Monthly Archives: April 2009

If Time Equals Money….

I heard this morning, while traveling to Indy and listening to CNN, that Joe Biden and his wife gave a whopping 1 percent of their income to charity. An additional press release said they not only give of their money, they give of their time. Yeah, right. Like, 9 percent of their time?

I’m going to put a percentage value on the time Pam and I give to our church, and then reduce our monetary tithe by that much. 

Or maybe no. Because, Joe, that’s not BIBLICAL.

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How to Do Church

Quote from Perry Noble about the church he pastors, Newspring:

We do not have the corner on the market when it comes to a movement of God.  We aren’t doing church “the right way.” We aren’t doing church a better way. We are doing church the way God called us to do it

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Done with Christianity…as We Know It

A number of dynamic, young, different-thinking megachurch pastors fly a little bit under the mainstream radar. I’m thinking of people like Perry Noble, Craig Groeschel, Francis Chan, David Gibbons, and Rob Bell. They are the future of evangelical Christianity. And yet, some of them strike fear into the hearts of mainstream, baby-boomer evangelicals, because they don’t toe the party line. They are stretching evangelicals in some directions we’ve been ignoring during the past 30 years as we’ve been focused on wielding power–something tese young pastors show little interest in.

Another of these young pastors is Geoff Surrratt, pastor of the multisite Seascoast church in South Carolina. He recently posted a blog item called “I’m Through with Christianity.” I must say, I agree with practically everything he said. Let me offer just a few quotes:

  • “I am one of the many Americans who would no longer describe themselves as a professing Christian. I cannot in good faith associate any more with what the label Christian has come to represent in America. Christianity is now a set of political views, a way to distinguish different groups of people (Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus)….”
  • “In order to be a faithful Christian I can only vote for politicians who say they hold the party line on the right issues.”
  • “Christianity in America seems to be led by self-appointed spokesmen who attack others without charity, seek places of prominence wherever they go, and live outrageously extravagant lifestyles.”
  • “I love Jesus more and more the older I get, and I love the church with all my heart; I just can’t buy into the Christian thing anymore. So I quit. I am resigning from the Christian party, the Christian club, the Christian religion. I am going to devote the rest of my life to loving God with all my heart and loving my neighbor as myself.”
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Bo as a Pro-Choice Symbol

bo_dog200.jpgI think Bo is a cute First Dog. But animal rights groups are picking nits (like everyone else). They think the Obamas should have chosen a dog from an animal shelter, rather than a purebred dog from a breeder.

So I’ve been toying with ideas about family choice and the pro-choice view. 

Animal rights groups tend to occupy the political left (though there are plenty of us in the middle and even on the right horrified by the conditions in factory farming). Those animal rights activists would probably be pro-choice–if you don’t want a baby, choose abortion. Your family is your personal business.

Now, the Obamas very deliberately chose Bo. They could have gone to the local dog pound, but didn’t. Their family, their decision.

Actually, you could think of Bo as a dog that had been given up for adoption. Bo didn’t work out with his original owners, so they returned him to the breeder. So in an analogous sense, the Obamas were rescuing an unwanted child. But that apparently doesn’t count with the PETA people.

Let’s play with this some more. Should we criticize parents who give birth to a child, when so many children are awaiting adoption? Many children languish in orphanages and the foster care system, just as untold thousands of cats and dogs sit in animal shelters. 

Maybe we should criticize the Obamas for giving birth to Malia and Sasha, rather than adopting children. How terribly selfish of them. What kind of example does that set for other Americans? How can they encourage adoption, when they themselves chose differently?

In their own families, do those animal rights people adopt children rather than having their own biological children? That would be consistent with their values. 

Or do they, indeed, birth their own children (at least the ones they don’t abort), but only adopt when it comes to pets? Are pets worth rescuing, but not children? 

These are just ideas I’m toying with as I search for something profound to say. I’ll find it eventually.

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Grandma Setting Up Her Digital TV

This is great–a Youtube video of grandma trying to set up her digital TV. (Sorry, they disabled the feature for embedding the video in blogs, so you have to go to Youtube. But it’s worth it.)

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Why Don’t Merchant Ships Carry Weapons?

