Monday, December 31, 2007

The Regular Season Ends

The regular season in the NFL is over.

The last week started amazingly. The Patriots. of course, were on the road to being undefeated and their only obstacle was the Giants whose play has been incredibly inconsistent. What a game! This was a game coached by two coaches who understand the NFL and maintained the integrity of the game to the final seconds The Patriots went undefeated and NO ONE can say that the Giants laid down like dogs and let them have it. The Giants fought hard and the Patriots were the better team. In the end, in a loss, the Giants earned the respect of their own fans who just loved the effort, and the Patriots demonstrated that they are, up to this point, the best team in football.

I have a bunch of observations about this weekend.

I thought, yesterday morning, that the Patriots were lined to get knocked off in the playoffs and that the AFC championship game was going to be played in Indianapolis. I changed my mind when the Colts laid down like dogs against the Titans. The Colts owe the fans who went to the game a refund and ought to pay back all the TV money they received for this game. They laid down like dogs. This will serve them very, very poorly. They played poorly and the rust and timing will be thick and deep when they play in two weeks.

I found this to be a putrid display by the team. The Colts are my second favorite team and as proud as I am of the Giants and their effort, I'm disgusted by the Colts and their lack of effort. They owed the NFL and their fans all 16 games. The Browns were entitled, at least, to an effort----as were the Titans.

The Cowboys laid down like dogs as well against the Redskins. It was less an issue in the NFC as the Vikings lost. But the Vikings deserved a full effort as did the fans. The Redskins fans, however, were happy so the Cowboys aren't as guilty as the Colts.

Now, to random thoughts:

The Jets were the 'hot team' in New York this year. Everyone predicted that the Giants would win 4-6 games and the Jets would be in the playoffs. Giants end the season 10-6; Jets ended 4-12. Thus the world saw what Jets fans already knew. The word 'Jets' means Just End The Season."

Sort of like the Bills in the early '90's, "Boy I Love Losing Superbowls."

If you think that Bill Parcells is going to stick with a loser like Cam Cameron, can I interest you in a bridge for sale in Brooklyn...

The NFC east has four teams in the playoffs and the Eagles, the only team not to make it, were 8-8 and one of the hottest teams at the end of the season.

That guy, number 10 on the Giants? Where has he been all season?

Jim Sorgi. Wow. He's the Dan Quayle of backup quarterbacks. I suspect that Peyton in traction could do better....

Kerry Collins came off the bench and played well against the Colts' cheerleaders in the 4th quarter. Collins is a solid veteran who can be brilliant. Or awful. Against the cheerleaders on a team that laid down like dogs, however, he was brilliant.

Did I mention the fact that I'm annoyed that the Colts laid down like dogs?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Giants Fans

Tonight is the night. For all those people who have come to loathe the Patriots this year and for all those who do not want the Pats to go undefeated, their last regular season chance falls on the New York Giants. Tonight there will be more Giants fans than usual. Many people in the nation will have the joyous agony of pulling for the Giants.

After the 1986 season when the Giants won the Super Bowl, two things were obvious. They were the best team in the NFL that year and most people were not surprised when they won the Super Bowl. Except Giants fans. Most Giants fans expected them to lose. The New York Giants exist to tear the hearts out of their fans. The New York Giants exist to fill their fans with expectations and to tear the hearts out of their fans.

This is a franchise that once had Tom Landry as their defensive coordinator. While Landry was running their defense, a guy named Vince Lombardi was their offensive coordinator. Both are in the Hall of Fame as two of the NFL's greatest coaches. Who was the shining star who was vital for the Giants to keep instead of these two? His name was Allie Sherman. Allie Sherman is not in the Hall of Fame. He is best known for having a song in his honor entitled, "Goodbye Allie." It was the song of Giants fans hoping for the day when he would finally be gone.

Interestingly enough, tonight the Giants have nothing to lose. No Giants fan will be really angry if they lose to the Patriots. After all, the Pats are the best team in football this year. The Giants were predicted to win 4-6 games this year and they won 10. This was Coughlin's swan song year and he probably earned a right to come back. The Giants exceeded expectations and many people do believe that they can defeat the Bucs next weekend and at least have a second round of playoffs. That is where the hopes of the Giants fans really lie. The Patriots are a fun diversion and if they lose and stay healthy, no problem.

