Monthly Archives: August 2012

India’s Problems in the Olympics

The India delegation enters the stadium at the 2012 London Olympics. The woman in bluejeans was a gate-crasher, not part of the team.

India’s men’s field hockey team is a traditional powerhouse, but hasn’t medaled in over 20 years.

India’s women’s badminton team.

India is the world’s 2nd largest country, with 1.2 billion people–four times the size of the United States. But in the 2012 Summer Olympics, they won just six medals–2 silver and 4 bronze. Which is actually good, considering that their pre-Olympics goal was to win five medals.

India has competed in every Olympics since 1900, yet has won just 26 medals (9 gold, 6 silver, 11 bronze). In other words, India has won just a few more medals than Michael Phelps.

What’s up?

A Google search showed that this subject fascinates lots of people around the world. And a variety of reasons–or excuses–have been cited for India’s lackluster Olympics performances.

  • Not a priority. Sports just isn’t a priority among Indian families. Education and job training–and survival in general–take center stage. Athletics is viewed as something you do for fun. India certainly has people with potential world-class athletic skills. But it is rarely developed, or at least not developed at a young enough age.
  • Infrastructure. India doesn’t have a widespread sports culture with athletic teams at all school levels. They lack a system where the best athletes rise to the top, along with skilled coaches and trainers.
  • Money. Though India is developing economically, families lack the money to invest in high-calibre athletic training for their children, and local governments lack the funds to invest in good practice and competition facilities.
  • No economic safety net. An American can spend many years de-emphasizing school and, if athletics doesn’t work out, still live a good middle class life. But in India, you’re taking a very big chance. It’s tough to make up ground.
  • Caste system. A large part of the population is automatically excluded, because they come from lower castes. If you make the Olympic team, you’re probably a member of a higher caste.
  • Not a national priority. Developing countries that do well have high investment from the central government–China, North Korea, Cuba. The Indian government has too many other concerns.
  • No dominant sport. Developing countries usually excel in a particular sport–track (Jamaica, Ethiopia, Kenya), wrestling (Turkey), weight-lifting (Kazakhstan), boxing (Cuba). No such sport has emerged in India, unless you count cricket.
  • Childhood malnourishment. Too many of India’s people begin life as undernourished children, and they never develop the physical qualities needed to excel in athletics.
  • Corruption. The Indian athletic bodies are ridden with corruption.
  • Tribalism. India has numerous ethnic identities with distinct languages, not to mention the divisions of the former caste system. North Korea, by contrast, has a single ethnic identity.
  • Gender issues. Skimpy outfits–a staple in many sports–is frowned upon in Indian society.
  • Cricket rules. India is a one-sport nation, obsessed with cricket. Which is not an Olympic sport.

Something else I found interesting.

Between 1928-1968, India won the field hockey gold medal all but two times (when neighboring Pakistan won). In 1976, the Olympics switched from natural turf to synthetic turf, which is more expensive. Indian localities lacked the money to switch fields to synthetic turf. Consequently, Indian players continued growing up on grassy fields, learning skills which weren’t suited for synthetic turf.

So there, an explanation of why the world’s second-largest country, it’s largest democracy, and its largest English-speaking country just can’t cut it in the Olympics.

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Giving It a Little Extra

I’m reading through Nehemiah right now. Chapter 3 lists the people who rebuilt a section of the walls of Jerusalem. Dozens of people and groups are mentioned as doing their part. For some, it was just a matter of repairing a section of the wall in front of their house.

Then, in verse 20, we come to a guy named Baruch. The verse says Baruch “zealously repaired another section.” No adverb is used with any other persons, only Baruch. I imagine some people worked on the wall out of a sense of duty, or because they were coerced in some way. But Baruch did it zealously. It obviously made an impression on Nehemiah, and he appreciated Baruch’s enthusiasm enough to specifically point it out.

People like Baruch thrill the heart of a leader.

