my doctor, have helped me immensely.
Well, it turns out there are more than merely short- and long-term health benefits to doing this. A newly published study onfirms previous research that found that taking care of yourself leads to significantly better health later in life. More than that, this study finds, it may save you a significant amount of money at a time when you're living on a fixed income -- your senior years -- by preventing what are called "health shocks," those sudden discoveries of serious illness that take an enormous toll on one's health and pocketbook. That's no guarantee, of course, but it may help.
Now, back to where I started: responsibility to ourselves and to others. That should begin with taking care of one's own health. As a Christian, I see this as part of our responsibility as caretakers of God's dominion; His creation doesn't end where our own bodies begin, after all. We are to take care of our bodies to the best of our ability by making healthy choices wherever we can.
But we're also not to worry about it. Not everyone has the genetic wherewithal or the ability to slim down to professional athlete proportions -- or Body Mass Index (BMI) table dictates, for that matter. Good health comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Yet, increasingly, the definition of "good health" seems to be narrowing all the time, and conformity to this narrowed definition seems to be what is demanded increasingly by a vested chorus of pharma companies, employers and insurers, and health product manufacturers.
(This is another example of "cui bono?" There is a lot of money to be made in providing "solutions" to our nation's "obesity crisis," and it is a good idea to keep an eye on who's sponsoring every initiative, legislative or otherwise, that comes down the pike. Regardless of whether it's for- or non-profit, the bottom line is the main objective of every organization; your health is, at best, a parallel consideration. For example, consider the big push to make bariatric surgery and laposcropy more widely prescribed treatments for obesity -- never mind that the long-term success rates for both are completely unknown, and the side effects of either approach can be terrible.)
As always, it behooves us as consumers and human beings to stay informed and alert. Eat healthy? Yes, absolutely. Exercise regularly? You bet. You owe it to yourself, your pocketbook, and if you're a believer, to God, as well.
But get plenty of rest, keep stress to a minimum, and enjoy your life, too. Panic (especially the media-fueled variety) is a poor solution to any problem. If you need to make changes (as I did, and still do), by all means, do so; but take it one small step at a time, enjoying each step you have the ability to make for what it is.
As for all the health care scares out there, remember: We're living longer now than at any point we can measure in our history, especially here in the West. So take care of yourself, but don't let any of it worry you.
Now playing: WCPE
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Still, there is a strong current of the individual embedded in our Constitution, all of our founding documents, and for us Christians, in our faith, as well. It's balanced by the common weal, as reflected in our need for each other as a society, as a family, and as a church or community of faith. There is a definite tension between the two.
Sharon Begley has an interesting article in Newsweek that points out an amazing difference in how we assess what's in our field of vision that seems to draw a line between East (as in Asia and the Pacific Rim) and West (Europe, North America): Westerners notice the dominant objects and organize by classification; Easterners pay more attention to the background elements, and organize by relationship. (I don't buy the pathogen explanation for this entirely, although that may have some influence; culture is always much more complex than its natural influences alone would suggest.)
I am thinking of what I've been noticing in watching the films of Yasujiro Ozu recently. Ozu made many films after World War II that focus on the family and the home; they're "small" movies in the sense that the stories they tell are predominantly character-driven, involving very mundane plots of finding suitable mates for children, worrying about who's going to take care of aging parents, etc. But that's what's so appealing about them, too. No personal calamities; no major epiphanies. Just ordinary people living together as families, colleagues, friends, and neighbors.
That's a familiar context. What isn't, so much, to my Western sensibilities is the overriding concern for the family's well-being in every decision made, no matter how small it may seem to my eyes. That's been a real eye-opener for me, particularly as a single person living alone (except for cats).
My relationship with God is personal, in the person of Jesus Christ. My prayers to Him are private. Yet every Sunday we gather together, as a church family, and we have a shared relationship with God and each other, and corporate prayer. My soul thirsts for Sundays, to renew these connections and experience God's love anew through my friends, my brothers and sisters in the faith, through my shepherding elders and our pastor.
I am grateful that God permits me time alone, to reflect and take care of the things I feel a loving obligation toward. And I am grateful for every point of contact with my own family and my church family, who remind me that I am never alone in this walk. So, the collective and the individual, the dominant image and the background items, the classification and the relationships ... we're called to all of it, it seems to me, and we need God's grace to maintain it all, to keep it all growing and healthy.
Top image: (c) Ian Britton FreeFoto.com
Now playing: Sonne Hagal - The Runes Are Still Alive
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
You probably know Cooper best as the producer who brought the original King Kong (1933) to the big screen. Like many other people, I was blown away the first time I saw this movie as a child, around 1966 or '67. Aside from its obvious appeal, King Kong introduced much of the world to stop-motion animation. (By the way, that's Cooper with co-producer/director and fellow adventurer Ernest Schoedsack piloting the plane that shoots Kong off the Empire State Building.)
But -- while very significant -- that was just one small part of Cooper's extraordinary life. Cooper was a master aviator and World War I air ace who, shot down by the Germans, spent the rest of the "Great War" in a POW camp. In 1919-21, he flew as a mercenary aviator for the famed Kosciuszko Flying Squadron in the Polish-Soviet War. He was shot down again, and again found himself in a POW camp.