In the 18th century, here’s how the British treated pirates: coat their bodies in tar, wrap them in chains, and publicly hang them from gallows at the harbor entrance. My guess: that wouldn’t be acceptable today. Unfortunately.

Most maritime organizations oppose arming merchant ships. While I cheered the recent events off Somalia, it does raise serious concerns in the maritime community. 

Why don’t merchant ships arm themselves? I did some googling, and here’s what I learned.

  • Most sailors aren’t trained to use weapons. “We’re sailors, not soldiers,” said one.
  • No matter how ships arm themselves, pirates will come back with bigger guns. If you escalate, pirates will escalate more. You can end up with pirates sitting far off and bombarding the ship or raking it with machine gun fire. 
  • Arming ships will increase insurance costs, since insurance must now cover a range of liability and death situations. 
  • Most ports won’t let an armed ship dock. Period. “Trust me, you aren’t sailing into San Francisco with mercenaries carrying RPGs on board.” Since a merchant ship may dock at many different ports, carrying weapons would be a problem. 
  • The cost of carrying armed private security forces would probably exceed the cost of a potential ransom.
  • Ships carrying chemicals or gas don’t want weapons aboard, and don’t want to provoke a firefight.
  • Shipping companies would rather pay ransom than risk crew members being killed. It’s all a matter of liability costs.
  • From a pirate’s standpoint: if the crew is a threat, why not just kill them?
  • If you’re going to give guns to your sailors, you must provide weapons training. That would be a huge expense, and increase liability costs. (You don’t just give handguns to pilots and think an airplane is safe.)
  • Do we want foreign merchant ships sailing into American ports with cannons and machine guns?
  • Pirates rarely kill commercial crews on large vessels (though yacht owners are frequently killed). Their goal is ransom (whereas on yachts, it’s just thievery). 
  • How many sailors are willing to die to protect a rich ship owner’s profit?
  • If ships carried weapons, it might make them a greater target, as pirates seek to steal the weapons, too.
  • Pirates have been a problem for many, many years, and merchant lines have learned to cope with the threat.
  • If a crew member smuggles a weapon into certain port and gets caught, he could spend 5-10 years in a foreign prison.
  • Military vessles are considered “sovereign territory” when visiting foreign harbors, but that courtesy is not extended to civilian vessles. So any weapons possession is subject to local laws.
  • Nervous sailors could accidentally shoot innocent fishermen, who often approach merchant ships offering to sell their catch. 
  • In an armed confrontation with pirates, the chance is great that a sailor will be injured or killed. This raises huge liability issues for ship owners.
  • Bringing weapons aboard ships is “strongly discouraged” by the United Nations International Maritime Organization. 
  • Many ship owners are less worried about piracy than they are that sailors will kill each other in personal disputes. 
  • A fight with pirates can create an international incident.

Ships now use non-lethal methods such as electric fences, water hoses, and long-range sound cannons, of which one person said, “It’s the most annoying sound you’ve ever heard in your life–you literally cannot operate. It makes you nauseous.”

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The Marvels of Toothpaste Tubes


I have a theory about toothpaste tubes. Behold the Crest tube I hold in my hands above. It has looked just like this, flat, used-up, for nigh unto, oh, must be at least two months. During that time, I’ve continued, on a daily basis, squeezing out enough toothpaste to accomplish my dental care mission. Every morning I think, “Today, there will be no more. It’s empty.” And yet, just enough squeezes out onto the toothbrush to, for yet another day, fight tooth decay and impart minty breath.

For at least 90% of its life, a toothpaste tube looks just like this. Yet, amazingly, as a result of secret technological innovations in high-security Proctor & Gamble labs, it continues to function usefully week after week. Somehow, a high proportion of the toothpaste remains even when the tube appears to be spent. This may, in fact, be a conspiracy to prompt gullible buyers into springing for a new tube, not realizing that they have only begun to mine the depths of flavorful goo contained therein.

It is much like that widow in Sidon, told about in Judges, whose jar of flour and jug of oil never ran empty. Or like the loaves and fishes. Except those were actual miracles, whereas Crest merely uses some clever engineering ploy.

But know this: even though the tube looks empty, it’s cleansing action will yet remain with you for weeks or months as you continue on your daily oral hygiene rituals.

