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On the Good and Bad Economy (Reposted)

While listening to the radio today there was a repeated theme of government entitlements and bailouts.  In June of 2010 I wrote an article in response to an article that appeared in TIME magazine.  Since there are so many new readers to FeelMyFaith.com, and since we are in an election season, I thought it would be apropos to repost it.

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Michael Crowley’s entry into this week’s TIME magazine, “The Good and Bad Economy” outlines the difficult agenda of economic recovery facing the Obama administration as it deals with not only conflicting economic data but also with an electorate sharply divided philosophically on how to end the current recession.  There is a looming fear of the “double dip,” that after some signs of growth our nation’s economy will shrink once again.  Although the nation’s economy has “double dipped” a few times since, the dreaded “double dip” is most often associated with 1937 “when a U.S. economy fighting its way out of the Great Depression crashed a second time, requiring the massive industrial effort of World War II to rejuvenate it.”  In any historical period the “double dip” signals a long excruciating recovery from recession.
Even after an $862 billion stimulus package, soon to run out, the economy remains in peril.  The Obama administration, left minded economists, and Democrats believe that without more government stimulus spending, massive layoffs and budget cuts are a certain future.  “But Obama and his advisers know their hands are tied.  Polls show that voters either don’t understand – or don’t buy – the long established economic theory ofJohn Maynard Keynes, which calls for more government spending (even if it means running up deficits) to help the economy through hard times.  Instead, the public is in the mood to smack big Washington spenders hard this November.”
There are two assumptions that permeate this entire article: 1) If you are against the left/Obama/democrat agenda for economic recovery it must be because you are ignorant and 2) the government is the only answer.  I resent both of those assumptions.  True, I do not know who John Maynard Keynes is, but I manage a church budget and most of the people in our congregation manage their finances both at home and in business.  From my own experience borrowing money may serve as an immediate stimulus to my living room or my driveway, but borrowed couches and cars come with much larger price tags and longer periods of payment than ones paid for with actual cash.  I understand this reality clearly.  While the working man may not understand macro-economics, he is forced to manage his own paycheck week to week; if indeed he is currently drawing one at all.  It is presumptuous to assume that if the electorate “smack big Washington spenders hard this November” that they did it without really knowing why.
The Bible has quite a bit to say about economics both at a personal and national level.  People need jobs.  Man is meant to work.  None of us should expect something for nothing (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).  The entitlement philosophy that pervades our current culture is burdensome, debilitating, and an economy killer.  People need to work.  Indeed this is the central burden of the recession.  How do we put Americans back to work?
The Bible outlines two approaches, one Egyptian (sort of) and the other Jewish.  According to Genesis 40 and 41, Joseph (serving as Prime Minister of Egypt at the time) interpreted dreams that led to the nation storing up during 7 years of prosperity.  Good economics.  After prosperity, there was famine.  In an agrarian society famine=recession.  When 7 years of famine struck the land the people ran out of money.  To stimulate the economy the people exchanged their personal wealth and businesses (land, livestock, etc.) for a government bailout check.  The end result was a massive exchange of private ownership for government control (Genesis 47:23-26).  When the government is the answer to recession the result is an exchange of power, from private ownership to federally funded, heavily taxed, and regulated institutions.  Those who are against the left/Democrat/Obama doctrine of recovery via government spending are not ignorant, but fearful of a less privately owned and more government controlled America.  What has happened to the banking system in recent days is only a first fruit of what could come from reaping such philosophy.  It is the slow, methodical death of the private sector and the expansion of government.      
The other Biblical paradigm is the Year of Jubilee outlined in Leviticus 25:13-17.  The economic philosophy of Leviticus 25 guaranteed there would be no bad loans.  It protected both the lender and the borrower.  The idea here also emphasized private ownership and personal worth.  It gave people a right to wealth while at the same time protected the poor and encouraged generosity.  Instead of penalizing success it created a climate in which everyone had an opportunity to succeed.  To recover or to succeed, one needed only an opportunity to work.
The government, through regulation and deregulation creates an economic climate.  Yet, Biblically speaking it is not the duty of government to create wealth, it is rather the duty of government to punish evil, protect human life, and assure its citizens that they can live quiet and peaceable lives (Romans 13:4, 1 Timothy 2:2).  When the government becomes the coffer of the people the end result is an undue tax burden, the exchange of private wealth for government control, and people who either do not have a mind to work or who do not have the opportunity to work.  People need loans, fair ones, private ones instead of government ones.  Much of this recession can be blamed on bad loans created by a bad governmental ideology.  Why repeat what has already failed?  These loans not only put the lender at risk, but the borrower as well.  The greatest evidence of this is in the collapse of the housing market.  Instead of more stimulus spending and loans for bureaucratic pet projects, American business needs less of a tax burden and more opportunity to employ people who can, in the spirit of Leviticus 25, relieve themselves of debt (from good loans), work in the private sector, and build personal wealth.   
Biblically speaking the path to recovery is through hard work, not government bailouts and stimulus spending.  According to Biblical texts like Genesis 47 and the lessons of history at large, the American people have every right to fear big government spending.  It is not an issue of ignorance, but one of precedence. 
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Tebowing