A couple weeks ago, Pam and I visited my parents’ church and sat in Dad’s Sunday school class. It’s obvious that, when it comes to teaching this class, Dad does it zealously. I’ve had many Sunday school teachers over the years who were certainly less than zealous, doing it instead because they had their arms twisted. But one teacher stands out, and my parents know exactly who I’m going to name: Dick Zimmerman, who taught my class when I was in 6th grade in Harrisburg, Pa. He put an incredible amount of energy and creativity into that class, and he has always been my model of an exemplary teacher.

Are there things I do that people say, “Steve did that zealously”? In what do I show zeal? Hmmm. Something to think about.

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Religious Persecution? Ask a Muslim about That

Surveying a mosque in Joplin, Missouri, destroyed by an arsonist.

Religious persecution is alive and well in America. But the victims are not Christians.

There is no liberal “war on religion” or “war on Christmas.” A lame, half-hearted boycott of a chicken restaurant does not equal religious persecution. Disagreements about gay marriage, no matter how contentious, do not equal religious persecution. Banning a nativity scene from public property, or not allowing a prayer at a public school graduation…not persecution. Just examples of the give-and-take of public policy in a free society which is continuously testing the boundaries between church and state, and the boundaries of the free expression of religion in American life.

Fact is, Protestant Christianity is the Big Dog in American religion, just as Catholicism is the Big Dog throughout Latin America, and the Anglican church is in England. All of them “Christian” religions. Christianity enjoys a host of freedoms and privileges, and every single president has claimed to be a Christian (Romney would end that streak). Christianity is not persecuted. Christianity is on top, with tons of influence.

If you want to claim religious persecution, become a Muslim or a Sikh. That massacre in Wisconsin at a Sikh temple, true, was the work of one madman. That will happen. But the public record is filled with scores of incidents in which members of non-Christian religions–nearly always Muslims, or persons mistaken for being Muslim–are targeted.

During the past year, arsonists have struck Islamic centers in Arlington, Texas, Corvallis, Ore., Stockton, Calif., Houston, Texas, Worcester, Mass., and Wichita, Kansas. There have been scores of other acts of vandalism and other incidents at Islamic temples. This goes way beyond a few big-city mayors trying to score a few fleeting political points by saying they’ll oppose permits for new Chick-Fil-A franchises.

It’s not safe to be a Muslim. Consider these incidents, all of which happened within the last three years.

