Friday, October 27, 2006

Press Conference

In his Press Conference on Wednesday President Bush said the following:

Over the past three years I have often addressed the American people to explain developments in Iraq. Some of these developments were encouraging, such as the capture of Saddam Hussein, the elections in which 12 million Iraqis defied the terrorists and voted for a free future, and the demise of the brutal terrorist Zarqawi. Other developments were not encouraging, such as the bombing of the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad, the fact that we did not find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and the continued loss of some of America's finest sons and daughters.

The fact that no WMDs were found, and that almost three thousand of "America's finest" have been lost he describes as "not encouraging".

One just doesn't know what to make of this. A remark like this, not written down but said in answer to a question, could be passed over as another grammatical gaffe of the President's. He makes so many of them.

But this was in his written, prepared remarks.

Imagine having lost a loved one, and the Commander in Chief calls it "not encouraging".

Tragedy would have been a much more appropriate word.

But then, things are getting less and less appropriate.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Watch who you call.....

Timing

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, who gets higher marks for handling the economy than running the Iraq war, is spending two days this week trying to convince voters Republicans are the best stewards of matters affecting the wallet.

White House advisers said Sunday that Bush is not trying to change the subject from a deteriorating situation in Iraq, and that he will continue to talk about Iraq and the war on terrorism as the November 7 election nears. Bush advisers said they think the president should get more credit for recent positive economic news.....

The AP-Ipsos poll this month found that 37 percent of likely voters say they approve of Bush's handling of Iraq overall.

Forty-two percent approve of his handling of the economy.


I think I'd change the subject too.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Traumatic Brain Injury

This video is circulating on the web.
Promoting it is the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
They're upset because Congress is considering cutting funding for reasearch into understanding and treating Traumatic Brain Injury caused by explosives detonating close to a soldier.

Imagine that you were here.
You understand why they are singing and doing everything they can to reduce tension.

It is such a shame and waste that our leadership has sent them there.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Epitaphs

Here lies Ann Mann,
Who lived an old maid
But died an old Mann.
Dec. 8, 1767

Sir John Strange
Here lies an honest la
wyer,
And that is Strange.

Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No Les No More.

She always said her feet were killing her
but nobody believed her.

Under the sod and under the trees
Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.
He is not here, th
ere's only the pod:
Pease shelled out and went to God.

Here lies an Atheist
All dressed up
And no place to go.

Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she's at rest, and so am I.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Poker Bush

Our president is a real poker player.
If you had to choose who to have on your team while dealing with those crafty opponents in international politics, you would choose him "hands down".

This direct quote from his press conference last week in the Rose Garden:

"One has a stronger hand when there is someone playing your same cards."


Monday, October 16, 2006

North Korea

"Earlier today at a press conference, President Bush said he will not attack North Korea. Well, of course not. They actually have weapons of mass destruction."

--David Letterman

Friday, October 13, 2006

His job is his job

I can't resist this one either. If you want the heart of it, start at 4:30.

Micah 6:8

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What if the Amish were in charge of the War on Terror?

Finally, after months of reading all kinds of (Christian) blogs, one which actually promotes some real Christian ideas in the real world. Diana Butler Bass wrote this one. I know it sounds unrealistic, and that there is something of an apples/oranges relationship between the Amish and Al Qaeda, but this is an attempt to think truly Biblically and in a Christian wat about international matters.

I'll tell you, I think the Bush administration has gotten us into so much trouble in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea - we are in deep doodoo and I don't see much of a real Christian perspective anywhere around. Try this on for size - Biblical size:

I confess: Over the last 10 days, I did not pay much attention to the Amish school shooting. As the mother of an 8-year old girl, I find school violence stories too painful to follow.

Despite attempts to avoid this particular news, the stories of the Amish practice of forgiveness eventually captivated me. Their practice of forgiveness unfolded in four public acts over the course of a week. First, some elders visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the murderer, to offer forgiveness. Then, the families of the slain girls invited the widow to their own children’s funerals. Next, they requested that all relief monies intended for Amish families be shared with Roberts and her children. And, finally, in an astonishing act of reconciliation, more than 30 members of the Amish community attended the funeral of the killer.

As my husband and I talked about the spiritual power of these actions, I commented in an offhanded way, “It is an amazing witness to the peace tradition.” He looked at me and said passionately, “Witness? I don’t think so. This went well past witnessing. They weren’t witnessing to anything. They were actively making peace.”

