Monthly Archives: March 2009

NCAA: Yearning for Buzzer-Beaters

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m a bit bored with the NCAA tournament. “Bored” is one of the last words you’d associate with March Madness. But while there have been some good games, we haven’t had the big upsets and buzzer-beaters that normally epitomize the NCAA tournament. 

After two rounds, I think that means 48 games have been played. You’d expect a little more excitement than there’s been.

Maybe this weekend will be better. I’d sure like to see a buzzer-beater.

On a good note: my Arizona Wildcats are still in the hunt.

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Book: Finally Finished “The Audacity of Hope”

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Today I finished–finally–Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope.” I mentioned earlier that I was reading it, and found it very good. Having arrived now at the end, I can say it was a resoundingly good read. It puts into perspective, and shines illuminating light on, so many aspects of our President and decisions he has made. 

He is also quite self-deprecating, not impressed with himself. That comes through especially in his final chapter, “Family.” I loved what I read about his role as a husband and father and how he tries to balance those roles with a very public career. He present himself not as a person who has it all together, but as a highly flawed guy still trying to figure it out. It’s not the type of stuff a campaign advisor would want him to publish.

The chapter deals with various policy issues affecting the family, and you catch glimpses of things–including some excellent ideas–he feels strongly about (though these issues haven’t arisen yet). But mostly, he talks about Michelle, his daughters, and his journey as a husband and parent.

He tells of his courtship with Michelle, and how she repeatedly refused his requests for a date. They met at a law firm where he came as an intern and Michelle, having already worked there three years, was assigned as his advisor.

When he launched his first Congressional run (and lost), “Michelle put up no pretense of being happy with the decision. My failure to clean up the kitchen suddenly became less endearing.”

The burdens of parenthood increasingly fell on Michelle. “No matter how liberated I liked to see myself as–no matter how much I told myself that Michelle and I were equal partners, and that her dreams and ambitions were as important as my own–the fact was that when children showed up, it was Michelle and not I who was expected to make the necessary adjustments. Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold.” 

He is very honest, and self-critical, about how his ambitions affected Michelle. He writes at one point that Michelle told him, “You only think about yourself. I never thought I’d have to raise a family alone.” Phew! Harsh stuff.

“I determined that my father’s irresponsibility toward his children, my stepfather’s remoteness, and my grandfather’s failures would all become object lessons for me, and that my own children would have a father they could count on. In the most basic sense, I’ve succeeded….And yet, of all the areas of my life, it is in my capacities as a husband and father that I entertain the most doubt.”

“I have chosen a life with a ridiculous schedule, a life that requires me to be gone from Michelle and the girls for long stretches of time and that exposes Michelle to all sorts of stress….[My rationalizations] seem feeble and painfully abstract when I’m missing one of the girls’ school potlucks because of a vote….My recent success in politics does little to assuage the guilt….And so I do my best to answer the accusation that floats around in my mind–that I am selfish, that I do what I do to feed my own ego or fill a void in my heart.”

Amidst these self-critical statements, he tells some wonderful stories from his family life, especially regarding the girls, that show he’s really trying to figure it out–how to be a really good husband and father. You see two girls who are bright, fun-loving, and well-adjusted, and he freely gives Michelle credit for that. But he’s more part of the equation than he gives himself credit for.

The chapter contains some very vulnerable stuff. How many politicians write about their short-comings? Throughout the campaign, we saw this picture of a wonderful family–and that seems to be the case. It’s the type of picture a political image consultant would try to paint. But in this book, Barack Obama pulls back the curtain and says, “Here’s what none of you see. It’s not always pretty.”

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Obama on Jay Leno

ObamaLeno.jpgI stayed up to watch President Obama on Jay Leno last night. As a communications guy trained as a journalist, it raised a lot of issues.

he mainstream press have always been the gatekeepers between the President and the public. Beyond an “Address to the Nation,” if you want to talk to the American people, you go through the press. You do a press conference. You appear on Meet the Press. You grant an exclusive interview to Charles Gibson, Brian Williams, or Katie Couric (or one of their minions).