From there, Cooper and moviemaking/adventure partner Ernest Schoedsack hit the road with their camera in tow, documenting their amazing journeys -- including the one they shared with the Bakhtiari people of then-Persia in their arduous journey to take their cattle to seasonal feeding grounds, high up in the Zagros Mountains, in Grass (1925). Cooper and Schoedsack continued making films, hitting the heights of cinematic success with King Kong.
Cooper became a prime investor and promoter of the nascent three-strip Technicolor process, ushering in the first full-color film process, and later in his career was instrumental in promoting Cinerama -- the three-projector, wraparound theatrical technology.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Cooper enlisted as a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Force and served as chief of staff to Gen. Claire Chenault's China Air Task Force (of "Flying Tigers" fame). He moved on to bomber command duties, flying missions throughout the South Pacific. He would retire as a Brigadier General.
Cooper also formed Argosy Pictures with director John Ford, and the pair released some of Ford's greatest films under that shingle: Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, et al.
Merian C. Cooper was an American original, and it was a joy to watch this tribute to his unique spirit.
Now playing: Ry Cooder - One Cat, One Vote, One Beer
Monday, April 7, 2008
"The woman is the mother of a nation. He who rapes a woman rapes an entire nation."
That last item is coming up for renewed debate, thank goodness, with a new book that reexamines the roots of U.S. involvement in World War II -- or as it's sometimes called, "the good war." Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke takes Churchill and FDR to task for getting the U.S. involved in the Second World War, tearing large gashes in the reputations of both secular saints in the process. Baker is hardly the first writer to point out the antisemitism of both men, the military aggressions they shared that actually did propel the bombing of Pearl Harbor (it was no "sneak attack," as so often gets repeated, but a provoked and expected eventuality), Churchill's ill-concealed fondness for fascism (until it no longer suited his purposes), or the utterly totalitarian maneuvering both were willing to engage in to ensure America's entry into the war. As reviewer Mark Kurlansky points out in his review:
Baker shows that the Japanese, as early as 1934, were complaining that Roosevelt was deliberately provoking them. In January 1941, Japan protested the U.S. military buildup in Hawaii. Joseph Grew, our ambassador to Japan, reported rumors that the Japanese response would be a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Yet according to World War II mythology, America was blissfully sleeping, unprepared for war, when caught by surprise by the dastardly "sneak attack." (Isn't it curious that Asians carry out "sneak attacks," whereas Westerners launch "preemptive strikes"?) A year earlier, Baker shows, Roosevelt began planning the bombing of Japan -- which had invaded China, but with which we were not at war -- from Chinese air bases with American planes and, when necessary, American pilots. Pearl Harbor was a purely military target, but Roosevelt wanted to bomb Japanese cities with incendiary bombs; he'd been assured that their cities would burn fast, being made largely of wood and paper.
Baker apparently even points to facts that suggest that the war's nightmarish destruction may have been minimized had the Allies not pursued arms sales to the Nazis so wantonly in the 1930s. A bold pronouncement; I'm anxious to read his arguments.
I doubt his arguments will be the real issue here, however. As the (London) Independent's Boyd Tonkin points out,
even the most vehement unbeliever treats as holy some kinds of story, myth or hero. And it's precisely these untouchable taboos that ought to be subject to probing and persistent doubt. Those of us who cherish the right to give offence should from time to time enjoy the taste of our own medicine.
I haven't read Baker's book, but I'm anxious to. I imagine that he'll be impaled by insinuations of appeasement apologetics, underestimating threats, et al. Fair enough, provided an actual factual case is made (rather than the usual "argument by outrage" that ensues when sacred cows get grilled), and Baker's charges are dealt with evenhandedly, rather than dismissed out of hand.
After a week in which one of America's most sacred sacred and religious saints, Martin Luther King, Jr., has been lionized during the 40th anniversary observance of his murder, it's good to see that unsanitized facts (in King's case, his well-documented plagiarism, radicalism, and lustful tastes for extramarital sex) aren't being conveniently ignored in every corner. (Let me add, quickly, that King's public accomplishments still stand as what they are, landmark points of leadership in our nation's civil rights movement; his private life reveals his hypocrisy and despicable behavior for a confirmed pastor.)
I'm reminded, again, that there is no "hero" who doesn't have glaring moral failures, and disagreement over the significance of those failures is not a bad thing. So long as the discussion actually takes place, and facts aren't swept down the memory hole.
And I am driven back to the cross, knowing myself to be at least as bad as any of these. Just one more sinner in need of the Lord Jesus Christ, crying out in desperation for God's boundless grace.
Now playing: The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Hyperventilation
Saturday, April 5, 2008
It's beautiful. Hints of lushness with spring sneaking through the open window in the heavens. The site of puddles in the pavement, drops of water clinging to the gutters and eaves ... God is good to His earth, always. What a blessing to be reminded.
