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Tired of Being Comfortable – Volume 1 January 8, 2009

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I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time remembering that I have it pretty good.  We’ve all heard the statistics:  1 out of every 6 people around the world lives on less than $1 a day, 800 million people go hungry each day, 8 million people die each year from absolute poverty, and on and on the stats go.  But we’re numb to reality.  We live in a desensitized age where nothing is shocking, except maybe $4/gallon gas.  And now that we’re back to paying $1.75/gallon, all is right with the world.

I am guilty of this, just like you, and I want to change something – anything.  But how?  There are ways to live unconventionally, but I’m married, work full-time and go to school, so there is not much time leftover to jet to Africa to feed AIDS orphans, or to do anything that will prove effective in the long run.  My wife and I sponsor a couple kids overseas, which is nice and I know it makes a world of difference in their lives, but I want to do something bigger.  I find myself reading stories on cnn.com every day about some desperate situation on the other side of the world and I always feel like I’m wasting my life by living so comfortably.  So I am going to keep a list of situations that need my thoughts, your prayers, and someone with the resources to actually affect some change.  I know my thoughts will not fix anything, but as long as those stories stay at the forefront of my attention, I will not be able to get comfortable and complacent with my cozy life.  Vol. 1 of said list is as follows:

The humanitarian crisis taking place in Gaza.  The Israelies and Palestinians have been throwing bombs at each other for 60 years at the detriment of their respective populations, but Israel has the bigger guns and Palestine has suffered the most.  49% unemployement rate in the Gaza Strip.  Something like 25% unemployment in the West Bank.  Both are breeding grounds for Islamic fundamentalism and suicide bombers as a result of unending war, unemployment and poverty.

I once watched a documentary in which the host interviewed young Muslim men in the West Bank about their perceived plight at the hands of the Israelis.  Most felt a sense of hopelessness, fear and anger towards Israel’s security fence that separates the West Bank from Israel proper.  They called the security fence the “apartheid wall.”  Many cite this hopelessness as motivation for engaging in violent acts against Israel.  Of course the Israelis consider the security wall prudent to their own safety.  Many Israelis refer to the security wall as an “anti-terrorist fence.”

In regards to the current conflict, I have read commentary by multiple pundits who say that both sides have committed tanamount to war crimes.  The Palestinians for launching rockets at non-combatants in Israeli settlements near the Gaza border and allegedly launching rockets from the rooftop of a United Nations school in Gaza, which resulted in an Israeli retaliatory strike that left 40+ children dead.  The strike on the school is still being investigated by the Israel Defense Force, but many Muslim groups are declaring the Israeli strike a crime against humanity and are calling for Israel to face international war crimes charges.

The fact is that a tremendously tragic event occured, among a sea of tremendously tragic events unfolding as I type this.  Over 600 dead.  1/5 of those are women and children.  This is a crisis unlike any in recent Near East history.  It is discouraging to think that some of our world’s best and brightest policy makers, despite their best efforts, have done little to avert the violence.

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Social Equality vs. Tradition October 15, 2008

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This past weekend I had the privilege of spending some quality time with my best friends.  As we sat around a fire pit, our conversation began as it usually does:  life, women, and without fail, politics and then religion.   Our beer-fueled discussion ultimately arrived at the topic of gay marriage.

I have a couple friends who made respectable arguments in opposition to gay marriage; mostly on religious grounds.  They don’t condone the gay lifestyle because of Biblical passages that say homosexuality is a sin.  And I respect those beliefs, but I personally support marriage equality on the grounds of freedom.

The Yes on 8 people (a bit confusing if you’re from out of state.  Yes on 8 means you’re voting, “Yes, please amend the California constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman) believe the following:

The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage did not just overturn the will of California voters; it also redefined marriage for the rest of society, without ever asking the people themselves to accept this decision. This decision has far-reaching consequences. For example, because public schools are already required to teach the role of marriage in society as part of the curriculum, schools will now be required to teach students that gay marriage is the same as traditional marriage, starting with kindergartners. By saying that a marriage is between “any two persons” rather than between a man and a woman, the Court decision has opened the door to any kind of “marriage.” This undermines the value of marriage altogether at a time when we should be restoring marriage, not undermining it.  (Taken from http://www.protectmarriage.com/about/why)

I have three arguments in opposition to this view.  They’re my arguments, so take ’em or leave ’em.