But the press is combative, full of “gotcha” intentions, hoping to catch you in an inconsistency. What if you just want to talk to the American people in a non-combative situation? What if you don’t have time to prep for every possible clever question so that you don’t get twisted up and end up re-explaining yourself for the next week?

Imagine if Obama appeared on a FoxNews program. They would try to put him on the spot, force him to defend whatever he’s doing, trap him. They would try to get him to at least imply something negative about various Democrats–Pelosi, Dodd, Frank, Reid, and others. Obama would most definitely be on his guard, and rightfully so.

On the other hand, if Obama appeared on Keith Olberman or Rachel Maddow, they would throw softball questions which he could hit out of the park. They would set him up to say negative things about Republicans. 

Or, if Obama appeared with a real journalist, like the network anchors (well, maybe not Katie), David Gregory, Chris Wallace, or any number of others (including print people), they would have been going for a story. The goal wouldn’t have been enlightenment, but a “gotcha.”

The Rick Warren forum last summer was an eye-opener. Warren posed questions to Obama and McCain, separately, and they answered in a comfortable atmosphere. Warren wasn’t going for a headline, wasn’t trying to trap the candidates, didn’t want the candidates to get into an argument. He just wanted them to tell what they believed. And I found it tremendously enlightening.

It was the same way with Jay Leno. Jay’s not a journalist. He wasn’t trying to create breaking news. He just threw soft, but interesting, questions at Obama (I’m sure Robert Gibbs was involved in at least suggesting questions), and Obama answered them in what was a comfortable, non-tense atmosphere. None of Jay’s questions invited Obama to criticize Republicans. 

I found the appearance very informative, very “human.” It was presidential and laid-back and even fun at the same time.

This, by the way, is Larry King’s schtick, too. He just lets people tell their story, give their views. He’s not a journalist, doesn’t pretend to be, and so isn’t going for a gotcha. 

The mainstream media are mad, because they’re getting cut out of the process. But I don’t care. I’m tired of the gotcha mania.

 

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Still More from “Jesus for President”

Two previous posts talked about Shane Claiborne’s book “Jesus for President.” Those posts focused on what Claiborne says about nonviolence. But that was only one theme of the book. Here are some other worthwhile quotes:

Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering–and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful.

Constantine flung open the doors of the church to the rich and powerful, but it was at a great cost. Repentance, rebirth, and conversion were exchanged for cheap grace, and the integrity of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus faded. People joined the church in droves, but Christian disciples were hard to come by.

The basis for living out the ethics of Jesus in this world is not that it works, but that this is the way God is. We are not promised that everything is going to turn out perfect.

I’ve learned from conservatives and liberals that you can be politically correct and still be mean.

We must be cautious not to abuse the idea of “bearing our cross.” … The cross is the execution tool of the state that killed Jesus and countless insurgents. And it is the place where Jesus faced and overcame violence with love. How ironic when someone gets a tattoo of Jesus on the cross but has no problem with religiously condoning violence….There are plenty of biblical motifs to counsel, soothe, and care for people in their troubles, but the cross is not one of them.

Paul warns that it is a desecration of the unity of the body when the well-fed come to the communion table with the hungry.

The best way to defeat the kingdom of God is to empower the church to rule the world with the sword.

Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others.

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High-Tech Prayer: When You Just Don’t Have Time

In our hectic society, it’s difficult finding time to pray. I’m sure even Jesus would have had trouble getting away to pray, what with all the media appearances he would have had, Larry King interviews, blogging, Facebook status updates, etc. All the things that make contemporary American life meaningful. 

But prayer, though an antiquated little gesture of religiosity, still has its place, particularlly for old-school types who may have grown up in the church and, therefore, feel guiilty if they don’t pray much. Fortunately, there is high-tech help.