Image (c) Ian Britton FreeFoto.com
Now playing: Earth - Omens and Portents 1: The Driver
Friday, April 4, 2008
My pastor (also a cat lover, along with his family -- they have four) once mentioned to me that he thinks pets are one way God shows His love for us. As a companion to four "lifers" and five foster cats, I eagerly agree.
It's no accident that pets provide significant benefits to those whose lives they touch. They open doors to healing no one else can. They help the emotionally damaged cope. They locate the lost. They save lives.
Back when I was part of my local SPCA chapter, I was one of the "pet Santas" that posed with people's pets in one of our annual fund raisers at PetsMart. Many funny stories from that, of course, but what I loved so much about it was the amazing variety of creatures I got to hold, sweet-talk, pet, and share time with (even if I was in a very hot Santa suit). All shapes, all sizes, every imaginable personality in four-legged form. Loved 'em all.
I have cats, but I love dogs, too. That love is hard-won, and all the fiercer for it. When I was five, I was attacked and nearly killed by my grandfather's dog. Years of reconstructive surgery followed. But my parents never let my fear of dogs get the better of me, and over time, I got comfortable around them again. Now I get to share time with dogs when I visit friends, or my sisters and their menageries.
I cannot imagine my life without pets. They are companions, friends, housemates, and ministers. I thank God for them and praise Him for their beauty, their patience, and their companionship.
Now playing: Chicago Symphony - St. M's Passsion, Chorus: Kommt, Ihr Tochter, Helft Mir Klagen
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Every war has certain commonalities, of course. Brain-spanking waste of life and resources? Absolutely. It's not just a matter of the body count, either (which is one of the most frequently forgotten lessons of Vietnam, it seems to me). It's the long-term damage done to a nation's psyche, wherein young people, deprived of any hope for law and order, are drawn to wellsprings of violence and frustration, be they ad hoc terrorist or guerrillas organizations, criminal gangs, or whatever. John Robb documents much of this with great insight at his blog.
An article caught my eye the other day -- it points directly to the amazing waste that our occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has generated. It's the cover story from the March 10, 2008, issue of The American Conservative. Robert Bryce, the editor of Energy Tribune magazine, describes in some detail how the much-promised oil wealth that Iraq would use to pay for its own reconstruction has failed to do so. It's not just that, though; we're paying an enormous amount of money to import gasoline into Iraq. You read that right. Iraq, the nation third-richest in oil deposits on this planet (sitting on an estimated 115 billion barrels or so), is just now starting to get its oil pipelines to deliver oil at a level approaching pre-invasion figures. And the money from that oil is going to ... well, no one seems to know:
For the last five years, it’s never been exactly clear who controls Iraq’s oil. That said, the country’s leading industry is slowly increasing output. In January, daily production hit 2.4 million barrels per day, the highest level since the U.S. invasion.
Whoever's cashing in, they're not doing much to help finance our efforts at stabilizing Iraq. We Americans (or rather, the Chinese, by financing our enormous debt) are paying for that. How much? That would be about 3 million gallons per day, at a cost of about $1 billion per week. That's one-third of what the entire occupation is costing us. It's gone up somewhat since the military began replacing under-armored HMVs with more heavily armored Hummers, which of course consume more gas. And there are heavier vehicles on the way, as the better-armored Hummers are not entirely successful in preventing IED-related casualties.
Remember, this was the war that Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of the Rumsfeld/Cheney cadre swore would be paying for itself after one year. Clearly, the higher up one reaches in the governmental chain, the more being completely and utterly wrong (at enormous cost) can only help your career. Even though Rumsfeld, Cheney, Perle, Feith et al. are out of government, their careers are by no means over. If only we could all fail so brilliantly, at so high a cost, and catch an easy ride to the next stage of our careers.
So who's benefiting from this massive infusion of fuel into our nation's Iraq adventure? Among others, Iran.As a Christian, I have to forgive it all. I'm not given an out just because I'm outraged. And as our Constitution gets further twisted by an administration run amok, I have to agree with Pastor Chuck Baldwin -- where are the allegedly freedom-loving, Constitution-touting evangelicals who supposedly stand on principle?
The fact is, for more than two thousand years of Church history--from John the Baptist to John Witherspoon--Christians have repeatedly and consistently resisted evil authorities. How dare pastors and Christians now say that we should not resist the evil, tyrannical tendencies of powerful politicos? How dare they suggest that it is "God's will" that we allow evil to triumph in our land?
Worse still is the apathy and indifference that many Christians display toward the great freedoms and liberties into which they have been born as Americans. We enjoy these great liberties, because our forebears (many of them Christians) were willing to fight and die to bequeath them to us. We do not enjoy the rights and freedoms enumerated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights and announced in the Declaration of Independence by chance or luck. These freedoms were secured by the blood, sweat, and tears of brave Americans who chose to fight evil in our own country.
An unconstitutional, undeclared war; billions of our dollars thrown away, along with thousands of our soldiers' lives (to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan casualties).
I think it's fair to say that among the things that disappear in war is the moral high ground.
Now playing: 16 Horsepower - South Pennsylvania Waltz