Before I discuss the current media infatuation over Tim Tebow (which made this week's TIME magazine) a confession is in order.  I am a lifelong, biscuit eating, sweet tea loving, Georgia Bulldog fan.  In case anyone would doubt my dedication to the red and black I have the signatures of Vince Dooley and Mark Richt on a football as validation.  When Tim Tebow played QB for the Florida Gators I appreciated him as a brother in Christ, but only because I had to do so Biblically.  I will confess that when UGA beat Florida and it made Tebow cry, I laughed.  My confession may seem odd to some, but such is the nature of SEC football.  If you do not live in the South you cannot possibly appreciate the culture.  If you do, you know that it could be worse.
When it comes to NFL playoff football, if the Falcons are not a factor (and they rarely are), I enjoy watching the traditional teams go deep.  This means that for the most part I would like to see the Bears or Packers and the Steelers or Jets in the Super Bowl every year.  Yet on Sunday while watching the Steelers and the Broncos I was torn.  I would have been glad to see the Steelers advance, but I also wanted to see Tebow win.  Why?
As much as I enjoy playoff football, I find greater amusement in watching the secular and supposedly unbiased media become confused, stumble over their contradictions, and expose their hypocrisy.  The beauty of Tebow is that if the conversation could be kept to simple QB mechanics the media fumbling is amusing enough.  Tebow throws the football like it’s a hand grenade.  The talking heads of the football pantheon hate it, but Tebow wins.  Tim Tebow is the only QB in NFL history who can complete two passes for over 316 yards and win the game.  Statistically he is a nightmare, yet in the end only one stat counts in the NFL, “w’s.”  Just win baby.
The gravy on the situation is that with Tebow it is impossible to only talk football with him.  Tebow has demonstrated that one can make life (which may involve football, medicine, politics, broadcasting, or being a mechanic) and faith a singular issue.  In so doing Tebow has reminded the church that in the gospel our identity is in Christ.  There is no way to separate a saved man from his Savior.  For the secularized and professedly unbiased media, Tebow’s union with Christ has made the man even more difficult for them to talk about.  For a man who throws the football like a hand grenade, with Bible verses under his eyes, who goes on mission trips in the off season, who prays on the side lines – for him to win is indeed supernatural.  The unspoken doctrine of ESPN is that Christians can’t win – they are boring prudes.  Mechanically Tebow shouldn’t win.  He is all wrong.  The mixture has forced them to ask an interesting question – are we witnessing a miracle?  Is there something supernatural about Tim Tebow?
What is happening with the media is that their hypocrisy with Tebow is apparent.  They want the guy to fail as a quarterback and as a man.  They want Tebow to be a fake for two reasons.  1)  The way he throws the ball shouldn’t work.  2)  What Tebow says and the way he lives is unselfish, self sacrificing, and convicting.  Tebow is salt and light.  Jesus made it clear, someone who comes into an otherwise dark world and redemptively challenges its flavor will not be welcomed.  Because Tebow is doing what every person who professes Christ should do whether they are a concert pianist, a beautician, or a dude on an 0 and 12 water polo team, he makes everyone around him think of Christ.  His faith cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:16).  If they criticize Tebow, they get Christ.  If Tebow wins, Christ.  If Tebow loses, Christ.  If Tebow lives, Christ.  If Tebow dies, Christ (Phil. 1:21).  Every follower of Christ should be the same thing whatever the context.  The difference with Tebow is that he has a huge stage because he plays football; and wins.  His life is more public and so when the result of the cross of Christ in Tebow confuses the “wise” and becomes folly to the perishing – we get to see the gospel do what it does on a national broadcast (1 Cor. 1:18-25).  Football has given Tim Tebow an incredible platform that has exposed scores of people to the gospel.  Though the conversations may begin with football, in the end, football has little to nothing to do with who Tim Tebow is.  He is not a miracle worker.  He is a guy making a living and being what he is supposed to be – a man who cannot be separated from who he is in Christ.  Because of this the media stumbles and fumbles to talk Tebow without talking Christ – but they can’t.  This is why they can’t describe the obvious – the guy is not Tebowing any more than Paul was “Paul-ing” or Moses was “Mos-ing.”  The dude is praying, glorifying God, living for Christ, and playing football.
Sadly the hypocrisy does not only exist with the media, but in the church.  Because American Christianity practices such a nominal form of faith we sound like bumbling idiots when we try to talk sports and God.  Why do we root for Tebow?  Is it to prove that God helps us win?  Before we create an argument we cannot sustain, let’s be careful to be logical and Biblical.  The Bible does give us stories of people like Joseph who God prospers in whatever they set their hands to do (Gen. 39:5).  A central story of the Old Testament is the crazy good slingshot skills of David vs. Goliath – which became in the end God vs. a devilish giant.  The Biblical accounts of Joseph and David make it seem that had these men played QB they too would throw the pigskin like a hand grenade and win.  Yet the Bible also says that godless, immoral people will prosper (Psalm 73).  Some of the NFL’s greatest players have been humanity’s worst people.  Great linebackers and coaches can be horrible husbands and fathers.  They may tackle like trucks but they are not good men.  So the logical, Biblical message for the nominal church is this, be careful to call Tebow a miracle.  Be careful to attribute the perfect landing of his oddly thrown football to some sort of supernatural manifestation of God.  Let’s remember, football is a team game.  Tebow may be throwing the ball to a Muslim with great hands.  He may have gotten the opportunity to score because a wife beating defensive lineman picked up a fumble on the previous series.  The wide receivers who take Tebow’s passes to the end zone may be outrunning defensive backs who lead the opposing team’s Sunday morning devotion.  Tebow may have other team mates who are great Christians who score touchdowns and pray who have been with Denver for several years.  If you follow Denver then you should know, over the last few years it would seem that their prayers were ignored.  If we pin all Tim does with the pigskin on God helping him win, the whole thing unwinds both biblically and logically.  Let’s be careful.
Where the novice church has gone wrong is in thinking that the only purpose of the gospel is to help us win games, make money, be great.  We believe faith means we do not need skill, we just need to win to prove our point.  But this is not the message of the gospel at all.  The message of the gospel is not in what we are promised to accomplish in Christ, but in who we are destined to become in Christ.  What is happening with Tim Tebow is what should be happening with all of us who profess Christ. 
We should not even be deceived into thinking that at the core of it all Tebow’s success proves that God cares about football.  Tonight LSU will play BAMA for a national championship.  Scores of nominal Christians will pray about the game as if God cares who wins.  Crimson will not only play against purple and gold, but they will also pray against them.  Yet, when Jerry Jones cuts a whole in the top of the dome in Dallas so “God can watch His team play” they will call him a blasphemer and an idolater.  Let’s be careful dear hypocrite. 
We have forgotten that we do not follow Christ or pray so that God can help us win games.  We follow Christ because we want to be like Him.  What Tebow is doing is not supernatural, in fact it is rather natural.  Tebow is simply being what he is in Christ.  The reason we are all talking about it is because the media nor the church has seen a man like this in quite some time, a man brings every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  Tebow is not supernatural.  In an increasingly secularized world and an apostate church, Tebow is simply abnormal.  All he is a physically gifted male whose size, strength, character, never give up attitude, and ability to win games has given him a Heisman and a chance to play in the NFL.  Horrible men have done the same thing.  The difference with Tim Tebow is that he is not ashamed of who he is in Christ.  He just happens to be a great football player.  What is supernatural about Tebow is not how he wins games.  What is supernatural is what he has become in Christ.
We all have the same opportunity.
Did God help Tebow throw an 80 yard pass to end Pittsburg’s chance to advance in one play in overtime?  I don’t know, you’ll have to ask God.  What I saw was a good play call for the offense and a bad calculation by the defense.  They thought Tebow would run, but he threw a hand grenade.  Another guy caught it, and because he has was as fast as lightening and lifted weights in the off season he was able to stiff arm a defender and take the ball to the end zone.  It happens every Sunday, even for pagan people.  And that’s the point.  Life happens.  Yet what the gospel calls us to do is to be Christ in life, on any stage, at every stage no matter how big or small.  Whether it is nationally broadcasted, whether you win or lose, whether you cut hair or win the Heisman, every thought is to become captive to Christ.  Tim is not “Tebowing” as if he is creating something different any more than Paul was “Pauling” or Moses was “Mosing.”  Tim is simply being Christ where he is.  We are called to do the same.  
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More Bell?

I want to reiterate a point I made in a previous post.  I have not read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins and at this point I have no plans to do so.  Yet ironically, here we are again talking about Rob Bell’s book which is the cover story for this week’s Time Magazine.

This is one of the most intriguing moments of heresy I have encountered as a pastor and probably the very reason Paul told Titus that when it comes to the heretic or the divisive person, renounce him once or twice and then move on (Titus 3:10)!  We are saying way too much about Bell’s book, which if I can be critical here, is probably not really worth all the fuss.  Without reading it I can speculate that Bell’s hermeneutic in Love Wins is probably distinctly post-modern; which allows for conflicting statements to be equally true (which in most worlds is illogical).  This means his book is probably full of contradictions.  If you saw the MSNBC interview, the anchor exposed this well.   I would allege that Bell allows for questions to masquerade as conclusions (which in most worlds is called agnosticism).  Thus, his book in the end says nothing.  As a post-modern, for Bell, truth is not only conflicting, but it is relative and solely empirical.  In his article, Jon Meacham shares that the seed of Bell’s view of Hell may have been based in a difficult family experience.  Not surprising since it seems that his Christology in Velvet Elvis is based on a tacky piece of art in his basement.  Because he is revisionist, Bell’s book probably takes church history and tradition, and every semblance of theology that is born from it, haphazardly questions it, and then allows for it to be easily scrapped, or at least rewritten beyond recognition.  Meacham alludes to this later point by noting that Rob Bell is an N.T. Wright devotee which makes him prone to read the texts and “where appropriate, to ask whether an idea is truly rooted in the New Testament or is attributable to subsequent church tradition or theological dogma.”  This is an article for another day, but to give some leverage to my point here I ask simply, “who determines when it is appropriate” and “who in and of themselves has the right to say to 1500 years of church history - to hell with you!”  Obviously Wright and Bell feel at liberty to do so, and if you have ever read much of their work, sadly you will concur with my assessment.  I am a Wright fan, but his sense of liberty with the historical theology quill frightens me at times.

If I am wrong in what I allege to be true of Love Wins, please correct me, but most leopards cannot easily change their spots.   