But here is what is facing the Patriots. They are playing at the Meadowlands. The wind at Giants stadium does not blow north or south or east or west. It blows, north, south, east, and west all at the same time. It swirls. For a team that relies on the pass as much as the Patriots do, a swirling cold wind in East Rutherford is not a friend. The Giants lead the NFL in sacks. This little statistic means that Giants defensive players spend a lot of 'close up' time with opposing quarterbacks and opposition QB's spend a great deal of time meeting the dirt with a large man on top of them driving their face into the ground. Joyfully. The Patriots need Tom Brady to lead them to the Super Bowl. The idea of him being hit as often as he might be hit is not a happy one if I'm a Patriots fan.

I expect the Patriots to easily defeat the Giants. My guess is that they will attack with short, quick passes and the Giants pass rush will be neutralized by speed.

But it might be fun to dream....

The thing is, for all of those who are Giants fans for a night, prepare to delight on the joyous agony that we long term Giants fans have endured for years and years and will continue to endure for the future.

Friday, December 28, 2007

One Brave Woman

I am still trying to figure out Benazir Bhutto. She was one brave woman, to be sure. But how surprised were you when you heard that she was assassinated? I certainly wasn't. Sadly, I think most everyone knew that this was going to happen to her.

Here are my thoughts on her.

She was insanely courageous and was willing to risk her life. Pakistan is a mess and the mess in Pakistan is going to make our efforts in Afghanistan all the more difficult. I also believe that our efforts in Afghanistan are crucial---and that the war in Iraq has become a diversion on the war on terror which is very much taking place in Afghanistan and brewing in Pakistan along the border. Benazir Bhutto saw Pakistan beginning to crumble and seem to feel that she had an obligation and an ability to turn things around.

She also had to be painfully aware that the climate of the world is so hostile and intense at the moment that her return would be met violently. It might be that her courage was so great that she was willing to risk her life for what she believed in.

Or, maybe the second thing she did was that she chose to be a martyr. While this might be outlandish, people do make these choices. Oddly enough Christianity prospered when people were martyred for their faith. Islamic terrorism has thrived on the blood of those who killed themselves (and others) for Allah. Perhaps Benazir Bhutto saw being a martyr as her call and chose to die for her convictions.

Or, was she so naive as to believe that she would survive? Was she just plain out of her mind?

There are some things we can know right now.

The legacy of Benazir Bhutto will be that she was the first woman to lead an Islamic nation and she died fighting for the rights of her people. Whether be what took place or by design, she did become a martyr.

Additionally, a very dangerous region in the most dangerous part of the world, just became more dangerous.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Savior to the Children of a Lesser God

The Savior to the Children of a Lesser God
Christmas Eve, 2007

In the early 1980's I saw a wonderful play on Broadway entitled, Children of a Lesser God. The play, for those who saw the movie, was significantly different from the movie, but that’s not the point. There was something striking in the play that gave the play its title, Children of a Lesser God.

It was set in a school for deaf students and the students saw themselves as the children of a lesser God than other people. Their disability in a hearing world made them feel like they were outcasts and obviously created from a God not as great as the one who had created all the ‘normal people.’

As we gather tonight on Christmas Eve people are beginning to relax, a bit, from the chaos of the season. Cards are probably out or not going out this year. Gifts have been purchased or it’s too late baby now. The ingredients for Christmas dinner are at home, ready to be cooked. Or not. In any case, it’s too late so everyone may be able to breathe. A little.

The Christmas story is one of people’s favorites. But I wonder how many people have actually read what is being said. It is a harder story than many people realize; but it is also a story of greater hope than people often give it credit for.

Lots of people like to quote Isaiah 7:14, about a virgin with child who shall be called Immanuel. They often overlook verse 15 which says, He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

If you were Jewish and from the era in which this prophesy was made, you’d be fixated on the words, “He shall eat curds and honey.” Curds and honey was the food of nomads. This prophesy was a prophesy that difficult times lay ahead.

Then there are the words of Luke. I’ve heard many people call this passage nice, sweet, and it makes them feel good. I suspect that Luke might be surprised at how people react to his narrative of the birth of Jesus.

Here’s the problem. Christianity and the Christmas story are now socially acceptable.