  1. The problem with this belief is that it ignores the fact that marriage has already been devalued by heterosexual couples.  Divorce rates are at around 50% in this country and the statistics on men and women who cheat are staggering.  My point is this:  In America, marriage has become disposable.  Any attempt to reinforce the sanctity of marriage must start with the couples who can already legally marry:  straight folks.
  2. The fear that Yes on 8 supporters have of teaching kids about gay marriage is strangely reminiscent of the fear white folks had of desegregation.  I don’t mean to compare the current state of gay rights to the sorry state of civil rights prior to the 1960s, but people are generally afraid of change.  Just because something is traditional doesn’t make it right.  I think the Yes on 8 people are sending up paper tigers in an attempt to scare society into voting against equality.  We can try to hide the fact that same-sex couples exist or we can tell the truth.  It’s that simple.
  3. This is likely my coldest argument and as such could garner the most criticism, but I think it is also the most tangible.  The global population is marching toward 10 billion by 2050.  I believe there is something to be said for same-sex couples as devices for population atrophy.  I know it’s callus, but in theory, same-sex couples cannot reproduce.  Every little bit helps.  My wife and I probably won’t be around when the severe global food shortages take place, but my children and grandchildren probably will.  If one same-sex couple eliminates one or two more mouths to feed, then great.

In review, this why I’m voting No on 8:

  • Marriage has already been ruined by straight people; gays shouldn’t be scapegoated.
  • Kids can handle the truth; it’s adults who have a hard time it.
  • Not procreating is a virtue; this planet will some day reach capacity.

A Few Words in Defense of Our Country September 15, 2008

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Randy Newman – “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country”

I’d like to say a few words
In defense of our country
Whose people aren’t bad nor are they mean
Now the leaders we have
While they’re the worst that we’ve had
Are hardly the worst this poor world has seen

Let’s turn history’s pages, shall we?

Take the Caesars for example
Why within the first few of them
They were sleeping with their sister
Stashing little boys in swimming pools
And burning down the City
And one of ‘em, one of ’em
Appointed his own horse Consul of the Empire
That’s like vice president or something

That’s not a very good example, is it?

But wait, here’s one, the Spanish Inquisition
They put people in a terrible position
I don’t even like to think about it

Well, sometimes I like to think about it

Just a few words in defense of our country
Whose time at the top
Could be coming to an end
Now we don’t want their love
And respect at this point is pretty much out of the question
But in times like these
We sure could use a friend

Hitler. Stalin.
Men who need no introduction

King Leopold of Belgium. That’s right.
Everyone thinks he’s so great
Well he owned The Congo
He tore it up too
He took the diamonds, he took the gold
He took the silver
Know what he left them with?

Malaria

A President once said,
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
Now it seems like we’re supposed to be afraid
It’s patriotic in fact and color coded
And what are we supposed to be afraid of?
Why, of being afraid
That’s what terror means, doesn’t it?
That’s what it used to mean

[To the first eight bars of  “Columbia The Gem Of The Ocean”]

You know it pisses me off a little
That this Supreme Court is gonna outlive me
A couple of young Italian fellas and a brother on the Court now too
But I defy you, anywhere in the world
To find me two Italians as tightass as the two Italians we got

And as for the brother
Well, Pluto’s not a planet anymore either

The end of an empire is messy at best
And this empire is ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free

Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

First Week of Grad School September 5, 2008

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After my first week as a graduate student, I’ve made the following superficial observations:

  • Roughly 75% of the men in my cohort are bald or thinning on top.
  • Roughly the same percentage have either a beard or a classic ’90s goatee. (“pudding rings”, as I like to call them.)
  • I have both a thinning head of hair and a beard.  So I guess I’ll fit in alright.

On a less superficial level, I heard something kind of profound from one of my professors.  She said:

Those with a bachelor’s degree believe they know everything.  Those with a master’s degree think they know something.  And those with a PhD know they know nothing.

…or something along those lines.  The point is that the more we learn, the more we realize that there is so much more to know.  That is both exciting and humbling.

Death Penalty August 28, 2008

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As a Christian, I oppose the death penalty.  [“He who is without sin, cast the first stone.”]  But as a member of society, I cannot say I oppose its use in the most extreme cases.  And such a case just took place in Boise, Idaho.  Convicted sex offender, rapist, torturer and murder Joseph Duncan III has just been sentenced to death for the murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene.  But it does not end there.  Duncan also used a hammer to fatally bludgeon Dylan’s 13-year-old brother, Slade Groene, his mother, Brenda Groene, and her fiance, Mark McKenzie.  But it does not end there.  Duncan was also convicted of the rape-at-gunpoint of a young boy in 1980, the murder of 2 sisters in Seattle in 1996 and he is charged with killing a young boy in Riverside County in 1997.  http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/08/27/duncan.death.ap/index.html

This guy is an animal.  He’ll do more wrong if he’s allowed to live.  Can anyone make a case against the death penalty in this situation?

Don Miller interview with Christianity Today August 27, 2008

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In an interview with Christianity Today, Donald Miller speaks openly about the Democratic Party and the relatively nascent role of Evangelical Christians within the party.  I was told about this interview by Donny Pauling, who once wrote a blog for XXX Church – among other past career ventures.  Click here for Donny’s blog and history.

Author Donald Miller closes DNC in prayer August 26, 2008

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I’m a huge fan of author Donald Miller.  (Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What)  As far as Christian authors go, he is among the smartest and most relevant in modern times.  He was given the opportunity to lead the benediction at the Democratic National Convention taking place in Denver, CO on its opening night.  The video and transript are posted on his site, but I’ve stolen them and put them on mine for your convenience.  Please enjoy.