My point here is this, and the TIME Magazine article demonstrates it splendidly, the problem here is not with Hell, nor is the problem with Bell.  Nothing about Bell on Hell should surprise us.  The problem with Bell was there long before he brought us a revision of Hell.  Did Rob Bell suddenly become unorthodox?  Was he ever evangelical?  In the TIME article, Meacham speculates that Bell’s Hell is so controversial to evangelicals because “it comes from one of their own.”  Surely Meacham is the only one who believes this to be true, that Bell was ever evangelical in the same breathe as Mohler or Piper, whom he quotes in the article.  If Bell was evangelical, then I must be mistaken at the meaning of the term.  Yet, at what point on the Nooma ride did we not feel that something may be wrong?  How in the world did we invest a small fortune in artsy videos that were cool but said nothing and books that had clever titles but led to no conclusions, and not have a clue that Rob Bell wasn’t theologically like the rest of us?  If Love Wins is anything like Velvet Elvis then the book is lacking decent Biblical scholarship and any sort of respectable hermeneutic.  When we watched his videos and read his books, did we really think that such loose hermeneutics would lead us to orthodox ends?  Why didn’t we watch the first Nooma and read Velvet Elvis and discern that this is going nowhere, and if it is going nowhere the end will not be good?  I did.  Lifeway didn’t.  Did it really take John Piper and Justin Taylor to suddenly point this out to us in a blog?  If it did, the problem is not so much that Bell is unorthodox, the problem is that the church has so forsaken its doctrinal moorings that it fails to be discerning.  At some point Bell traded orthodoxy for art and many of us fell for it.  These are the reasons why the circus is still so stinking popular - it is the year of the sucker.

So what about Bell?  As far as I’m concerned, I think orthodox fellows have said their piece, now move on.  Quit criticizing Bell and return to sharing the gospel.  Stop sharing what we don’t believe about Bell and his Hell, and share with the world what we do believe about the rest of it.  Let’s make sure that we do not mistake critiquing Rob Bell with sharing the gospel.  Although related, they are not the same.  Sometimes the message is lost in the debate.  Hell is not important because Rob Bell got it wrong.  Hell is important for much bigger reasons than Rob Bell.  So what if we get everybody straightened out about the orthodox evangelical position about Hell?  How many people will go to Hell knowing that we are dead set on there being one, but having no idea how to avoid it?  Is this all about Hell, Bell, or Jesus?  Hell is important, as Meacham rightly points out in his article, because if we suddenly scrap Hell, there is a whole lot of other bits of Biblical literalism, Christology, and doctrine that we can trash along with it.  Hell is worth talking and writing about, don’t get me wrong.  We need to defend the idea that there is a Hell that people suffer within it.  Why?  It is worth the press simply because God said in His Word that the place is real.  But at some point we need to move away from giving so much attention to heresy and return to stating orthodoxy. 

Historically the church has dealt with the heretic in one of two ways.  The church either burns him at the stake, or it sits down to craft a beautifully compelling statement that returns us to the gospel.  Burning the heretic never gets us to the gospel.  Let our Reformed bloggers learn from history here!  What gets us to the gospel is not heretics ablaze, but rather wonderful, affirming, clear statements of the gospel built on the systematic gathering of critical passages.  Some of the greatest moments of church history are when heresy has provoked us to simply return to the gospel and communicate it clearly to the masses.  When the heretics questioned Jesus, the church gathered at Nicaea and made sure that the world knew, when we talk about Jesus as the Only Begotten Son of God, “this” is what we mean.  Perhaps it is time to do it again with Hell.  Let’s make it clear to the world that we are not here to burn Bell, but rather to clearly state the gospel.
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2045, The Year Man Becomes Immortal


Last night we cooked steaks and ate cookies.  Last week I read a couple of books on church history and put pre-emergent on my yard.  My life is un-cool.  As you and I are living un-cool, do you ever wonder what other people are doing while we are putting out pre-emergent?  
Apparently while I put out pre-emergent and read books; computer scientists, psychologists, neuroscientists, nanotechnologists, molecular biologists, a guy who specializes in computers you can wear, a professor of emergency medicine, an expert on cognition in gray parrots and a magician were meeting about singularity.  
Technically they met last August, but you get my point, these guys are way past pre-emergent.  They are meeting about the moment when computer intelligence transcends human intelligence; singularity.  It is the moment we begin relying on computers with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to figure out things about life and health that we cannot.  After singularity your brain, or at least your conscience, can be transferred to a biological robot that will be practically immortal.  Technology is advancing so rapidly, at some point computers will not be programmed, they will think.  Eventually, computers will do life better than we do.  At a NASA symposium in 1993, sci-fi novelist Vernor Vinge announced that, “within 30 years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence.  Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”
Just in case you think this is all loopy and you are tempted to go back to pre-emergent, this story is the front cover of this week’s TIME magazine (Feb. 21, 2011 issue).
And in case you haven’t captured the full scope of the possibilities in Lev Grossman’s article, allow me to quote.  “Markram (head of the Blue Brain project at the Brain Mind Institute of the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland) has said that he hopes to have a complete virtual human brain up and running in 10 years.”  In speaking of Raymond Kurzweil’s (author, futurist, and co founder of Singularity University) work on singularity, Lev Grossman writes, “We ditch Darwin and take charge of our own evolution.  The human genome becomes just so much code to be bug tested and optimized and, if necessary, rewritten.  Indefinite life extension becomes a reality; people die only if they choose to.  Death loses its sting once and for all.  Kurzweil hopes to bring his dead father back to life.”
Just in case you think this is all too sci-fi to be reality, the people who are putting time and money into these projects also gave you Facebook, Google, the voice recognition on your cell phone, and a host of other realities you and I now consider “household.”  “Already 30,000 patients with Parkinson’s disease have neural implants.”  “There are more than 2,000 robots fighting in Afganistan alongside the human troops.”  
For me, reading the article, especially the paragraph quoted above, my curiosity was not peaked because it sounded too sci-fi, but because it sounded Biblical.  Technologically speaking, these people are trying to do what God has done; to create intelligent/conscious life, erase the implications of the fall, conquer death (notice Grossman’s subtle quotation of I Cor. 15:55), and resurrect the dead.  This is not sci-fi, this is Jesus.  These men are trying to technologically redeem the world from sin.
I am not naïve enough to believe that the Singularity Institute begins the day with devotion or that any of these brilliants are consulting a copy of the New Testament, but it is notable how many Biblical themes, particularly New Testament ones are prominent in this longing for singularity.  It is our modern day Babel and has the potential for just as much confusion.
 We have never lost our craving to be God. Singularity is evidence that the spirit of the anti-Christ is an appetite of the age; we can engineer salvation without Jesus.  At the core of all of this is a gross underestimation of what it means to be God and a gross miscalculation of what it means to be human.  Underlying these theories is blind faith in human intellect and science and two flawed presuppositions: 1) There is no creator God who providentially rules over all life and 2) Humans are purely biological.  Every thought, measure of intellect, expression of emotion, conscience, and ounce of spiritual capacity is merely an illusion created by a magnificent but purely coincidental combination of neurons, cells, chemicals, and grey matter.  Even belief in God, like homosexuality, addictive behaviors, and your propensity for diabetes are somewhere coded in our DNA. 
Being immortal is about more than living forever.  Immortality is about having abundant life forever.  If we, through singularity become immortal cyborgs, have we really conquered our most fundamental problem?  The problem is not that we do not live, the problem is that we do not know how to live.  Singularity brings with it a host of ethical and philosophical questions.  What does it mean to be human?  What does it mean to be good?  What does it mean to believe?  What does it mean to be me?    The Bible teaches us that although these ideas have been greatly skewed by the introduction of sin into the human race, at least there is some measure of natural law in humanity that grounds him in a universal sense of right and wrong, good and evil, the value of life and the tragedy of death.  If computers become conscious what happens when something technical and not natural, that fails to be any version of the imago dei, begins to learn?  Will it love us? 
As fascinated as I am in pre-emergent and the possibility of singularity, in the end I am more fascinated by the gospel.  If there is any application the church should draw from this week's TIME magazine it is that the world is concerned with being redeemed.  The subjects of Grossman's article seek to achieve it through singularity, but the gospel is that God has achieved singularity for us in His Son.  
Being fully God, He loved us, redeemed us, and in His Son has given us the possibility of becoming fully human - and truly immortal.  Evangelistically and missiologically I am challenged by the gospel to be as diligently careful and concerned about the future of humanity as the people in Grossman’s article, perhaps even more so.  Which brings me to the most interesting question, as a pastor reading this week's TIME magazine, I had to ask myself.  If singularity is the technological answer to redemption,  is the church as concerned about redeeming humanity as Raymond Kurzweil and his singularity comrades seem to be?  Grossman concludes, "You may reject every specific article of the Singularitarian charter, but you should admire Kurzweil for taking the future seriously."  

