Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Plight of the Gitmo Ulghurs

Some churches in Toronto banded together to sponsor Anwar Hassan, an ethnic Ulghur imprisoned at Guantanamo. The US has ruled that he’s not an enemy combatant, but he fears he’ll be persecuted if he returns to his original homeland of China.

The churches applied to sponsor Hassan as a refugee and support him for one year, to at least get him out of Gitmo. The process is underway.

Hassan was among 17 Uighurs captured in Pakistan in 2001 and then sold to US forces (the Gitmo detaines represent millions of dollars of investment; Pakistanis sold many men, both guilty and innocent, to US forces). Other Ulghurs were rounded up elsewhere. Hassan had been living in Afghanistan with thoughts (delusions, actually) of someday rising up against the Chinese government. He fled to Pakistan when the US bombed his village.

The US recognized early on that the Ulghurs had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Initially, they were milked for information about China. Then, to gain Chinese support for the invasion of Iraq,the Pentagon declared that all of the Ulghurs were members of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (based on the Ulghurs’ name for their homeland), and were therefore terrorists. Chinese interrogators were even allowed to come to Guantanamo. 

And so, the innocent Ulghurs have languished in Gitmo for eight years. Several of them were declared “not enemy combatants,” but the Pentagon changed that to “No longer enemy combatants,” a way to cover themselves. 

The State Department has searched for a country to take in the Ulghurs, but can’t find any willing to suffer the displeasure of China. Several Ulghurs, three days before a US appeals court was scheduled to hear their case for wrongful imprisonment, were taken from Gitmo and deposited in a UN refugee camp in Albania. Yes, Albania. They had already been forcibly separated from their families. Now, how in the world do you get out of Albania?

The Ulghur commuity in the United States has offered to support the detainees with housing, language and job training, and whatever else they need. In October, a US federal court ordered that the Ulghurs be resettled in the US, but an appeals court (stocked with Bush appointees) overturned that decision, saying only the President had the authority to order their release.

The Bush Administration fought efforts to resettle the Ulghurs in the US, claiming they posed a threat to the US.

“I think it’s all about saving face,” says Sabin Willet, a US lawyer who has been working on behalf of the Ulghurs. “If these guys get to the United States, people are going to interview them and put them on television, and then Americans will find out who’s really been at Guantanamo, and that will shock them. Right now most Americans believe that people at Guantanamo must be bad guys. So I think the Bush administration is determined to keep that truth from the public.”

Certainly there ARE bad guys at Gitmo. But not all of them.

The Bible demands that Christians seek justice. I’m hoping my country can come through on this. When justice is brought to the innocent, God is pleased.

(There is a lot of information on the internet about the plight of the Ulghurs, including here and here.)

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Nancy Pelosi, Up and Down

Whack-a-mole–that’s what John Stewart said about Nancy Pelosi’s constant up-and-down during Tuesday night’s speech. Almost as bad as some church services. Joe Biden was thinking, “Lady, will you sit still?” I figured somebody put together a YouTube compilation, and sure enough….

And if you want more, check out Jeanie Most’s wonderful piece for Headline News. She’s one of the true treasures in today’s news, a modern-day Charles Kuralt. Love her stuff. (Rachel Maddow even did an amusing piece.)

By the way, Mr. President–no earmarks? Really? The $4-8 billion in earmarks (depending on what you include) is a drop in this huge bucket. But still….

Roll Calls reports that the President tried to minimize earmarks, but ran into a Congress that didn’t care to listen. “Obama pressed the lawmakers to keep earmarks out of spending bills but was resisted… Democratic leaders defended the practice, insisting that it was Members’ constitutional right to insert them on behalf of constituents’ projects that they deemed worthy, that Congress had markedly reduced the practice, and that earmarks represented 1 percent of spending.”

Two of the Swampland bloggers reported for Time on the earmark debate. Governing is about compromise, people say. To get this bill passed, the President no doubt had to bend. But it was no doubt a learning experience, and I trust that as he goes along, he’ll be able to manage the strong-willed Congressman a little better. I don’t expect him to have it figured out the first time.

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Is It a Sin to be Average?

A few days ago I wrote about the book “A Contrarian’s Guide to Spirituality.” Today I came across an article by the author, Larry Osborne, on Catalystspace.com. It’s basically a rewrite of one chapter from that book, “Is It a Sin to be Average?” That chapter was very thought-provoking, and I’m glad it’s getting a little more play and discussion in Christian circles.