  • New York: A 56-year old woman was attacked while walking on a city street by two people who ripped off her religious attire and called her a “f-ing terrorist.”
  • Brooklyn, NY: a Turkish man and his wife were attacked by a neighbor screaming “F-ing Arabs! F-ing terrorists.”
  • Wisconsin: a man of Moroccan heritage was hospitalized with head injuries while walking with a friend downtown. The friend was punched, knocked to the ground, and kicked. The attacker allegedly said “f___ Osama Bin Laden” during the attack.
  • Illinois: a faculty member was stabbed by a man seeking to “save his country” because he thought the man was Middle Eastern.
  • A Sikh man was stabbed at the airport in Fresno, Calif. Sikhs, because of their long beards and turbans, are often mistaken for Muslims.
  • San Jose, Calif.: A Hindu man was assaulted by a group of men who called him a “terrorist.”
  • St. Cloud, Minn.: Graphic, sexually explicit anti-Muslim cartons were posted on utility poles.
  • Staten Island: A 14-year-old was beaten by a classmate who said he hated Arabs.
  • New York: A man threatened to kill a Muslim mother and daughter, shouted racial and religious slurs, and spat on their car.
  • Calif: A taxi driver was repeatedly hit in the back of the head by passengers calling him “Taliban” and “terrorist.”
  • Florida: a Marine reservist hit a Greek Orthodox priest with a a tire iron and chased him for three blocks. He later claimed than an “Arab man” was trying to rob him, and described the priest as a terrorist.
  • An Idaho Muslim had swastikas and slurs painted on the side of his truck.
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa: an 18-year-old Iraqi refugee and his mother were assaulted after a softball game. The boy’s jaw was broken by a member of the other team, who called him raghead, terrorist, and camel jockey. The same person assaulted the mother when she tried to defend her son.
  • In July 2011, a Pakistani Muslim family that had lived in the US for 15 years had the word “Terrorist” spray-pointed onto their home.
  • Murfreesboro, Tenn: a mother and son were the targets of anti-Musim and racial slurs by a knife-weilding driver.
  • A man at an “Ask a Muslim” information booth outside a mosque was punched in the face by two men, who told police they wanted to kick out all the “ragheads.”
  • Reno, Nev: Scrawled on a wall–“Don’t burn the Koran. Why? Just burn Muslims.”
  • Manhattan: A passenger asked a cab driver, “Are you a Muslim?” When the driver said he was, the passenger slashed him with a knife on the throat, arm, and face.
  • Missouri: a worker at an Islamic center was threatened by a man carring a knife and handgun, who said the center was for people “trying to take over the United States.”
  • A Muslim man of South Asian descent had an aerosol cleaner sprayed into his yes by a coworker who, after failing to convert him to Christianity, began calling him “terrorist” and “Bin Laden.” The Muslim man was later fired from his job.
  • Cyprus, Calif: “US Military is going to kill you all” was scrawled on the side of a mosque.
  • Florida: a mosque was sprayed with bullets that left broken windows and holes in the dome. The mosque’s sign was previously defaced with a swastika and profanity.
  • South Carolina: “Death to Muslims” was scratched into the sidewalk outside a mosque.
  • Oregon: “Allah is a pig” was written on the mailbox of a mosque.
  • Los Angeles: a burned Quran was found at the back entrance of a mosque. Burned Qurans were also found outside mosques in Tennessee, Michigan, and San Francisco after that crazy Florida pastor proposed burning Qurans.
  • Jacksonville, Fla.: a bomb exploded late at night outside a mosque.
  • South Carolina: vandals used bacon to write “pig” and “chump” on a mosque walkway.
  • Seattle: Two Muslim women of Somali heritage were punched and kicked at a gas station by a woman who threw out allegations of “terrorist” and “suicide bomber.”
  • Ohio: A mosque’s surveillance camera caught a man pulling his SUV behind the car of a Muslim woman, who was wearing a veil in which only the eyes are visible. He walked to her car and pepper-sprayed her through the open window, while yelling racial and religious slurs.
  • Dearborn, Mich: a man was arrested carrying large amounts of explosives. He was planning to attack one of the nation’s largest mosques.

Disturbing, huh?

How would you like to live in fear of being attacked–in your home, on the street, anywhere–simply because of your religious beliefs? As a Christian, I face absolutely no such fears. Never have. I’ve been in situations where I felt in danger because of my race, but never because of my religion. But other persons–fellow Americans, protected by the same “freedom of religion” clause–do live in fear simply because of their religion. Fear for themselves, fear for their children. When they go out in public, it’s on their minds. Now THAT is religious persecution.

People like Pamela Geller make a living writing and speaking against Muslims and spreading hate. Geller has posted images on her blog depicting Muhammed as a pig. She frequently appears on FoxNews, a huge platform from which to spread her Islamophobia. Other conservative commentators keep the anti-Muslim hysteria alive, giving fuel to the whackos out there who put the hate speech into action. These commentators will never condone violence against Muslims, but they are entirely complicit it enabling it among their devoted listeners.

To our credit as a nation, attacks on Muslims and mosques are prosecuted by the police, and the FBI also frequently gets involved, since these are hate crimes. As a society, we do not tolerate hate crimes. Unfortunately, we give hate-speakers way too much of a voice. I find it shameful, unAmerican, and certainly unChristian. And I really wish my fellow citizens would be as upset about it as I am.

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Nolte Vs. Travis

Nick Nolte (left) and Randy Travis

For many years now, Nick Nolte has been the undisputed champ of the celebrity mugshot. But now along comes upstart Randy Travis, who apparently made a New Year’s Resolution out of unseating Nolte. In February, he was arrested for public intoxication while sitting in front of a church, but his resulting mugshot was nothing to write home about. So, on August 7, he gave it another shot.