He was right. Their actions not only witness that the Christian God is a God of forgiveness, but they actively created the conditions in which forgiveness could happen. In the most straightforward way, they embarked on imitating Christ: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” In acting as Christ, they did not speculate on forgiveness. They forgave. And forgiveness is, as Christianity teaches, the prerequisite to peace. We forgive because God forgave us; in forgiving, we participate in God’s dream of reconciliation and shalom.

Then an odd thought occurred to me: What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror? What if, on the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, we had gone to Osama bin Laden’s house (metaphorically, of course, since we didn’t know where he lived!) and offered him forgiveness? What if we had invited the families of the hijackers to the funerals of the victims of 9/11? What if a portion of The September 11th Fund had been dedicated to relieving poverty in a Muslim country? What if we dignified the burial of their dead by our respectful grief?

What if, instead of seeking vengeance, we had stood together in human pain, looking honestly at the shared sin and sadness we suffered? What if we had tried to make peace?

So, here’s my modest proposal. We’re five years too late for an Amish response to 9/11. But maybe we should ask them to take over the Department of Homeland Security. After all, actively practicing forgiveness and making peace are the only real alternatives to perpetual fear and a multi-generational global religious war.

I can’t imagine any other path to true security. And nobody else can figure out what to do to end this insane war. Why not try the Christian practice of forgiveness? If it worked in Lancaster, maybe it will work in Baghdad, too.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Voortrekker Monument

Last Friday we visited the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, built to honor the Afrikaanse pioneers who left the coastal areas and British subjection to forge their way into the frontiers of South Africa.

These migrations were partly theologically motivated. The Pioneers, Dutch Reformed Calvinists, read the Old Testament and saw their story in the story of Israel and her journey to the Promised Land. They believed they too were God's people, with rights to their own Promised Land. In the museum of the Monument you can find their Bibles and books of sermons, which were read in Sunday services when a minister could not be present.

The Battle of Blood River is steeped in theology, prayer en religious observance. Read about it here.

The day of this battle will never be forgotten. On December 16 every year, at noon, the sun shines through a tiny hole in the dome of the monument and lights op an inscription on a crypt placed far below on the lower level. The inscription reads: We for Thee, South Africa. The day used to be called The Day of the Vow, but since 1994, the first free elections in South Africa, the day is called The Day of Reconciliation.

I wonder if it is possible that we today read the Bible and find in it the justification for things we want to believe.

Why should we be any different than the Pioneers?

Flight

After all these years of flying I still am amazed at how these planes can cover such enormous distances exactly on time. I enjoyed our flight from Johannesburg tremendously. At around 7 AM the sun came up and we had wonderful views of the Sahara of North Africa, the Mediterranean, South Europe and the Alps.

I ran across this little note yesterday. It struck my funny bone. Warning: If you don't want to read the f** word, don't read the note.



Monday, October 09, 2006

Strangers

Yesterday morning we arrived home from our vacation in South Africa. It was a wonderful vacation. We enjoyed being back in Africa. And it was really Africa - but Africa with an infrastructure.

High point was our contact with my sister and her husband. We have never really as adults spent much time together, but because we both have lived for a long time in “foreign” countries working for Christian organisations we have much in common. We were able to share our lives with and encourage each other.

I was reminded again of the fact that we live our lives very clearly now as “strangers” and “foreigners”. We have lived so differently from our family and the friends we grew up with that we have become strangers to them. They will never understand us completely. We will never be completely at home anywhere again – not where we came from, and not where we live now.

A friend of mine reminds me often that that is a painful spot for me. And he is right. I notice that, the longer I live here in Holland, the more pain I experience as I experience what it means to be a stranger.

But there is something very positive I can do with that feeling. I can recognize it as something that has been given to me. It is part of me and who I am.

If it is true that “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9) then this being a stranger with the pain it carries with it can be a source of strength for me – a strength that would not be there without it.

If I were to lose that pain, I would lose that strength. So I cling to the pain, not because it is fun, but because it has a goal – a country of our own. (Heb. 11:14).

We were privileged to be able to share that with family.

I will draw strength from that in the coming weeks.

It is very practical.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Assumptions

Recently I had a chat with someone who had been raised in an evangelical Christian environment and had been an active Christian until recently. A number of factors caused him to give Christianity up for atheism. The “conversion” was not a sudden one – it took place over a number of years. He was very honest to admit that it was harder to be an atheist than a Christian, mostly because it meant that he was totally alone in the world/universe to solve every problem and make every decision.

Two other things about the conversation struck me and confirmed (again) things I have been thinking for years.

The person told me that since he had become an atheist, all of his Christian friends except two had broken off their friendship with him. The reason was that their basic assumptions and beliefs about the world were not the same any more, so how could they remain friends?