Osborne says leaders want to make everyone into a leader, a hard-charging Christian warrior who will conquer the strongholds for Jesus. But not everyone is made that way, or can be remade that way. Osborne says that in trying to make everyone in his church into a leader, “It overwhelmed my congregation and non-leader types with unrealistic and unreachable standards of spirituality. And I’m pretty sure it ticked God off…

“Like many leaders, I believed there was something seriously wrong with low-drive Christians. I tended to project my own passion and calling onto everyone else. Since I’d heard my call so clearly, I assumed anyone who didn’t share the same vision and fervor must not be listening to what God had to say.”

But he was confused by two parishioners. “Both were as godly in character as anyone I’ve ever met, and neither had a leadership bone in them….That caused me to start wondering if perhaps my definition of sold-out Christianity was seriously flawed…if there was room in the kingdom for mediocrity.” 

On the one side are driven, passionate leaders filled with a sense of urgency. “On the other side are lots of good and godly folks left to lick the wounds of countless well-intentioned but spiritually hurtful sermons, books, and seminars calling them to be something they know in their heart of hearts they can never be–and have no desire to be, if truth be known.”

Osborne concluded that churches must provide “pathways of spirituality that work for everyone,” not just for leader types. And stop making the low-drive people feel inferior and inadequate and guilt-ridden. Let them lead the totally biblical kind of life stated in 1 Thess. 4:11-12:

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

When Elijah complained that he was the only real God-follower left, God told him, “No, there are 7000 other faithful people.” I suspect God included in that number a lot of people who weren’t charging the heights, but were simply living a quiet life of faithfulness. Elijah was charging up San Juan Hill. But these other 7000 were no less pleasing to God.

We do this to laypersons, castigating the “pew-sitter” for not going out and changing the world for Christ. 

We do this to churches, expecting every church to aspire to be Willow Creek. 

We do this to pastors, trying to make them all fit a particular leadership mold, rather than allowing them to be who God has called and gifted them to be. Whether you pastor a church of 50, 100, 200, or 1000, you fall short of persons pastoring churches at the next level. Is there room to value a person who our sovereign God personally selected (called), and gifted, to be a great pastor to 100 people? 

Osborne raises important issues. They resonated with me when I first read that chapter in his book over a year ago. And they resonated with me again as I read the same thoughts on Catalystspace.com.

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Goon Train

Okay, this is cool and unique A very long, side-scrolling train. Check out Goon Train.

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Predictions About the Speech

Let me step out on a limb here and make this prediction: no matter what Barack Obama says tonight, Republicans will criticize every jot and tittle, and assign to him the most lurid of motives. I suspect that even Sean Hannity, that bloated paragon of impartiality, won’t find anything good to say. But I could be wrong.

In my naivete, I’ll be viewing President Obama as a man sincerely trying to fix an impossibly complex situation with no precedent, while combatting intransigent Republican “Party of No” opposition and a self-centered, pork-loving, leadership-challenged, financially boneheaded Democratic Congress. 

The only positives for Obama are the wet kisses he’ll get from Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow. And really, who wants that?

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Cherished Again Gig

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Saturday night, the Anchor worship team played at Cherished Again, which is an interesting place. It’s a consignment used furniture store that, once a month, has an open mic night. They set up a really nice sound system in front of some mattresses, and people take their turns at the mic. The owners are Christians, and just about everything performed was Christian. 

Just four of us went–me, Joe (drums), and guitarists Tim and Terry. The others had played at Cherished Again several times, but this was my first chance to join them. I really enjoyed it.

Pam snapped some photos of the worship team, including one of me at the keyboard. I just took my 61-key Alesis keyboard. Didn’t want to haul around the big Roland.  Thanks to some of our fans from Anchor (in another of the photos above) who came to cheer us.

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Book: The Audacity of Hope

AudacityofHope.jpegBack in December, while killing time in Barnes & Noble, I began browsing through a copy of Barack Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope.” I opened to a random page near the middle of the book, began reading–and immediately found myself disagreeing with something he said. It had to do with an interpretation of Scripture.

As I continued perusing the book, I realized it wasn’t what I had assumed–that is, a typical campaign biography, published to puff up the candidate and inflate his accomplishments. That’s a cynical statement on my part, but it explains why I hadn’t bothered reading Obama’s book before. But now I realized it wasn’t like that at all. Each chapter was basically an extended essay on a specific subject–politics, opportunity, faith, values, the Constitution, etc.

