Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Early Morning Calls


There is always that hesitation, the pause as both sides collect their thoughts before the words are spoken, a friend has died.

David was a tick over 50 years old, a father of three sons, a husband of one wife, a lawyer, a singer of exceptional range, a guitar player, and so much more. I got stuck on his name looking back at me from this years mission list as I made a couple of calls and there were his titles: "Music Leader, Site Leader, Driver Van 1." Yeah, he was so much more than that.

He taught Romans as you would expect an attorney to, with zeal and passion, certain that all who heard would listen and grow smarter for it. Some did, me among them.

He sang worship songs beautifully, especially when in his own voice full of cracks, rasps and wonder, equally well when tempered back so as to let the song sing and the people hear that, rather than him.

He sang Rock n Roll as few others. Elvis Costello, the Beatles, James Taylor, Jackson Brown, and many more. Always on target and from the heart.

He went on more mission trips than I can count, balanced those around him well, and served in humility.

Dear God, welcome him home, please. We'll miss him deeply here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Obama in Berlin

It was more John Bolton's op-ed piece today that caused me to write - he's a guy that I can look to for guidance on which way to go. Pretty much wherever he's headed I want to go the other way. It's to his points that I respond here. Mr. Bolton (never a real ambassador) was inclined to write in response to Barack Obama's speech in Berlin.

Mr. Bolton, a failure on so many levels for his lack of open-mindedness, his combative nature, and his ability to somehow embody the antithesis of charisma every time he opens his mouth, represents so much that Obama is against. Mr. Bolton would have us believe that unilateral action by America has saved the world on more occasions than it has, that unilateral action by America is our God-given right, and that the combined forces of good will in the world cannot do anything nearly so well.

A recipe for failure, indeed. By decrying that something won't work it certainly won't with your team leading it. The past 7 years prove this point. I'll briefly remind us that the United Nations was doing a fine job of searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when they pulled out on the advisement of the Bush administration that war was coming.

In smallest of parts, Mr. Bolton is correct. As always, the greater lie is hidden behind a portion of truth. America has been, is, and may continue to be a great nation that succeeds in global good-will efforts on it's own. But continued unilateral actions across the globe are not the way to achieve the desired results unless as a required last course of action. It is time for America to once again be seen as a country worth working with against evil rather than as a source of evil and yes, I do call the unnecessary slaughter of 100,000 or so Iraqis evil. Especially when done without a called battleground, taking the battle to cities bombed from afar and letting the enemy army walk away into the crowd.

To Mr. Bolton's points, his statements about the cold war being a unilateral action are based in truth but deny the point that it was a World war that ended in a stalemate in Germany that allowed the process to play out. No single country could have defeated Nazi Germany. Not us, not any European country alone. Heck, not even a consortium of European countries.

But together we did.

More importantly, the cold war wasn't won by us alone either. Germany and England were stalwart allies, supportive in voice, in allowing our troops on their soil and in NATO by providing troops of their own as did many other countries. The cold war was all about the nuclear threat but it was also held in check by massive amounts of troops on the ground, ours as a country and ours as a unified group of nations against communism.

Most frighteningly, it was Ronald Reagan that ended the cold war. His little "Mr. Gorbachev, the bombs are on the way" was all the scarier because Reagan was just the puppet to push that button if needed. Taking it to the brink was either a bold move or a very dangerous one, but it certainly wasn't a smart one.

Mr. Bolton attempts to deny Senator Obama's "one world" concept by stating that "...the defeat of Nazism, the Berlin airlift and the collapse of communism - were all gained by strong alliances defeating determined opponents." Same thing, Johnny. "One world" doesn't mean everyone getting along, it means we gather together when needed to fight the bad guys, to do good, and to build towards more nations coming to the party.

Mr. Bolton's second point of his perception that Senator Obama's use of the Berlin Wall metaphor being incorrect to apply to the other walls that need to come down shows Mr. Bolton's ability to get stuck on a concept and not see anything beyond the rage and hate he spews. Mr. Bolton's defining all (or any) of Barack's items ("walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, (religions)") as "ancient historical conflicts" and using that as a basis for preaching war to alleviate those conflicts shows his true colors. I'm not sure if that is neo-con or blood red.