This time, Travis was found drunk, laying on the side of a road, and naked. We’re talking serious points for both style and execution. Bonus points for resisting arrest. And this time, he gave the world a mugshot for the ages.

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Is THAT What I Ordered?

On the left: what I ordered, from the website. On the right: what Pam received.

For Pam’s 50th birthday today, I decided to send her some flowers. So I got on the Lopshire Flowers website, picked out a nice basket, and had it sent.

When Pam received it, she sent me a thank you along with a photo. A photo which I then compared to the photo on the website of what I thought I had ordered. Looks like they at least used the same flowers. Just not very many of them.

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Haircuts and the Invisible Man

Whenever the gals at work get a haircut, everyone notices. It gets commented on, evaluated, oohed and aahed. The haircut, no matter how drastic, is given more than ample attention.

The men receive no such treatment. It is a double standard which society has yet to address honestly.

I got a haircut after work tonight. As you can see from the before-and-after self-photos above, there is a significant difference. How can you not notice the drastic change in my appearance? But tomorrow, nobody will mention it. My haircut will go totally unnoticed.

Once again, my feelings will be severely hurt. Yes it hurts, I’m not ashamed to admit. What do I have to do–get a buzz? Color my hair red? Add blue streaks?

I just want to be acknowledged, to have my existence validated. To hear someone say, “Oh, you got a haircut. Looks nice.” Yet tomorrow, I will no doubt spend the day in my office, putting up a brave front but silently crying out for recognition…and receiving none.

It’s not easy being a guy.

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The Joy of a Supportive Spouse

Some years ago, I knew a young Christian woman who had opportunities to sing in various church-related settings in a couple different states. Not once did her husband accompany her. He could have, but he didn’t. Not once. That really really bothered me. Still does.

As a kid, my parents always tried to attend when I was doing something in public–high school tennis matches and basketball games, playing the piano for the school choir, performances at church. That always meant a lot to me. At tennis matches, my parents were often the only parents watching. It made me a little bit sad for my teammates.

Pam and I enjoy being part of each other’s professional worlds. When I speak in churches or conduct seminars at conferences, she is always there. I appreciate that. She takes vacation time to travel to my professional conferences and seminars, and I do the same for her.

I know all about Pam’s work environment and coworkers, and I’ve tried to learn enough about accounting to be conversant in her world. Likewise, Pam takes an interest in my world of work. I always appreciate Pam’s ready support, and her desire to be part of things that are important to me.

Everyone likes having the support of the persons closest to them.

Which brings me to Mitt Romney. I hope I’m not being unfair, but I’m genuinely bothered by something.

I’m a big fan of Ann Romney. She’s pretty, funny, engaging, articulate, and obviously just a very good person. Plus, she suffers from multiple sclerosis, and seems to have the best of it. Mitt is a straight-laced, goody-two-shoes, every-hair-in-place kind of guy. But Ann strikes me as a worthy counter-balance, the person in the family apt to keep things light, and maybe even a bit earthy at times (as she proved in that “unzipped” Baltimore radio interview). I’m guessing she’s a delightfully ornery person. She’s got that look about her.

Ann Romney also has a hobby which, this week, has taken her to the Olympics. She’s part owner of a horse which made the Olympic team in dressage–a silly sport, in my view, but a recognized sport nonetheless. She is now at the pinnacle of this sport, on the world stage, representing her country. This is a big deal for Ann Romney.

But Mitt is nowhere near. Rather, he’s in Nevada attending campaign events and fundraisers.

Fact is, Mitt Romney doesn’t want to be associated with his wife’s sport. He has tried to distance himself from dressage, to portray himself as totally uninterested in it. His campaign advisors apparently feel–with some justification–that being identified with a rich person’s sport could damage his carefully groomed image and cost him some votes. So he has given in. Ann must go it alone. His needs trump hers.

In an interview with NBC, Mitt Romney downplayed his interest in and knowledge of dressage. “It’s a big, exciting experience for my wife. I have to tell you, this is Ann’s sport. I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it. I will not be watching the event. I hope her horse does well. But just the honor of being here and representing our country and seeing the other Olympians is…something which I’m sure the people that are associated with this are looking forward to.”