Dear church, it is time to take the gospel seriously.  The world craves redemption. 
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Does Israel Care About Peace?

While the White House hosts a new round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Jews enjoy the beach.  When it comes to peace, Israel is apathetic according to Karl Vick in his article, “The Good Life and Its Dangers” which appears in the 9/13 edition of TIME Magazine.  Vick’s article and its accompanying illustrations of families in the park, conversations in coffee shops, and lazy days at the beach, paint the picture of an Israel that is economically booming, secure, and happy.  “In a 2007 survey, 95% of Israeli Jews described themselves as happy, and a third said they were “very happy.”  I interpret Vick’s point to be that Israel is too happy to care about peace.  The cover of Time reads in reference to the article, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.”  For Vick, a prosperous and happy but otherwise apathetic Israel is detrimental to peace.  “Deep down (you can almost hear the outside world ask), don’t Israelis know that finding peace with the Palestinians is the only way to guarantee their happiness and prosperity?”  The article insinuates that without a sense of urgency Israel has no reason to negotiate for her security. 
If you read that first paragraph correctly, you should now chuckle at the irony!  If you do not find this somewhat humorous allow me a moment to dissect the joke.
It has become as routine, over the last 35 years, for U.S. Presidents to call for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as it is for high school students to annually attend the Junior/Senior prom.  This is what they always do.  This is how it always goes.  Israel concedes land, makes political concessions for prisoners or trade routes, and/or makes civil concessions such as housing or water rights, and a few months later their concessions become launch pads for rockets and they get bombed.  Israel concedes, but it is never enough for the controlling militant factions who use the Palestinians as incendiary devices to kill Jews.  For the Islamic controlled nations that surround Israel, most of which also fund terror, land is not enough.  They want Israel dead.  For Iran, who sees the Palestinian state as a launch pad behind enemy lines, conceding land will never satisfy their thirst to see Israel obliterated.  For Iran, who funds Hezbullah and Hamas, there is only one end that will bring peace, a nuclear sized hole in the map where Jews once lived. 
It may not be so much that Israel is too happy to care as much as it is they have no good reason to believe the Palestinians will do as they say.  The result is that Israel has moved on with life.  Vick quotes Teddy Minashi, “We’re not really that into the peace process, we are really, really into the water sports.”  “People here now concentrate on improving their lives, in the sense that they don’t think too far ahead.”  “Me, myself, I don’t believe in this era we’ll achieve peace with our neighbors.  So now we concentrate on what we can do, how we can improve our lives.”
For Jews these talks may also be off the radar simply because of the insignia on the invitations.  Vick points out that Israel has not had a suicide bombing in 2 ½ years and that their economy is booming.  The reason for this is because Israel knows what to do with her borders and she knows what to do with her money.  There has not been a White House administration in quite some time, especially the current regime, that has demonstrated it knows what to do with either.  As America’s borders crumble, her states become warzones, and the economy dies a slow death, why would Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu look across the table at President Obama or Secretary of State Clinton and possibly want to do it their way?  Neither Obama nor the Clintons have demonstrated that they have Israel’s best interest in mind.  Why should Israel trust either of them?  Yet, don’t forget that according to Karl Vick 95% of Israelis are happy with Israel.  If you follow the approval ratings of most things America, there is a growing sense of disapproval amongst the electorate.  Why would Israel want to join in the misery?  Furthermore, why would Netanyahu want to look at any of his Islamic neighbors who rule over states where the crowns hold the cash, the people are in poverty, there is growing sense of unrest, and epidemic human rights violations, and want to do it their way?  I am not sure Israel is as apathetic as they are laughingly entertained by the thoughts that somehow surrendering sovereignty to the less than successful will assure them of a better future. 
My purpose for writing these responses to TIME Magazine is not necessarily to wax political.  My purpose is to shed Biblical light on current issues.  The impact of the peace process with Israel, from a Biblical perspective, is not difficult to discern.  This process is a key component to prophecy.  Where will this round fit in, I’m not sure, but it is somehow a precursor to a raw deal, a false sense of peace, and the loss of Israel’s national security and sovereignty.  It is a lens that clarifies for the discerning reader that politically this peace process is fundamentally flawed and prophetically what the Bible says is to come is entirely possible.  Somewhere along the line Israel will no longer be apathetic.  She will be betrayed.  From a cursory scan of Biblical texts like Daniel, Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives, or the Revelation, one will find that this peace process will be the mechanism that ushers in the end.  Vick’s article should only help to reinforce the believer’s faith that the Bible is not the fictitious story of a fantasy land, it is the unfolding story of this one, our reality – our current issue of TIME Magazine.  We live between the covers of Scripture, the beginning and the end.  This is our story.  We should read it, believe it, and seek to end it faithfully.  May we pray for Israel and Jerusalem.      
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Islamophobia