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Iran Comes to Huntington


Parvis Dehghani, Ramez Abdul-Massih, Sammy el Sharayheh

When I came to Huntington College in 1975, we had three students from Iran. This was four years before the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah in February 1979 (the US embassy was seized in November 1979). I’ve wondered what happened to Parvis, Ramez, and Sammy. 

Parvis is the one I remember most vividly. He had an exuberant personality–fun-loving, big laugh, big smile. And smart, evidently, since he graduated with a degree in Philosophy. Everyone liked him. Soon after my freshman year started, he pledged with the Alpha Sigma Eta fraternity. He was a great sport throughout the two weeks of initiation.

I remember hearing Parvis talk once about Iran. He was very proud of his country. He mentioned how progressive, how modern, it was amidst the other Middle-Eastern countries. And he emphasized that Iran was very pro-American. He felt Iran was an important, strategic friend of the United States.

sammy_headdress200.jpgRamez, who graduated the same year with a Biology degree, was quiet and kept a low profile.  My only real memory of him involves the freshman slave auction: he bought me, Steve Barber, and Brad Carpenter, and took us out to do yardwork at the home of Dr. Fred Morgan, a biology professor.

As for Sammy (left)–I have no memories of interactions with him. He didn’t return the next year.

So what happened to these guys? Were they back in Iran in 1979 in time for the revolution? If so, which side did they take? Did they endure hardship for having attended a Christian college in the United States? Or, having experienced some American idealism, did they sympathize with Khomeini against the repressive Shah of Iran (a fairly decent dictator, as dictators go, but still a dictator who committed human rights abuses as he silenced dissent).

It’s quite possible they stuck around in the States for graduate work. Maybe they’re still here. Or maybe they went back long ago, and now only have distant memories of Huntington University. Maybe they fought, perhaps died, in the lengthy war with Iraq. Or maybe they are living normal lives in Iran, and, having lived among Americans,get questions about Abu Ghraib and George Bush’s defense of torture, and why the US views them as such an evil country. If so, how do they respond?

I don’t know. I just have questions, and wonder.

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The Biggest Bailout

Rick Pride, a United Brethren pastor in Columbia City, Ind., left the following as his Facebook status. I like it.

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Wise Words from the Sage of Omaha

AudacityofHope.jpegToday, dweebs and lawyers run the world. I’m a marginal dweeb. Put me in Medieval society, and I’d be very ordinary. Not strong. Can’t make stuff. If the Vikings attacked my town, I’d be one of the villagers killed while running toward the forest, an arrow in my back. I’d be one of the nameless millions starved under Stalin or Mao. But as it is, because of what our current society values, I have a good place, and Google knows my name.

I think of the minions toiling in construction, logging, and in steel factories–able-bodied men, big, rough-hewn. In centuries past, they would be the warriors, the hunters–important people. Mountain Men. They didn’t need to be smart or articulate. They just needed to be big and fit. I look at some of the people in my church struggling to find a job, and with no education to put on a resume. Some of them might have made excellent Vikings.

Warren Buffet made this point to Barack Obama several years ago. 

After becoming a senator, Barack Obama was summoned to Omaha by Buffet. The billionaire wanted to talk about tax policy–specifically, why Washington kept cutting his taxes. He told Obama, “If there’s class warfare going on in America, then my class is winning.”

Obama writes about the visit in The Audacity of Hope.

Buffet told him he’d done some calculations. “I’ll pay a lower effective tax rate this year than my receptionist….And if the President has his way, I’ll be paying even less.”

“Effective rate” has to do with deriving most of your income from dividends and capital gains, which Bush reduced in 2003 to a mere 15% rate. Meanwhile, the receptionist was taxed at nearly twice that rate.

Since Reagan, tax policy has increasingly favored the wealthy. It’s something Jesus would condemn, but most Christians seem okay with that, since it’s a Republican policy.

“It just makes sense that those of us who’ve benefited most from the market should pay a bigger share,” Buffet said.

And then came this wonderful insight:

I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can’t run very fast. I’m not particularly strong. I’d probably end up as some wild animal’s dinner.

But I was lucky enough to be born in a time and place where society values my talent and gave me a good education to develop that talent, and set up the laws and the financial system to let me do what I love doing–and make a lot of money doing it. The least I can do is help pay for all that.

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