Barack Obama is the best hope this country has, the brightest thinker that can actually get the electorate to listen, and a person, my senses tell me, intent on doing the right thing. For everyone. For America first, and for the world, too. That is what I come away with from my watching most of the debates, too much "news" and this video.

Yes. There have been times when America went it alone and achieved greatly. There will be more, sadly, regardless of who the president is. This time, however, is not one of them. With terrorism attacks happening globally there is the valid assumption that a coalition could be drawn together to fight it successfully. Possibly, that coalition is the only way to stem that tide.

While I don't want to take a bit from that battle, I will say there is a great deal that needs to be done here at home and far fewer resources to spend towards that end because of our recent foibles in Iraq.

Resources we borrowed, by the way, rather than spend as we went. Where is the conservatism in that!

War is sometimes the only answer. Diplomacy makes those times appear less often and unites countries in those efforts before gathering guns and heading to the field of battle. We need action abroad to be diplomacy as well as Predator driven. We need to carry that big stick but wield it more thoughtfully. We need to have friends that stand by us in the field of battle rather than hide at home because they see us as stupid bullies.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Obama Says Things I Can't

Barack Obama's recent (and repeated) admonishment of African American culture in America hit hard and true, albeit with his trademark smoothness that makes it a bit more palatable than when Bill Cosby said much the same thing. The beauty is, he's getting some traction from it.

At the NAACP convention in Cincinnati on Monday, Barack Obama spoke that black families need to do those things that many successful families do - watch less TV, spend more time together as a family, help the kids with their homework, get involved at school and in the community - and he received applause.

Please note this is not to say that many families of color don't already do these things and find the pleasure and success in them. In truth, I sure know many white folks that don't do these things nearly enough. There is, however, a certain malaise that falls over the poverty stricken areas that are in large part home to black Americans. Hope is given up except for the purchase of a lottery ticket. And Obama says get up and help yourself, along with a promise of programs that might actually work.

I've probably already said too much. As a white-bread boy from the Midwest, with a bigoted father and only one person of color in my whole high school, it sure isn't my place to say anything about black culture and what needs to be done to solve the problems related to race and poverty in this country. But Barack can, and does, successfully.

My sense of any government program that gives money to people is that something should be expected in return. It sounds extreme here, but going back to the WPA and the CCC, those were programs that got public works done, put food in people's tummies, and allowed for a sense of pride in having earned that day's wage.

For another voice that says thing I can't, you may want to take a look at DerosaWorld. The writer is a friend, a very theologically studied man who embodies many of Christ's principals while eschewing organized religion, and on occasion downright funny, downright angry, and downright right (while leaning left).

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Obama & Faith-Based Initiatives

Being a Lutheran, believing that good works have nothing to do with my righteousness but are simply a fruit of the faith, I have no issue with the government sponsoring public works through faith based groups AND saying that neither proselytizing nor hiring decisions based upon faith is allowed. That is correct in my understanding of the separation of church and state.

The Office of Faith Based Initiatives was begun under Bill Clinton's presidency. Only under Bush, which is to say Karl Rove, was it turned into a politically divisive campaign tool intentionally used to create hate between those of fundamentalist Christian faith and secular community service volunteers. Where is the love in that!

Better than the Bush doctrine of turning a blind eye to those that spread the word while doing community services, Obama's plan of actually following the letter of the law allows groups, religious and otherwise, to fill a wide variety of needs in communities, acting locally as the locals need it, and get funding help to make these things happen. A large number of volunteers are a wonderful thing but having a place for them to work, materials needed to work with, and the organizational skills of some paid workers is even better. This is what government by and for the people can do, and do well.

The Southern Baptist Convention disagrees. Their sense is that they should be able to spread the word, that doing their good works and spreading the word as part of it is all one and the same, can't be separated, are a combined entity. Fine. Just don't ask for government funding. When you work as a church you should pay your own way.

But if you are simply called to organize a group to feed some locals, teach some kids to read, build a safe skate park, a basketball court, or provide care to elderly shut-ins, AND if you can do so without needing to wear your faith on your shirtsleeve, why shouldn't our government help out with that!

One elder member of our congregation, a man who serves beautifully every day in so many ways, put it to me best: "Spread the gospel in everything you do. When necessary, use words."

The love of Christ is in the doing. The spreading of the Word can come later, after people have gotten to know you, are comfortable with you, and are over at your house for a cup of coffee. Then you can say whatever you want. Timings probably better, too.