InformationAgePrayer.com will pray for you. Out loud, even. You subscribe for a low monthly fee, and each day, a computer will voice your prayer. So you can be sleeping, or reading TMZ, or playing Guitar Hero, with the comforting knowledge that your prayers are still getting verbalized, albeit by a computer-generated voice. 

The lowest-priced prayer–a mere $1.99 a month–is a daily prayer for your children. It goes like this:

May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.
May God be favorably disposed toward you and grant you peace.
May God bless you and watch over you.
Amen

I’m sure harried parents forget to pray for their children sometimes. But now, you can rest assured that the above prayer is going straight to God every single day, so that you can focus on other things, like soap operas. You could even buy a subscription for a new mother as a baby shower gift.

For a mere $4.95 a month, you can pray for health, and in this case, the prayer is quite a bit longer, which no doubt increases God’s responsiveness to it. And for a limited time, you can get a bulk-prayer discount–five get-well prayers each day for only $9.95 a month. Sign up for a year–that’s five prayers a day, for 365 days (computers don’t take a day off)–and you get the last month free!

There is even a prayer for luck, as you stop by Handy Dandy and buy lottery tickets.

“Master of Heavens and Lord of Earth, who grants favor to his creations, may You favor my choices. May You guide me down the correct paths in life, and may You grant divine aid in all my doings. May I merit blessings and success, so that I may continue to walk down Your path and serve you to the best of my abilities. Grant me fortune, and remove all the obstacles from this path and from that of my family’s. And if I should falter, may Your hand be there to catch me, and may You help me regain my footing. May this be your will.”

Right now, there is a special sale for the “World Peace” prayer: just $3.95 a month, which is a savings of $3.05 a month. Can you really put a price on world peace? 

I might suggest that they add a prayer like this: “Lord, please make Obama fail. Frustrate his efforts, spoil his wicked designs, keep him from receiving credit for accomplishing anything worthwhile for our country.” I’m sure that would be very popular among Rush Limbaugh listeners, and they could, perhaps, use premium pricing.

The website notes that if your children don’t pray anymore, no problem–just create an account for them, and God will be receiving prayers from them every day, whether they know it or not. 

Prayers are divided according to religion–Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Unaffiliated, and “Other Religions.” So we’re talking about a very customized type of God notification. (In case you’re wondering, the Muslim prayer for world peace says nothing about slaying infidels.)

The website explains, “Information Age Prayer was founded in 2009 with the aim of helping those who are unable to pray as frequently as they would like. By using the latest technology in text-to-speech synthesizers we are able to provide the service at very affordable rates. Also, 10% of subscription fees are donated to charity.” They view this as a prayer supplement, not as a total replacement for traditional prayer. It is  intended to “extend and strengthen” your connection with God. I am humbled by their godly approach and sensitivity.

A disclaimer says they don’t guarantee that the prayers will work, so don’t think about getting your money back if you don’t win the lottery. “The final results are up to God,” they say. But, “It is our opinion that the omniscient God hears the prayers when they are voiced, as He hears everything on this Earth. The omniscient God knows exactly who has subscribed and who each prayer is from when their name is displayed on screen and their prayer voiced.”

I personally would prefer some kind of Seal of Approval from God, perhaps a brief tribute in Morgan Freeman’s voice, to assure me that God is on board with this venture. But hey, we need to maintain some element of mystery in our digitized existence.

In the future, they hope to offer the option of saying customized prayers. So, for instance, I could write out a prayer for each of our missionaries–just once–and then have that prayer uttered via voice synthesizer to the Almighty every single day, so that I can spend more time listening to Mike & Mike on ESPN. 

You may think I’m making this up. But I wouldn’t joke around about prayer.