Father God,

This week, as the world looks on, help the leaders in this room create a civil dialogue about our future.

We need you, God, as individuals and also as a nation.

We need you to protect us from our enemies, but also from ourselves, because we are easily tempted toward apathy.

Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left.

Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them.

Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions.

Give those in this room who have power, along with those who will meet next week, the courage to work together to finally provide health care to those who don’t have any, and a living wage so families can thrive rather than struggle.

Help us figure out how to pay teachers what they deserve and give children an equal opportunity to get a college education.

Help us figure out the balance between economic opportunity and corporate gluttony.

We have tried to solve these problems ourselves but they are still there. We need your help.

Father, will you restore our moral standing in the world.

A lot of people don’t like us but that’s because they don’t know the heart of the average American.

Will you give us favor and forgiveness, along with our allies around the world.

Help us be an example of humility and strength once again.

Lastly, father, unify us.

Even in our diversity help us see how much we have in common.

And unify us not just in our ideas and in our sentiments—but in our actions, as we look around and figure out something we can do to help create an America even greater than the one we have come to cherish.

God we know that you are good.

Thank you for blessing us in so many ways as Americans.

I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice.

Let Him be our example.

Amen.

American Politics, Castro Weighs In August 29, 2007

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Want to know what Cuban president Fidel Castro thinks about the 2008 American presidential race?  Take a peak here.  The article didn’t hold too many surprises for me as a reader, but it was intriguing to learn what Castro thinks of American politics, past and present; it may not be what you’d expect.

Spoiler Alert:  Guess who Castro’s favorite American president is?  Jimmy Carter!  Like I said, not too many surprises in this article.  But check it out anyway.

¡Viva Los Dodgers! August 10, 2007

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I was at the Angel game Tuesday evening against the Boston Red Sox.  The Sox fans were out in full effect.  I had no idea there were so many Boston fans in Southern California.  The Angel fans did their best to feign diehard dedication by yelling amusingly angry epithets at the opposition.  It turned out to be a great game, but I’m a Dodger fan, so I don’t care too much about the Angeles, Red Sox, or American League baseball in general.

 

It’s a dark time right now for the Dodgers, coming off a 6-game losing streak, 4 of which were shut outs, and falling 5 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks (or, “D’Backs”, as the team’s uniforms have been gangsta-fied to read).  As the Dodgers struggle to stay above .500, the Angels are soaring in the American Leage, 2 1/2 games ahead of Seattle.  As I lament the slow descent of my team, I’ve come up with an impromptu list of reasons why the Dodgers are better* than the Angels.  In no particular order, it is as follows:

 

  1. Dodger Stadium’s All-You-Can-Eat Right Field Pavilion

  2. OC fans + Disney-owned baseball team = rally monkeys

  3. “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”?  Come on.

  4. Angel Stadium has a minor rat problem.  And by “minor” I mean it’s been cited for vermin violations more than 100 times over the past two years (some perspective:  Dodger Stadium and Petco Park have had 9 citations combined over the same period).

  5. If I’m going to choose between the upper-middle-class white guy talking on his Bluetooth in the front row at Angels Stadium, or the slightly intoxicated, but ever-so enthusiastic Mexican guy in the nose bleeds at Dodger Stadium, I’ll take the latter every time, hands down.

  6. Angel Stadium parking: $8.  Dodger Stadium park: $15.  You know that extra $7 is paying the best damn parking attendants in the city.  You can’t put a price on vigilance.

*The word “better”, in this sense, in no way reflects the teams’ actual records.

Church and State August 7, 2007

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It is puzzling to me how politicians are among the first to cry foul when they feel the First Amendment rights of Americans are being infringed upon, yet candidates on both the Left and the Right have been quick to toss around religious rhetoric during these dawning days of the 2008 presidential race.  

Should American voters take pause when virtually every candidate claims Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior?  Is there reason to be slightly disconcerted at the idea of an entire pool of religiously like-minded individuals? 

I don’t believe there is any danger in 16+ people have the same faith; this is America after all, and something like 80% of our population claims to be Christian.  I do, however, believe there is reason to be weary of who these like-minded individuals are; not on a personal level, but on a professional one.  These individuals are professional politicians; most of whom have been in politics longer than I have been alive.  A career in which rhetoric reigns supreme is bound to produce individuals who are willing to say anything in order to succeed.

Beyond my personal cynicism toward politicians, there still remains the fact that religious beliefs are a decidedly private matter.  What John McCain, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee believe about God, Jehovah or Allah matters little to me as a voter, so long as they sincerely demonstrate integrity, courage, intellect, and the like.  

Maybe Jesus’ newly-found popularity is a fad that, like the tide, will ebb and flow.  A person’s beliefs will always be present, but the extent to which said beliefs are made public knowledge seems to vary by (election) season.