A phobia is an irrational fear.  In this respect “phobia” is a commonly used suffix attached to any one of a long list of words that make your fears seem more professional, or at the very least can make it appear to others that you have a good grasp on Latin.  Add to the list a new phobia, Islamophobia.  Congratulations to Bobby Ghosh for coining this one.  I am not sure he is the originator, but I haven’t heard it as frequently used as I did on the Sunday morning news shows following the release of the 8/30/10 edition of TIME magazine, which simply reads on the cover, “Is America Islamophobic?”
The controversy over the building of an Islamic mosque at Park 51, near the site of Ground Zero, has resulted in anti-Islamic sentiment in the US of A getting press.  During political seasons, where there is controversy there will be polls.  61% of Americans oppose the Park 51 mosque vs. 26% who are in favor and 13% who either don’t know or didn’t answer.  The popular translation of this data is that most Americans are Islamophobes.  Last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called for an investigation of the opposition.  Ghosh’s article in TIME cites anti-Islamic rhetoric from small town city halls and bakeries to conservative religious and political leaders like Franklin Graham and Newt Gingrich.  “The concern now is that the mosque protests and the attention they have drawn from politicians may have brought Islamophobia firmly into the mainstream.”  The tone of Ghosh’s article seems to be that the protests of Park 51 are fueled by an irrational fear of the Muslim faith and that they raise, “larger questions:  Does the U.S. have a problem with Islam?  Have the terrorist attacks of 9/11 - and the other attempts since - permanently excluded Muslims from full assimilation into American life?”  
Labeling one’s opponents as phobic is a page out of the political correctness playbook.  If you can make a man who has strong convictions against homosexuality seem as silly as a big man who is afraid of spiders, you can easily ignore his arguments because after all, he is irrational.  It is easier to call a man insanely scared and paint him a coward than it is to deal logically with his reasons.  Most people who oppose proposition 8 are not irrationally afraid of gay people, they are morally against homosexuality.  It is the same with Isalmophobia.  Is it irrational to believe that most of the 61% of those who are against a mosque near Ground Zero have good reasons for their opposition?  If we were going to find a term to accurately describe the protest it would not be “irrational fear.”  I am sure there are some people who are afraid, but given what happened at Ground Zero, “irrational” is no longer a fitting term.  
People have good reasons for being against Islam.  What is irrational is the attempt by pop-media to convince America that 9/11 had nothing to do with Islam.  It is also difficult to deny that Islam is not only a religious ideology, but a political one as well.  Islamic states do not have a good international track record for human rights, freedom, or diplomacy.  Ask Israel.  Let’s not forget there is an Islamic holy site and a mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Why not build another one at Ground Zero?  Why is America anti-Islam:  Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, Afganistan . . . look up the track record of almost any nation that is a part of the 57 member Organisation of the Islamic Conference and you will not find irrational fear, but good reasons why America does not want to be heavily influenced by Islam.  In most of these states there is rampant and severe religious persecution.  Now, who is the phobic?  Take a field trip and find visit First Baptist Saudi Arabia.  No one in New York or America is saying “you can’t build a mosque.”  What they are saying is, “Build it, but don’t build it here.”  Petition the Saudi government and ask them where you can build a church.
Another page out of political correctness propaganda is to immediately play the race card.  Equating opposition to racism is another quick way to discredit someone’s argument and exile them from the public forum because they are insane, archaic, and irrational.  Racism is irrational, sinful, and idiotic.  Yet, the public outcry against a mosque at the WTC has nothing to do with race, but patriotism.  I have not heard anyone angry because people in the mosque are Arabic, Indonesian, African, or Pakistani.  My understanding is that it is the desire of Muslims for Islam to be very eclectic.  How then can this possibly be a race issue?  If Islam does not see itself as a “race thing” then why is it when you protest against it that it suddenly is?  The opposition is over the tenants and ideology of Islam, one (even if it is an extremist minority) expression of which was largely responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 Americans.  As much of a misunderstanding of Islam as many claim this to be, it is hard to deny the context at Ground Zero.    
If America is anything, it is not Islamophobic.  It may be hypocritical, but it is not Islamophobic.  If we are Islamophobic then we are even more so prayer-in-school-ophobic, God-ophobic, nativity-scene-at-the-courthouse-ophobic, and Merry-Christmas-ophobic.  Why are we so suddenly passionate to publicly protect Islamic belief in God when we have all but dismissed Judeo-Christian ones from the public arena?  Our hypocrisy further expresses itself in that we are suddenly constitutionally savvy toward Islam when we seemingly could not find a copy of the constitution during the health care debate, TARP, or banking regulation.  Furthermore, Islamophobia is suddenly getting press because people do not want a mosque at Ground Zero.  Are we also Greek-Orthodoxophobic?  Apparently, St. Nicholas church, which was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, has been trying to rebuild near Ground Zero for 9 years.  What is the rationale behind ignoring that story?  Does the constitution apply to the folks at St. Nicholas?  Why doesn’t President Obama issue a statement of their constitutional rights?  Apparently he has been asked to do so.  Did you know that if you try to share the gospel peacefully outside of an Islamic festival in Dearborn, Michigan that you will be arrested?  What’s the phobia there?
As much as we hate to admit it, America is not actually free.  We can only drive so fast.  We can build only when and where we have permission.  There are good reasons for not allowing a strip club to build next to an elementary school.  It has nothing to do with irrational fear.  There are good reasons we don’t want poker halls next to churches, or candidates at voting precincts, or coal plants in nature preserves, or mosques at Ground Zero.  It has nothing to do with phobia.
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Mad As H-E-Double Hockey Sticks

The new American ethic is to celebrate dysfunction.  No longer do we honestly evaluate what is right vs. what is wrong, the new moral standard is to garner the most attention.  No matter how stupid, evil, or harmful the action, if you get a reality show out of it, good press, or a large census on a Facebook fan page, you did the right thing. 
Last week Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant, cursed out a passenger via the in cabin intercom (at least this is what I gather), grabbed a beer, pulled the handle for the emergency shoot, slid victoriously down the inflated slide, and ran away.  It was his “Take This Job and Shove It” moment.  If you didn’t hear about this you don’t have an internet connection, a television, or any sort of magazine subscription.  I would not be surprised if Martha Stewart Living did a cover story.  This week’s TIME Magazine included it only as a “Briefing” on page 13.
The writer of the brief article, James Poniewozik, said that Slater’s, “mad-as-hell rebellion struck a chord.”  From all the reporting I have read and watched, the chord has been an overwhelmingly positive one.  Poniewozik assesses Slater’s actions as not the most “level headed”, yet Slater is heralded as “our new folk hero of the skies.”  Wikipedia says of folk heroes, “The folk hero often begins life as a normal person, but is transformed into someone extraordinary by significant life events, often in response to social injustice, and sometimes in response to natural disasters.”  This normal to extraordinary transformational path certainly holds true for Slater.  Folk heroes are caricatures of the conscience of the people.  They are bigger than life versions of what we want to be, or do, but haven’t.  We live vicariously through them.  Since Slater is our newest addition to the pantheon of folk hero, does this mean we are all as Poniewozik describes Slater, “mad-as-hell?” 
Before I answer the question of whether or not we are “mad-as-hell” allow me to entertain this one.  Do we want a society which is openly angry, openly vulgar, naturally rebellious, and ever on edge?  Are we glad we are about to explode?  In a culture that celebrates insanity there will be people who pretend their kid is in a weather balloon drifting aimlessly toward death.  There will be television shows that parade sexually aggressive women before Adonis and others that parade sexually confused men before Aphrodite.  The largest contracts will go to rookies who have yet to step onto the field.  We will come to believe that journalism is five angry women clucking on a couch.  We will ignore constitutions, company rules, and rewrite history as if we have the right.  In a society that’s newest folk heroes are “mad-as-hell” we will look stupid and like it.
In Matthew 5 – 7 Jesus outlined the kingdom ethic.  What is commonly referred to as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is a bottom-up, rather than a top-down approach.  A culture of moral excellence begins with brokenness at the grassroots level.  I may actually be “mad-as-hell,” but instead of vulgarity over the intercom with no regard for whose son, daughter, or wife may be in the audience, I will instead be careful to control myself and  avoid insulting my brother rather than suffer the inevitable consequences of my wrath (Matthew 5:21-26).  Forgiveness is more virtuous than insult.  In a culture that practices the kingdom ethic, television shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and “The Ultimate Catch” get horrible ratings (Matthew 5:27-30).  When people prefer to be moral instead of mad there is less divorce (5:31-32), more truth (5:33-37), authentic generosity[i] (6:1-4), less anxiety (6:25-34), and more social conscience about the way we treat others (7:12).  Our culture is standing on its head.  The ones who can shock us, scare us, and tempt us; lead us.  When we regain our moral bearing, we will call Slater-esque behavior what it is, stupid.  Slater lacked self-control, he overreacted.  What he did was selfish, not heroic.  He could have cared less how his actions affected every other passenger on the plane.  Case in point, when asked about pulling the emergency chute Slater responded, “I always wanted to do that.”    
So are we “mad-as-hell?”  Absolutely.  We are mad at everything – politicians, oil companies, economics, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, George Bush, Nancy Pelosi, MSNBC, Keith Olbermann, the weatherman who interrupts our favorite show, football coaches, umpires, referees, waiters, red lights, traffic jams, Windows Vista, dropped calls on iPhone 4 . . . shall I continue?  I am not sure we are as mad in the sense of being angry, as we are mad in the sense of being borderline insane.  Perhaps there is a happy merger of the two meanings of “mad” here.  Because we are allowing our anger to be our ethic, it is slowly driving us insane.  At the very least it is causing us to look stupid.  We have lost our moral bearing and the result is that we are forging a new, dangerous morality.  When I go mad, my wife offers simple advice, “Get a grip.”  She means that I should control myself and think before I do something stupid.  This is the message of my wife, of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and sage advice for our time, as a people and a culture, we desperately need to, “get a grip” on ourselves and return to celebrating moral excellence rather than dysfunction.  If we allow “mad-as-hell” to be the controlling ethic, it will not be long before we get there.