I decided I needed to read the book, to better understand my then-future President’s views and discover other possible areas of disagreement.

Now I’m halfway through the book, and let me tell you–it’s a superb book. I’ll be posting more about individual chapters. But for now, here are some initial observations.

  • Since the book was written before Obama’s presidential campaign began, it gives a fascinating perspective to the campaign and to events since the election. You understand why he acted in certain ways, why he took certain positions, and where he acted in ways not entirely consistent with his published views. And you catch glimpses of where he may be headed.
  • Obama is a highly talented writer. He doesn’t use a ghost writer, as does nearly every other politician. You’re reading his own thoughts in his own words. 
  • He is self-deprecating, freely citing his faults and failures, and poking fun at himself. 
  • He understands and is conversant on difficult issues, like the economy. He has thought deeply about lots of important issues. That gives me confidence (which I lacked in Bush, and wouldn’t have felt in McCain).
  • His values, for the most part, mirror mine (though I haven’t read the chapter on “Faith” yet, where he discusses some issues where I’m sure to disagree).
  • I’m impressed with his detailed grasp of US history. He provides fascinating insights into how we got where we are.
  • He shares my thoughts (and, it seems, disgust) with how our government is broken and dysfunctional, regardless of which party is in charge. He illuminates where the problems lie (and I suspect that if we give him time, over the course of his presidency he’ll try to accomplish at least a few changes).
  • Though he’s unabashedly a Democrat, it’s not a partisan book. He skewers, and commends, both Democrats and Republicans. “My party can be smug, detached, and dogmatic at times,” he says in the prologue. 

Here’s a paragraph toward the end of the prologue, a capsulized listing of basic views about America.

“I believe in the free market, competition, and entrepreneurship, and think no small number of government programs don’t work as advertised. I wish the country had fewer lawyers and more engineers. I think America has more often been a force for good than for ill in the world. I carry few illusions about our enemies, and revere the courage and competence of our military. I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally. I think much of what ails the inner city involves a breakdown in culture that will not be cured by money alone, and that our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP.”

Although I voted for Obama and retain high hopes, I am no Obama worshiper. I have been repeatedly disappointed by the persons I helped elect, and my cynicism, skepticism, and distrust run deep. But I can still muster up hope, and I can’t live a sane life without hope.

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Book: Contrarian’s Guide to Spiritual Growth

contrarianguide.jpegThe best Christian book I read in 2008 is Larry Osborne’s “Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God.” He takes some beliefs we’ve always held as true, and sheds a whole different light on them. He doesn’t stray from orthodoxy, only from our western paradigms and interpretations. His thoughts about how people grow are particularly fascinating (as in the chapter “The Case for Meandering”).

But my favorite chapter, “The High Place Principle,” deals with “blind spots.” He discusses how, in the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to “Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.” God wanted to rid the land of idol worship. But king after king allowed people to continue offering sacrifices at “the high places.”

Including ultra-wise Solomon. The Bible says Solomon “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” but adds, “The high places, however, were not removed.”

Of King Asa, the Bible says, “Although he did not remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord al his life.”

It was a blind spot. Idol-worship was so ingrained in that world’s culture that they didn’t see how deeply it angered God.

“We all have our own high places–areas where we simply don’t get it,” Osborne says.

Like godly southerners who owned slaves. Any American Christian today understands that slavery was wrong. But there were Christians who, like Asa, were “fully committed to the Lord,” yet saw no contradiction in owning slaves.

So I think about the blind spots of today’s Christians. We don’t have it all figured out. We don’t fully “get it” when it comes to what God wants.

  • In American culture, I’m sure materialism is a huge blind spot for most of us. Jesus told a rich man to sell everything and give it to the poor. Was he just kidding? I think Jesus was absolutely serious. 
  • How does Jesus feel about the huge complexes our megachurches erect? Does Jesus, in fact, disapprove of pouring millions of dollars into buildings? Is that a blind spot for American Christians? 
  • Are we blind to how we get sucked into popular culture? Should we, in reality, be more like the Amish–a distinct, separate people? 
  • What about the way we exalt military might? I tend to be hawkish. But is that a blind spot? Would Jesus pull a trigger in warfare? Did he approve of dropping atomic bombs? We can justify all of these things…like people justified slavery, citing chapter and verse. But how does Jesus really feel about the use of force? 
  • We talk about engaging the culture. But might Jesus, if he were here today, tell us, “Don’t watch TV and movies, and put away those cheap novels. They distract your mind from heavenly things.” 
  • I look at the health-and-wealth TV evangelists, with their fancy rings and big hair and high lifestyles. They don’t get it. They can easily justify themselves. But to me, their lifestyles are so contrary to the way of Jesus. It’s obvious to me. 