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Joe Klein on Ron Silver

Joe Klein, on Swampland, writes about his long friendship with actor Ron Silver, who died over the weekend of cancer. It’s a moving piece. He especially recalls their many arguments over politics, and how they could disagree yet remain the closest of friends. A neat piece.

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More from “Jesus for President”

Yesterday I talked about “Jesus for President” and focused on what Shane Claiborne wrote about pacifism. Here are some more quotes along that line.

When we talk about peacemaking and the “third way of Jesus,” people inevitably ask bizarre situational questions like, “If someone broke into your house and was raping your grandmother, what would you do?” We can’t exhaustively troubleshoot every situation with a nonviolent “strategy,” but what we can do is internalize the character and spirit of Jesus. We can meditate daily on the fruit of the Spirit and pray that they take root in us. Then we can trust that when we encounter a bad situation, we will act like Jesus.

The bloodstained pages of history are filled with people doing terrible wrong out of a deep sense of right.

Without a doubt, protecting the innocent is one of the strongest arguments for redemptive violence….[But] Jesus didn’t say, “Greater love has no one that this, to kill to protect the innocent.”

Jesus knew that his followers would face threats to their lives. But nowhere did Jesus teach that his followers should turn into wolves when they run into other scary wolves. He himself was killed like a sheep by wolves. By freely accepting crucifixion, he demonstrated what a sheep among wolves looks like. Refusing to become like the wolves to defeat the wolves, Jesus revealed that God, being love, chooses a different path–to suffer evil to overcome it.

Jesus was detestable to the state in his day, and he is detestable to our state today. His teachings are impossible for the state to ever follow. What state would ever say, “Do not resist the evil person,” or “Turn the other cheek”?….Considering that history has recently called the US to execute disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, we can know that this is not the voice of the shepherd who calls his sheep to love their enemies.

President Bush’s speech promoted the popular goal of ridding the world of evil. This goal is not new. The ostensibly good intention to rid the world of evil, ironically, is associated with some of the most evil and tragic events in history. Even Osama bin Laden’s stated goal, more or less, was to rid the world of evil. Three thousand people were killed in the tragedies of 9/11 in the hope of destroying evil….Jesus understood the destruction of evil to be not in human hands but in God’s hands.

Instead of trusting the command to love our enemies, we insist that having the right people take office to direct the right bombs to fall in the right places is a more effective way to deal with evil. We can’t be peaceful now, we say. So give us time to rid the world of evil; eventually, it will work. After thousands of years, we haven’t learned that violence begets only violence. Peace begins not with nations, but with the people of God.

I’m just trying to make you think, just as Claiborne has made me think. I’m not a pacifist, as least not now. I’m just exploring with an open mind. Trying to understand the truth about Jesus is never a bad thing, even when it contradicts everything American Christianity tells you.

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Book: Jesus for President

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Two years ago I read Shane Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution,” and it shook me up. Conservative evangelical Christianity labels as “liberal,” as a “social agenda,” concerns for the poor, the environment, and nonviolence. I carry plenty of that kind of baggage. But Claiborne presented a totally different world, and it convicted me like few other books I’ve ever read. 

Claiborne’s voice is that of a prophet. A loving and patient (not angry) prophet.

His views on pacifism particularly made me think. In our world, pacifism is not realistic, not popular, not how things work. But Claiborne painted a picture of Jesus that is not compatible with violence; a picture that, I realized, lined up with everything I knew about Jesus from Scripture. 

I didn’t change my views and become a pacifist. But the feeling deep in my gut told me, “There’s something here, something central to who Jesus is. Don’t discount it.”

These themes are continued in Claiborne’s recent book “Jesus for President.” First, let me say that the graphic design of the book is phenomenal. The most creative design I’ve ever seen.

As for the content? Disappointing, overall. A bit bloated. Plenty of good stuff, but nothing like “The Irresistible Revolution.”