[i] Authentic generosity as opposed to the “cause of the week” being publicized as a knee jerk telethon put together by some celebrity who otherwise has no moral conscience toward those in need.
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On "Inside the Minds of Animals" from TIME 8/16/2010

I have always enjoyed Saturdays.  Saturdays usually mean second sleep, waffles, college football in the fall, less of a schedule, and a long quest for stuff.  Only on a Saturday can you be satisfied with spending half the day looking for a deal on a chair, or a shovel, a rake, or an aquarium.  Saturday is a weekly celebration of doing and buying miscellaneous stuff.  I have only recently added another glimmer of hope to my Saturdays with a subscription to TIME magazine.  TIME magazine assures me that I get some piece of Saturday mail that is not a bill or some stupid ad for a car lot with the winning key attached.  I subscribed to TIME for two reasons.  1)  I need to be more current.  2)  I wanted to know what people who are nothing like me think about.  According to the cover of this week’s TIME magazine, people nothing like me are currently thinking about animal intelligence. 
When I took my Saturday walk of hope to the mailbox, pulled out the current issue of TIME, saw an ugly dog on the cover and read the headline “What Animals Think”, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  I even showed it to my neighbor Chuck as we contemplated Saturday stuff like trampoline enclosure nets, and quipped, “With all the stuff happening in the world right now, this is the best we can come up with?”  Some of the other stuff is in there, but at some level the folks at TIME thought that knowing what animals would think would be a bigger draw for the newsstand customer than a rapper running for President in Haiti, corruption on Capital Hill, or the weekly TIME update on life and times of the Clintons.  The Clintons are TIME magazine’s reality show. 
For this series of blogs About TIME, I have chosen to respond to the cover story each week with the exception of one.  When I saw the doggie on the cover this past Saturday, at the moment it was a no brainer.  There was no way I would write about what animals think.  But I have obviously reconsidered.  I engaged in this assignment About TIME to not only help me become a better and more current communicator, but also to help others see that the Bible relates to every issue of life.  For the most part people who believe the Bible are losing their seat at the round table of ideas.  We are being categorically ignored.  I am not sure how well I am helping our camp get an invite back to the table, but I do intend to crash the party, stand in the back of the room and boogie to the music everyone else is listening to.  Maybe if others see that I am having a great time they won’t kick me out and others may even join my awkward dance.
If I could quickly sum up the argument in Jeffrey Kluger’s article it would be that since animals are smarter than we think, we should probably rethink not only the way we treat them but also reconsider their place in life and society.  Kluger calls attention to the 1975 book, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.  According to Kluger this book launched the modern animal-rights movement (I learned something new here).  “The ability to suffer, he argued, is a great cross-species leveler, and we should not inflict pain on or cause fear in an animal that we wouldn’t want to experience ourselves.”  Kluger documents startling research that shows that animals can not only communicate, but form societal bonds, solve problems, and use tools.  He even asks the controversial questions of, “Can they feel?  Do they experience empathy or compassion?  Can they love or care or hope or grieve?”  Again, the answers to these questions along with the consideration of the research, raises the question, “What does that say about how we treat them?”  Kluger does mention the Bible in his article, “For many people, the Bible offers the most powerful argument of all.  Human beings were granted ‘dominion over the beasts of the field,’ and there the discussion can more or less stop.”
My interpretation of Kluger’s statement on Scripture, coupled with findings of Science, is that the Bible offers an archaic view of animals that leads to uncontested abuse, but science is helping us find our way into a more ethical view of animal life.  The fallacy here is that science is actually saying something new that the Bible does not say.  If the issue is primarily how we treat animals, the Bible answered this long before a monkey invited Kluger over for coffee (see the opening paragraphs of the article).  The idea of human dominion over animal life was never an endorsement of barbarianism toward the beasts of the field.  The idea of Scripture is for humans to subdue the earth.  God brought about creation from chaos.  Without His “images” or “agents” who carry out His will working to subdue created life, creation would descend again into chaos.  Like God, we are to be creative, life giving.  The idea actually implies that if people did what God sent them here to do it would benefit not only human life, but every form of life including plant and animal life.  The Bible teaches that God is aware of and cares for animals (Matt. 6:26, 10:29).  God commands people to care for animals (Prov. 12:10, 27:23).  One should consult the laws concerning livestock in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy to see that God requires compassion for animals and renounces cruelty.  Even the animals get a Sabbath (Exodus 20:10).  The message is very symbiotic, you need them to live and they need you – get along!
As far as animals being marvelous and intelligent, again, science is saying nothing new.  God directs us to marvel at the efficiency of the ant (Prov 6:6-8), and to learn from the fish and fowl (Job 12:7-10).  The eagle and the lion are often used as teaching metaphors for theological truths about God.  Even Jesus is a lion and a lamb.  And lest you thought it was only the monkeys that talk, in Revelation 5:13 some translations read “talk” others read “sing”, but all the living creatures speak praise to the one who sits on the throne.  Kluger shouldn’t have just asked Kanzi the bonobo for coffee, he should have asked him for a song.
Somewhere the message of Creationism has been misconstrued.  By default most people believe that creationists do not care for animals like evolutionists.  Somehow creationists are excluded as legitimate environmentalists.  It appears to me that unless one sells his soul to the animals in such a way that elevates animal life and demonizes human life, that he cannot possibly care anything about the planet.  I would contend that the Biblical position of exercising dominion over the animals and subduing creation in order to better facilitate human life is a greater benefit to the animals than simply allowing chaos to run its course.  The Biblical position is not one of destruction or unbridled consumption, but of management.  I would call attention to the fact that the Christian church does need to have a greater conscience when it comes to animal cruelty, especially when it comes to pets and livestock.  There are practices within both industries that are cruel to animals and hazards to human health.  In observing the strict practices of sacrifice and animal consumption in the Old Testament we would find not only a much more ethical treatment of animals, but also, in time, a more fit and less diseased human population. 
Where I, and most Christians, find disagreement with the prevalent ideas of the animal rights movement as demonstrated in Kluger’s article, is that it is not necessary to equate animal rights with human rights in order to find a more ethical treatment of them.  Let’s be honest.  While Kanzi the Bonobo’s use of 384 words and his invitation to Kluger for coffee is impressive, it is not the same as human intelligence.  If Kluger had stumbled into a remote part of the jungle and found a pack of monkeys sitting at a table, percolating coffee in a machine, making espresso, and debating the ethical treatment of the orangutan, I would have been impressed.  That would be something new!  Yet the fact remains, animals use tools, but have yet to adopt the combustion engine or find ways to harvest energy.  They do not write op-ed pieces about animal rights.  There is no organization amongst the Lions for the Ethical Treatment of Gazelles (LETGo).  Yet there is a PETA – that fact alone, ironically enough, demonstrates we are not animals and animals are not the same as humans.  This is where the Bible is clear.  Human life is infinitely precious.  There is no contest.  Animals are not to be abused, neither are they to be deified, worshipped, or elevated beyond what they were created to be.  In a culture that misses the Biblical ethic of life one can legally abort a human baby, but will go to federal prison for breaking the egg of an eagle.  We should appreciate animal life and conserve it.  We should honor human life and protect it.  We should not forget, monkeys could care less that it is Saturday.  Perhaps the things we do with Saturdays alone are enough evidence that we are very different creatures indeed.    
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The Deception of Disasters