The people associated with this. Meaning: not me. I don’t have anything to do with it.

You won’t even be watching? Your wife’s horse is competing for an Olympic medal. As you say, it’s a big, exciting experience for your wife. But you, basically, don’t know anything about it? That’s part of her life, and heaven forbid that her interests intrude upon your time? Is that what you’re saying, Mitt?

Am I the only person bothered by this?

I’m sure he’ll say there were “scheduling conflicts” which couldn’t be resolved. But he could have adjusted his schedule. We all know that.

He could have told his campaign advisors, “I know we’ll take some hits over dressage. But doggoneit, this is my wife. This sport is very important to her, and I’m going to be there with her to share in this once-in-a-lifetime event. She has stood besides me throughout my career, so I’m gonna do the same for her.”

I would have respected that.

Ann Romney has been the model business and political wife. She has raised his children and kept his home(s) while he was out making a fortune, running off to save the Olympics, campaigning for governor, creating a state healthcare system, and for the past eight years running for president. She has no doubt put her own desires on hold so she could support her husband in his various pursuits.

Now, when something very important to her comes along, she must once again take the back seat. His presidential ambitions come first. If there is a slight chance, according to hypersensitive campaign advisors, that standing beside Ann while her horse represents America in the Olympics might hurt his presidential bid, those concerns take precedence.

And so, Ann Romney is at the Olympics without her husband, her soul-mate. He is not there to share in the excitement–in her excitement. Because he very publicly doesn’t want to be connected with this thing she’s passionate about.

Maybe they’ve come to some kind of understanding. I don’t know. Running for president is certainly an extraordinary life circumstance. But I’m guessing that, all things considered, Ann Romney would much prefer that her husband was there to share this experience.

This in no way disqualifies Mitt Romney from being president. It doesn’t affect his ability to lead and fix the country. But as a man and a husband…well, fair or unfair, it bothers me.

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Is This How We Reach the World for Christ?

Rachel Held Evans, a must-read blogger for me, wrote today (Aug 2), “Is this what following Jesus is supposed to be about? Eating a chicken sandwich to prove a point? Is this what mobilizes the people of God? Suddenly, my religion is alien to me–small, petty, reactive.”

I’ve read a surprisingly large number of blog posts, Facebook posts, and comments from conservative Christians who are very uneasy with yesterday’s Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day protest. Not opposed to it, necessarily, but they don’t feel it’s the right approach. One friend wrote to me, “Buying lunch there today in order to thumb my nose at the very people I want to ‘Love-to-Jesus’ just doesn’t seem to make much sense.” In many cases, these writers have gay friends and know that this is coming across to them in non-helpful ways. As the late Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, THEN to be understood.” I fear that the people standing in those long lines gave little thought to how they were coming across.

We need to be strategic and thoughtful about how we go forth with the Gospel. But there was nothing evangelistically strategic about Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. It didn’t start with churches or religious leaders, but with a TV political talkshow host, for goodness sakes. (Which was the greater motivation: supporting Chick-Fil-A, or supporting Mike Huckabee?) Political pundits are not concerned about spreading the gospel and influencing people for Christ. They just want to create a crowd and demonstrate their own influence. So let us NOT take our cues from TV talking heads. Christians are to be the Church, not merely a jump-on-command TV audience.

Not that the multitudes who flocked to Chick-Fil-A had ill-intentions. And there were no doubt a variety of motivations,including nonChristians who oppose gay marriage or were merely supporting free speech. Anecdotes make it sound almost like a revival, a memorable experience where Christians came together over shared convictions. So, good for that. But they were mostly flocking to support a view in an “I’m right and you’re wrong” public controversy. And people on the other side mostly saw judgementalism and condemnation. The gay community is hyper-sensitive to anything they can construe as judgementalism from Christians, just as Christians are hyper-sensitive to anything they can declare to be religious persecution.