The best passage in “Jesus for President” was a speech given by Father George Zabelka, the Catholic Air Force chaplain who blessed the crews who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over the next 20 years, Zabelka came to renounce violence. Zabelka’s speech, given on the 40th anniversary of the bombings, is an eloquent argument for nonviolence.

“There is no way to follow Christ, to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people. It is a lie to say that the spirit that moves the trigger of a flamethrower is the Holy Spirit. It is a lie to say that learning to kill is learning to be Christ-like. It is a lie to say that learning to drive a bayonet into the heart of another is motivated from having put on the mind of Christ. Militarized Christianity is a lie. It is radically out of conformity with the teaching, life, and spirit of Jesus.”

Now, let me state that I’m not a pacifist. I support the invasion of Afghanistan (not of Iraq), and I certainly support fighting the Germans and Japanese. It’s one of the things governments do–defend their people. I believe in redemptive violence, within limits.

And yet…my beliefs are pricked by Claiborne’s writings. We Americans are so militaristic, and we think God is always on our side, blessing our fire-bombings. But can you see Jesus firing an M-16 to kill another person? I honestly can’t. And if I’m to be like Christ….

So I’m intrigued with the pacifist arguments. There’s something there, something central to the nature of Christ. Something I want to understand, but which is way beyond my comprehension right now. 

Claiborne takes things much further than I feel comfortable with. In Claiborne’s world, you can’t be a soldier, and he gives examples of soldiers who have been convicted about nonviolence and have left the military. But what does that say about all the Christians serving in the military? Does God never call anyone to serve in uniform? Is a Christian colonel misled if he says, “I’m right where I believe God wants me to be”? 

I’m not willing to put the “unbiblical” label on my Dad or anyone else who has served in the military. I think God is mysterious enough, beyond our understanding, to call one person to pacifism and another to a life of military service. I don’t think that’s inconsistent; Claiborne, who has studied this far more than me, would say it is.

Anyway, Claiborne makes me think. He forces me to look at my lifestyle, my attitudes, my assumptions ingrained from growing up in America. His advocacy of the poor is something I absolutely cannot dispute, though his lifestyle takes things well beyond what I’m comfortable with. Let me state for the record that my comfort level is in no way a measure of my spirituality.

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Great Logo Concepts

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This logo inspires confidence, don’t you think?

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Pork Wins

I’m disappointed that President Obama didn’t veto the stimulus bill and send it back to Congress to eliminate all the pork. I feel like he gave in. I’m in sympathy with John McCain, who argues for vetoing this bill. “If he wants to argue this is last year’s business, we should send it to Crawford [Texas] to get signed.” And yet:

  • While it sounds like a lame excuse, and while the bill IS being signed on his watch, there is some truth to the argument that it is last year’s business. Still, the lameness is very strong.
  • Obama has expressed his displeasure with the pork, both privately and publicly. So, trying to put a positive construction on things, I’m gonna assume that he received assurances from Congressional leaders that, next time, things will be different.
  • It’s not easy fighting a Congress with entrenched ways of doing things. Can you imagine going to battle against over 8000 individual earmarks? Is that not only a battle worth fighting, but a battle that could be won? (Maybe yes.)
  • Congress is, indeed, a separate branch of government, not subservient to the Administrative branch. On the other hand, it is the president who signs bills into law, so it’s a team effort. He doesn’t have to sign something he doesn’t like.
  • Nancy Pelosi has plenty of her own pork in the bill. There is an element of needing to appease in order to gain her approval for future things the President wants to do. It’s distasteful, but that’s how politics is played. 
  • Obama’s taking the right approach in trying to overhaul the whole earmark process. Rather than fight the same battle with each bill, just change the underlying rules of the game. Very smart way to go.

There’s talk now of doing a second stimulus package. Why? I have no clue. Let the circus begin. But it they begin working on a new animal, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with pork. If there’s a second stimulus, Obama MUST win this time. I’m not confident he will, no matter how hard he tries. Congress is a tough, selfish, greedy opponent.

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