There is a tendency on the part of Christians to build friendships with a purpose. That purpose is usually either evangelism or discipleship. If neither of those things can happen any more, the friendship really has no reason for existence.

Over the years I have found this a difficult part of Christianity to live with, and in fact, I have chosen to change my assumptions about life and Christianity so that I do not have to live with this tension any more. A fruit of that is that I enjoy real friendships with “non-Christians” in which we can share any aspect of our lives with each other, and have a meaningful impact on each other's lives.

When I suggest to Christians that most Christian friendships have an ulterior (manipulative, if you want to be negative) motive, it is strongly denied. This conversation confirmed my observation. And it really shouldn’t be that way, I don’t think.

The second thing had to do with motivation for evangelism. I am convinced that, when everything else is stripped away, the fear of hell is the fundamental motivation for Christian evangelism. You don’t have to read many conservative Christian weblogs to have that observation confirmed. See this link from Desiring God, for example.

Lately I’ve listened to some stuff put out by the Way of the Master Radio broadcasts. Hell is big with them. They have substituted the word hell with a much more precise theological term: a real bad place. But the meaning remains the same.

Again, most Christians deny this when you put it to them this way. But I don’t really believe them.

After we had talked about hell a little bit, and I tried to put it into another perspective, my conversation partner asked the classic question: “If hell isn’t the motivation, why do you evangelize then?”

See what I mean?

If you are a Christian, and one who wants to evangelize, I would encourage you to be honest about why you do it. If fear of hell is your motivation when all other things are stripped away, at least be man or woman enough to admit it. (And please don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying that this fear is the only motive. There are other very positive motivations also.)

And if you find that to be your primary motivation, perhaps you should ask yourself if that really is the biblical motivation for evangelism, or if there is not some way to change the paradigm so something besides fear drives you.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Birthday

Today I have turned 53. (Yes – all you faithful readers may feel free to congratulate me!)

This morning I thought about what I wrote at the beginning of “My Story” on my website:

My mother is very proud of me. She thinks I have the Midas touch.That is, I suspect, an attempt on her part to neutralize just about the first words spoken about me.I was just born. My parents stood in front of the window of the baby nursery, admiring their son (in those days – 1953 – newborn babies were placed alone in the baby nursery) . The grandparents of another baby stood at the same window.Admittedly, I was not big. But apparently there was something else about me other than my size that prompted one of the other grandparents to say – without considering who might be standing next to them – “isn’t that pathetic!”.I heard nothing of this. My parents were stunned at these words but my mother’s pride in me could not be shaken.

Fifty-three years later the end of that story still applies to me:

Should my mother be proud of me? I think it would only be honest to say “yes” in answer to that question. I am involved in profitable ways with people and both Cyndi and I are professionally and privately contributing to our society. We are still married and our children are healthy and well. Our life is stable, but not at all boring. Every day is different and we have the opportunity to travel and pursue our hobbies.

I am so thankful for Cyndi, my wife of more than 32 years, and all our children: Sarah and Aaron, Ben and Ramona, Will and Mariana. Not to mention our grandson Jeremiah. (There are hundreds if not thousands of other people I could mention also. I'm thankful for you too!)

The foundation for my life has been and continues to be God’s grace. Psalm 27 is my favorite Psalm and Bible passage.

The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

I am still learning not to be afraid, and to swim in the endless sea of God’s grace. It is wonderful!

And through the difficulties of life – that I also experience – this verse keeps me on course:

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

I wish you all a very blessed day!
Don’t be afraid, and expect good things!


Monday, October 02, 2006

Memories

Yesterday we arrived safely back in Johannesburg after driving 4000 kilometers (2400 miles) in 10 days.

We chose another route for the return trip from Cape Town, a route that took us through the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo. An absolutely wonderful landscape it was - we enjoyed the birds, flowers and animals. We saw baboons, a monitor lizard, a kudu and a hoopoe bird.

Africa can change so quickly. At 11 AM on Saturday the temperature outside was 64 degrees. By 3 PM it was over 100 degrees.

Saturday night we slept in a B&B called Eenzaamheid, in the bush 12 miles from the road. We were warmly welcomed by the lady of the house, who had lived there for nine years with her husband and two children, aged 4 and 2. She cooked us a wonderful meal, which we enjoyed thoroughly.

Her husband is the fifth generation to live and run that land. Their name is Theron, and as we drove away we saw a tiny graveyard with the name Theron on all the gravestones.


It all reminded Cyndi and I very much of our first years in Nigeria. And the memories and stories began to flow, much faster than they ever do in Holland.