Anyway, these comments I’ve read from thoughtful Christians, who refuse to be knee-jerk reactive, are encouraging to me. We need to think deeply about our activism and how it comes across to a nonChristian world, and not merely be puppets for people with secular agendas. People’s souls are at stake. Let’s not risk alienating people we want to reach for Christ merely so we can make a political statement.

Unfortunately, this flap has gotten way out of hand. I fear that it is doing little more than further alienating gays from the church, and making our real work as Christians–of spreading the gospel–a whole lot more difficult. Yes, political points were scored. But it will not increase the population of heaven.

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Eat More Chicken: the Cows are Getting Their Wish

I imagine this is an all-hands-on-deck day at Chick-Fil-A. It is, after all, a relatively impromptu Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. I’ve always respected the company (like their refusal to open on Sunday), and I’ve always loved their food. Pam and I often eat there on the way to music practice on Thursday nights.

Years ago, while traveling across the country from Indiana to Arizona to spend the Christmas holidays with my family, I saw a billboard for a Chick-Fil-A restaurant. I was ready to eat, and Chick-Fil-A sounded great. My mouth was watering. So I pulled off at the appropriate exit, went into the mall…and it was Sunday. Chick-Fil-A was closed. I was SO disappointed.

I’m glad Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy has the backbone to take a public stand on biblical principles. And to take what is, from a business standpoint, a politically incorrect stand. I’m not in total agreement with his statements, and I’m definitely not in agreement with some of the organizations Chick-Fil-A supports. I don’t think taking a public stand like this against homosexuals is going to win anybody to the Lord (just push people away, more likely). But hey, the world’s a better place with Christians who hold strong convictions, and it’s certainly a better place with those delicious chicken nuggets.

Now, Dan Cathy is not suffering religious persecution, as some people hysterically claim. He is merely suffering from disagreement. That happens when you are a prominent person and take a public stand. People disagree with you, perhaps vehemently. But in a pluralistic society, disagreeing with a Christian stand does not constitute religious persecution. It’s just a matter of passionate disagreement. (We are WAY too quick to cry “Religious persecution!” in America; we really don’t understand the concept.)

If Dan Cathy had stated a preference for Ford cars over Chrysler, it would have made Chrysler owners mad, and they would have criticized him. But that doesn’t mean they would be persecuting Ford owners. Or that Cathy was bigoted against Chrysler. So people–chill out, okay?

Is this controversy good for Chick-Fil-A?

I suspect that, from a marketing standpoint, the company would rather be known as a restaurant chain with great food, rather than as a right-wing restaurant chain. They’ve always been up-front about their Christian values, but never in an in-your-face kind of way. More a matter of living their values, rather than of flaunting them. But now, they’ll be known in some people’s eyes as a right-wing company.

But it’ll blow over. Remember those Christian boycotts of Disney back in the 1990s, because they were extending benefits to the gay partners of employees (seems like that’s what it was about, anyway)? My denomination endorsed the boycott, and since we never rescinded anything, I assume the boycott still stands. But nobody knows about it. I’m sure United Brethren people spend thousands of dollars every year on Disney movies, theme parks, and products.

We Americans have a short attention span. We follow whatever pundits tell us to follow at that moment, and when they move on, so do we. This controversy will have a short shelf life. Chick-Fil-A will have a big spike in sales today, and continuing for a few weeks. But then things will return to normal, and people who just like their food–conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike, and people of all faiths–will patronize their local Chick-Fil-A without thinking any political thoughts.

So if you want to get all worked up about this, and if you want to post somebody else’s graphics on Facebook, go right ahead. Knock yourself out. Give Chick-Fil-A this moment in the sun. Couldn’t happen to a better company.

For the moment, biblical values are getting lots of play in the media. But considering all of the vitriol associated with it, and the nastiness being flung around by people on all sides of the issue, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. It’s sad how quickly Christians can be incited to raw incivility, if not full-blown hatefulness. I suspect that this bothers Cathy, and that in the future, he will not be so vocal.

(Perry Noble, a megachurch pastor with an edge, a solid evangelical who knows how to talk straight, wrote an excellent blog post about the controversy: “Ben & Jerry’s, Chick-Fil-A, and Political Correctness.”)

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