Time Magazine has two interesting articles this week on the Gulf’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, “The Spill’s Psychic Toll” by Bryan Walsh and “Big Spill, Little Damage?” by Michael Grunwald.  I appreciate Walsh’s article simply because it is about people.  In a culture gone green it seems like we are more concerned about the birds than we are about the people.  Coupled with Grunwald’s article, which suggests that the “predictions of ecological catastrophe” were “overblown”, one can surmise that the Gulf oil spill will cause more long term devastation to people of the region than it will to its habitat.  
Crisis does something to people.  It causes panic and confusion.  As such, disasters have always been breeding grounds for dishonesty and deception.  Price gouging is the most obvious example.  The sheer lack of resources beckons shady entrepreneurs to make a quick buck off of desperate people.  One man sells a $50 heater for $300.  A cold man suddenly believes that a $300 heater is a good deal.  In certain types of disasters, ie. Katrina, looting is common.  During chaos the unwritten but agreed upon moral codes that prevent us from devouring one another are tabled.  While the streets are flooded a man breaks into a store and steals a plasma TV.  Is a 42 inch high-def necessary for survival?  No.  He steals it simply because during a flood, he can.
In times of disaster logic is overcome with emotion.  Helpless people are emotional people.  In the case of the Gulf oil spill the most noticeable emotion is anger.  Anger leads to blame.  Walsh writes, 
“By its nature, a man-made disaster like an oil spill differs from a natural one like an earthquake - and it can cause far more psychological havoc.  The difference, in a word, is blame: while no one can really be at fault for a natural disaster, victims of man-made catastrophes have plenty of places to point fingers.  That creates anger, and it builds and builds, it leads to what Picou calls, ‘corrosive communities.’”
Because people were angry at BP there have been some major decisions by the U.S. government that have been unprecedented and have largely gone unchecked.  From day one this oil spill has been lauded as the greatest ecological disaster of all time by people in every sphere of influence from top level government officials, to those in the media, to the blogosphere.  Because we were angry, we were told it was the worst, it felt like the worst, and so we believed it was the worst; no question.  Soon after, before the gushing well was ever capped, there was a massive demand for cash; $20 billion to be exact.  Because we were angry we never asked if our government can constitutionally do that sort of thing.  More importantly, because we were angry, we never asked if that is how much all of this actually costs.  
I am not saying that people have not been hurt.  I am not saying there has not been major ecological damage.  I am not saying that BP shouldn’t pay.  I am simply asking, have we, out of anger, been led astray?
Saying something is the greatest ecological disaster of all time is like saying that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer in history when statistically he still falls short.  It is like saying that Stephen Strasburg is one of Major League baseball’s greatest pitchers before he ever threw a major league pitch.  Tiger is floundering.  Strasburg has a bad shoulder.  The Gulf oil spill has been less than advertised.  If you believe the Gulf spill to be the worst, you should also read "Four Environmental Disasters Worse Than the Deepwater Oil Spill" by Ryan Tracy from Newsweek.  I would contend that the lost tourism in the Gulf had nothing to do with oil and more to do with sensationalism.  So, what happened to the oil?  Grunwald explains as he compares the Deepwater spill to the Exxon Valdez,
“First, the Deepwater oil, unlike the black glop from the Valdez is unusually light and degradable.  Second, the Gulf of Mexico, unlike Alaska’s Prince William Sound, is very warm, which has helped bacteria break down the oil.  Third, heavy flows of Mississippi River water have helped keep the oil away from the coast.  And finally, Mother Nature is resilient.”  
To demand $20 billion without legal checks and balances or a receipt not only sets a bad precedent but it creates another gusher.  Instead of oil, this time it is a money slick.  It spreads, no one knows where it is going or how big it will be.  There will be corruption.  Inevitably there will be a new set of victims.  Strangely, there will be a new set of millionaires and a new set of paupers.  Ask Alaska.  But people want to be paid.  Is anyone making sure that the right people are being paid for actual damages and/or to fund viable solutions?  No one seems to care whether or not it is legal to fleece BP.  Sure, everyone is mad at them, but is it right to destroy a company just because you are mad?  The golden rule applies here, what if the company or family or wallet in question was yours?  A government that will fleece big oil can and will eventually do the same to big shrimp, big beaches, and little sea side restaurants.  All it will take is for someone to get mad and point a finger.  Furthermore, is it really going to cost $20 billion to make what is wrong, right?  I concede that there are incalculable costs in disasters.  No amount of money can buy back the lives of those who died in the initial explosion or who have died in the cleanup effort.  I have no frame of reference, but what if it only costs $11 billion, or $70 million, or $15 billion to make restitution?  What happens to the rest?  Who gets it?  I have my suspicions.  But what if it costs $44 billion?  What then?  Because we were mad, have we sold some people who really need help short?
I will probably be deemed heartless for writing this article and portrayed by some as if I don’t care about the environment or the people of the Gulf who have been hurt by not only BP, but also by the other oil companies, manufacturers, and regulators whose negligence has caused a disaster (has our anger also made us believe BP stands alone?).  Yet the primary reason for writing this article was not to debate who needs to pay, or how much, but rather to call attention to the fact that during times of distress and disaster we care less about the facts because we think emotionally rather than logically.  This is not true of the Gulf oil spill only.  The same holds true in almost all disasters.  Disasters do something to people.  In climates in which emotion usurps logic, people can be easily led astray.
In Mark 13 Jesus predicts a cataclysmic event for the nation of Israel.  The Temple will be destroyed.  In His teaching Jesus emphasizes not necessarily what will happen, but rather how we are to react.  He is careful to instruct us not to be led astray.  Jesus bookends His teaching (Mark 13:6, 22) by calling attention to false Christs and prophets who will deceive and mislead.  How does this happen?  It happens because in times of crisis the loudest voice often sounds like the most logical one.  When people panic, they can be easily swayed.  It is like a man in a smoke filled room who shouts to the rest, “This way” and no one takes the time to ask if he actually knows where the exit door is.  They just follow.  Because they went the wrong way, the human toll is greater.  This is the emphasis of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13.  If you follow the wrong voice you will not find solutions, you will find an even greater disaster.  A cursory reading of Josephus’ writings of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. will testify that what Jesus said here, is true.  Before disaster strikes, take time to study the room.  Know where the doors are.  It could keep you from making a rash decision in a crisis.  It could save your life.    
False prophets prey on emotional responses.  They captivate people who are careless with the facts.  Disasters are breeding grounds for deception.  They are the megaphones of false prophets.  Politically, disasters become platforms for an agenda.  I think we need to be careful.  I think we are writing too many checks and not asking enough questions.  If we are not more cautious, after the oil is gone, there will be more victims.  It is not just the victimization of people, but potentially the death of ideas like - free enterprise, capitalism, democracy, and any decent solution to the looming energy crisis.  Spiritually, what is happening in the Gulf is a commentary on the human soul.  This is what we do when we panic.  We get emotional and we are easily deceived.  According to Jesus, there are more disasters to come.  Let us note how we react to them, awaken to truth (Mark 13:37), and refuse to be led astray.       
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On "The Case Against Summer Vacation"