But, “A blindspot is something I honestly don’t see,” Osborne says. And I have to ask: what things do I honestly not see about myself?

Ever since reading that chapter (nearly a year at this point), I’ve pondered and looked for blind spots in my own life, and in our US Christian culture. Because I think we’re saturated with blind spots.

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Microsoft Gets Desperate

Microsoft confirms that it’s going to open retail stores. No doubt they want to mimic the success of Apple’s flashy stores (currently 251 and counting). When Apple launched stores, they brought in an exec from The Gap. Microsoft, in its effort to be trendy, will spearhead its stores with a former VP from…Wal-Mart? Yes, that’ll give them a cutting-edge look. 

The article I read in Electronista had a lot of interesting comments. This is one of the great things about the current web:you read a story, and then comment on it, preferably in a snide tone. The comments can be great. Hare are some comments from this article (especially like the last one).

  • “That’s about the only Apple strategy left for them to copy.”
  • “Can you imagine their Genius Bar, lined up with pissed-off Visa users and Zune users and all the other crap they have made poorly?”
  • “Doesn’t Microsoft know that EVERY store NOT an Apple store is a pro-Microsoft store?”
  • “The whole freaking world is a Microsoft store. When you walk into BestBuy or WallMart’s computer sections, it’s Microsoft land. The computers, the software titles, the peripherals–it’s all PC.”
  • “Would love to see how badly they try to copy Apple.”
  • “I can almost picture it…the all glass front is going to be covered in tacky stickers.”
  • “Careful if you use the bathrooms. They’re a quarter to get into, but fifty cents to get out.”
  • “I love that this guy came from Walmart. Perfect fit for MS.”
  • “MS has a guy from Wal-mart. Which means the MS store will have overflowing shelves, stuff spilled out into the aisle, product all over the place as if no one knows exactly what goes where, product thrown on shelves as if the employees didn’t care. Oh, and immigrant cleaning staff that’s locked in at night so they don’t steal anything.”
  • “Microsoft products combined with that endlessly inviting and appealing Wal-Mart shopping experience. Sounds like an instant home run. In a football game, but a home run nevertheless.”
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Best Workout Songs

When I’m exercising at the Y, I’ve got headphones on. Either I’m listening to a TV feed, probably a news show, or I’m listening to my iPod Shuffle.

The Shuffle is fun, since you don’t know what song is coming next. I’ve got it filled with only five-star songs from my huge iTunes library. Some songs, when they come along, seem especially appropriate when I’m in workout mode. For me, we’re talking good ol’ rock and roll, garage bands, hard-driving stuff (preferably without a grunge edge).

Here are songs I especially like when I’m working out. I’d appreciate your recommendations.

Ain’t Comin’ Home (Silvertide)
American Pie (Slaughter)
The Ballad of Michael Valentine (The Killers)
Beast of Burden (Bette Midler)
Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Green Day)
By Your Side (Black Crowes)
The Day John Henry Died (Drive By Truckers)
Heroes (Wallflowers)
Super Colossal (Joe Satriani)
I Don’t Make Promises I Can’t Break (Shannon Curfman)
Levelland (James McMurtry)
Transcendental Blues (Steve Earle)
Lobo Town (James McMurtry)
Rockers Blues (Jack Falk Project)
Honky Tonk Woman (Rolling Stones)
Hot Legs (Rod Stewart)
It’s My Life (Bon Jovi)
River of Love (Paul Camilleri)
The Rising (Bruce Springsteen)
Real Mean Bottle (Bob Seger and Kid Rock)
Only Rock & Roll (Rolling Stones)
Old Time Rock & Roll (Bob Seger)
Nothin’ But a Good Time (Poison)
Movin’ On (Joe Satriani)
Longshot (John Fogerty)
Kit Kat Clock (Bottle Rockets)
My Sacrifice (Creed)
Special (Wilshire)
Sweet Mama (Les Respectables)
The Story (Brandi Carlile)
You Give Love a Bad Name (Bon Jovi)
Honky Tonk Woman (Travis Tritt – yes, he did a great version)
Keep Your Hands to Yourself (Georgia Sattelites)
Sweet Child of Mine (GNR)
Jealous Again (Black Crowes)

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