In my limited experience with writing I know that an article is like a three year old in a crowded mall, it can get away from you in a hurry. What you intended the article to be, turns into something else completely. In the case of David Von Drehle’s article in this week’s TIME Magazine, “The Case Against Summer Vacation”, at the outset appears to be another entry from over zealous math teachers everywhere in their conspiracy against summer vacation, but in the end becomes something else entirely. Either the article got away from him or he brilliantly sucked in over zealous anti-summer math teachers to read a well written apologetic for education reform.
The subtitle caught my eye as it called summer vacation, “An outdated legacy of the farm economy” and goes on to loathe the tradition by saying, “Adults still romanticize it (I am guilty here). But those months out of school do the most damage to kids who can least afford it.” The gut reaction of a guy who grew up camping, playing sports, and going on church retreats to the beach is that David Von Drehle needs to jump in a lake; not in a way to do himself personal harm or injury, but rather the man needs to loosen his tie and have some fun. Anytime I read an article that I don’t like I immediately picture the writer wearing a shirt and tie, with pasty white skin zapped of pigment due to long exposure from fluorescent lighting, who is in desperate need of 15 minutes of fun. Ironically, when I judge others, I see myself; how Biblical! Yet summer vacation has seemingly always been under assault by slowly lengthening school calendars leaving me to an almost apocalyptic vision of empty lakes, deserted pools, and overgrown baseball diamonds. I fear that it won’t be long before summer is gone.
For those who assault summer, the line of thinking is that we need more school to have kids who are smarter, more skilled, and have a better opportunity to succeed at life in adulthood. These ideas come from the philosophical pool that espouses education as the answer to our societal ills. While I agree that education is a critical component to society, I think we have more than proven that our current version of school is not the entire answer. I believe this is also a subtle conclusion (intended or unintended) of Drehle’s article. He quotes a study from Education Sector that “highlights a problem with relying on public schools for summer enrichment.”
“In the best schools, there would be an ample increase in academic learning time,’ author Elena Silva wrote.’ ‘But in poorly managed schools, with inexperienced teachers and a host of other challenges,’ a longer school year just means more lost days. If school districts fail during the traditional year, what are the chances that competence and creativity will suddenly blossom when the weather turns hot? In the best summer only programs, bureaucracy is lean and change is easy.”
The article goes on to applaud the success of the summer programs highlighted by saying that the environment in which the summer programs work “fosters easy innovation and rapid improvement.”
My reservation with shortening summer vacation and lengthening the grip of public education is that it will be more of the same. Summer affords kids to learn something else from someone else. The assumption is that during the summer, kids fall behind. Yet in Drehle’s article he calls attention to some cases in which kids actually excel and pull ahead academically due to summer programs that exist outside the reach of public education. Summer does not have to be time lost. With the right opportunities and involvement summer can be quality time for the expansion of the soul.
Drehle’s article calls attention to something I feel needs to be recognized in this era of government standardized education, one size doesn’t fit all. The world of my daughters and the world of inner city children is not the same. I don’t want it to be the same. It does not need to be the same. Children at different income levels, different geographic locales, and from different cultures need creativity and innovation, not standardization. When everything is measured by the lowest common denominator, there is only one direction to go, down. Standardization is a utopian ideal, a mirage in the desert of impractical solutions, a social experiment of the elite that hurts instead of helps.
For Christian kids summer is a retreat of the soul. Church camps and Vacation Bible School allow opportunity for children to learn lessons that have been exiled from public education – namely that there is a God who has sent His son to save the lost soul. For some kids summer is an opportunity to spend time with the family. In other areas summer affords children time with mentors and coaches. In the lives of those who spend three seasons of the year in the negative, summer is an opportunity to expose them to something infinitely positive. Drehle here does a brilliant job of drawing attention to the beauty of summer programs, they meet personal needs. Yet I am not blind to the problems. They need to be addressed. Summer can be cruel reminder to some children that they have no family. This can be the case for the monetary elite or the impoverished – kids are abandoned in streets and in mansions. Yet again, I would make the case that public education, in its current standardized version, has little to no solutions for these sorts of problems.
As with anything the key is funding, more funding, and greater funding. Another key component is involvement. As a general rule, churches do a great job of creating child focused opportunities that are either cheap or free. Vacation Bible Schools and church camps are generally offered for all, but you can’t force people to take advantage of the opportunities. Whether it is an inner-city youth club or a suburban arts camp, there is a constant need of evangelization. Our local library offers a great summer reading program that is well attended, but there is always room for more. While it is true that parents and kids can make summer a complete waste of time, government can do the same with an entire school year. Honestly, I wish that the passion driving the summer programs Drehle highlights would be allowed to flow again in the local school systems. If we do with summer what we have done with public education, summer is in danger of indeed becoming a major educational stumbling block. There are a lot of organizations in many geographic locations, throughout every economic strata, in various cultures, who are doing a great job with summer. Drehle celebrates them. Why not invite churches, youth clubs and camps, and other summer innovators to the table to address the government education monster? Maybe local innovators can teach the impersonal government system how better to use the minds and the time that we are giving to public education in the fall, winter, and spring.
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On "The Good and Bad Economy"

Michael Crowley’s entry into this week’s TIME magazine, “The Good and Bad Economy” outlines the difficult agenda of economic recovery facing the Obama administration as it deals with not only conflicting economic data but also with an electorate sharply divided philosophically on how to end the current recession.  There is a looming fear of the “double dip,” that after some signs of growth our nation’s economy will shrink once again.  Although the nation’s economy has “double dipped” a few times since, the dreaded “double dip” is most often associated with 1937 “when a U.S. economy fighting its way out of the Great Depression crashed a second time, requiring the massive industrial effort of World War II to rejuvenate it.”  In any historical period the “double dip” signals a long excruciating recovery from recession.
Even after an $862 billion stimulus package, soon to run out, the economy remains in peril.  The Obama administration, left minded economists, and Democrats believe that without more government stimulus spending, massive layoffs and budget cuts are a certain future.  “But Obama and his advisers know their hands are tied.  Polls show that voters either don’t understand – or don’t buy – the long established economic theory of John Maynard Keynes, which calls for more government spending (even if it means running up deficits) to help the economy through hard times.  Instead, the public is in the mood to smack big Washington spenders hard this November.”
There are two assumptions that permeate this entire article: 1) If you are against the left/Obama/democrat agenda for economic recovery it must be because you are ignorant and 2) the government is the only answer.  I resent both of those assumptions.  True, I do not know who John Maynard Keynes is, but I manage a church budget and most of the people in our congregation manage their finances both at home and in business.  From my own experience borrowing money may serve as an immediate stimulus to my living room or my driveway, but borrowed couches and cars come with much larger price tags and longer periods of payment than ones paid for with actual cash.  I understand this reality clearly.  While the working man may not understand macro-economics, he is forced to manage his own paycheck week to week; if indeed he is currently drawing one at all.  It is presumptuous to assume that if the electorate “smack big Washington spenders hard this November” that they did it without really knowing why.
The Bible has quite a bit to say about economics both at a personal and national level.  People need jobs.  Man is meant to work.  None of us should expect something for nothing (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).  The entitlement philosophy that pervades our current culture is burdensome, debilitating, and an economy killer.  People need to work.  Indeed this is the central burden of the recession.  How do we put Americans back to work?
The Bible outlines two approaches, one Egyptian (sort of) and the other Jewish.  According to Genesis 40 and 41, Joseph (serving as Prime Minister of Egypt at the time) interpreted dreams that led to the nation storing up during 7 years of prosperity.  Good economics.  After prosperity, there was famine.  In an agrarian society famine=recession.  When 7 years of famine struck the land the people ran out of money.  To stimulate the economy the people exchanged their personal wealth and businesses (land, livestock, etc.) for a government bailout check.  The end result was a massive exchange of private ownership for government control (Genesis 47:23-26).  When the government is the answer to recession the result is an exchange of power, from private ownership to federally funded, heavily taxed, and regulated institutions.  Those who are against the left/Democrat/Obama doctrine of recovery via government spending are not ignorant, but fearful of a less privately owned and more government controlled America.  What has happened to the banking system in recent days is only a first fruit of what could come from reaping such philosophy.  It is the slow, methodical death of the private sector and the expansion of government.      
The other Biblical paradigm is the Year of Jubilee outlined in Leviticus 25:13-17.  The economic philosophy of Leviticus 25 guaranteed there would be no bad loans.  It protected both the lender and the borrower.  The idea here also emphasized private ownership and personal worth.  It gave people a right to wealth while at the same time protected the poor and encouraged generosity.  Instead of penalizing success it created a climate in which everyone had an opportunity to succeed.  To recover or to succeed, one needed only an opportunity to work.
The government, through regulation and deregulation creates an economic climate.  Yet, Biblically speaking it is not the duty of government to create wealth, it is rather the duty of government to punish evil, protect human life, and assure its citizens that they can live quiet and peaceable lives (Romans 13:4, 1 Timothy 2:2).  When the government becomes the coffer of the people the end result is an undue tax burden, the exchange of private wealth for government control, and people who either do not have a mind to work or who do not have the opportunity to work.  People need loans, fair ones, private ones instead of government ones.  Much of this recession can be blamed on bad loans created by a bad governmental ideology.  Why repeat what has already failed?  These loans not only put the lender at risk, but the borrower as well.  The greatest evidence of this is in the collapse of the housing market.  Instead of more stimulus spending and loans for bureaucratic pet projects, American business needs less of a tax burden and more opportunity to employ people who can, in the spirit of Leviticus 25, relieve themselves of debt (from good loans), work in the private sector, and build personal wealth.   
Biblically speaking the path to recovery is through hard work, not government bailouts and stimulus spending.  According to Biblical texts like Genesis 47 and the lessons of history at large, the American people have every right to fear big government spending.  It is not an issue of ignorance, but one of precedence. 
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