Often being a Christian, being a church members is seen as a status symbol to many. Perhaps even the church one attends is a symbol of status.

It’s been interesting watching the Presidential candidates use their faith for political advantage as they all try to out Christian each other.

Christianity has become nice and socially acceptable. As a result, Christianity has made Luke’s narrative nice and socially acceptable. But it really isn’t.

Here is what Luke is saying.

An unmarried couple is traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem because Bethlehem was where Joseph’s ancestry was. Mary was nine months pregnant----not socially acceptable to be unmarried and pregnant. And the explanation as to the paternity of the child. If one of your loved ones came home and said that the father was the Holy Spirit, it might be met with a tad of skepticism. Life hasn’t changed that much.

They are traveling the 65 miles between Nazareth and Bethlehem because of Joseph’s family background. The thing with this is that people back then didn’t move. If your family was from Bethlehem, you were born, lived, and died in Bethlehem. You didn’t move 65 miles away, a long distance back then, unless the family had a severe fracture or a scandal. Joseph lived 65 miles away and was going back to his ancestral home and no one was waiting for them.

There was no room at the inn. Or with any relatives. A young, unmarried couple wander into town and she gives birth in a stable and is visited by shepherds.

If you were to translate this story into modern day times into our community it would work out like this. A young unmarried couple wanders into town, there is no room at the Holiday Inn Express or the Hampton Inn, so she gives birth to a baby boy under the bridge. Then an angel of the Lord appears to a couple of dishwashers at The Waffle House who come and marvel at the sight. And I’m not being flippant. That’s the story. A disenfranchised, unmarried couple is not welcomed into the town by anyone and they find a place to have a baby and are visited by some people of little to no status.

That is the story Luke is telling. It isn’t particularly sweet. It’s a story of a child coming into the world in a totally disadvantaged way. It is like he is a child of a lesser God than many of the others.

The story went on and Jesus associated with the poorest of the poor, he healed the lepers who were considered to be unclean by the population, and hung out with the sinners. Jesus, born like a child of a lesser God spent his ministry ministering to those other children of that lesser God.

With a message. You are not children of a lesser God. No matter what anyone and everyone else says, you are not the children of a lesser God.

Tonight we celebrate the birth of the one who came with this message and gave the world hope.

Hope is not in the Christmas trees or the gifts we will exchange.

The hope is not in the colored lights or festive celebrations.

That hope isn’t even what we are about tonight. The hope comes because God sent His Son into the world to embrace those who were embraced by no one else. We live that hope, we share that hope, whenever we do likewise. Christianity is not about being socially acceptable, it is not about status, and it is not about what we can get out of it. It is sharing a message of hope and embracing those who no one else will embrace.

That is the hope we live by, the joy we share, as we gather to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the children of a lesser God.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all!

If you are looking to celebrate Christmas Eve with Worship and great music St. Marks has two Worship Services.

4:30PM features our Children's Christmas Chorus directed by Sandy Carter. This is very child friendly and we do have a nursery available.

10:30PM Festive Christmas Music
11:00PM Traditional Candlelight Service

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I remain clueless as to why people listen to Rush Limbaugh. His current new issue with Hillary is that a recent picture of her made her look older rather than younger. Using Limbaugh logic he surmised that people would not approve of seeing a woman age in the White House. We have watched men age in that job all the time, but a woman, God forbid in the world of Rush Limbaugh. He's racist. He's sexist. He calls people names. People listen to him for what reason? Certainly there are better political voices than he if one is conservative.

Now there are political 'Christmas Card' ads being put out by candidates. We've see Huckabee, Giuliani, and Obama all do it. Huckabee and Obama did look folksy in their's but Rudy didn't. Rudy is running on the platform to fight terrorism and he didn't realize that he had to become a fuzzy Christmas bear along the way.

I just hope that they don't feel a need to have a swimsuit competition. Or, if they do, they don't film it. I'm not sure most people's eyes could handle it.

Lynn Spears, the mother of Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears (16 years old, pregnant) wrote a book on parenting. It was going to be published this Spring but Thomas Nelson Press has postponed releasing it. Indefinitely. What can I add to this one!

Cynthia McKinney is now running for President. Again. As a Green Party candidate. She was visiting California and a group was yelling, "Run Cynthia, Run!" The both of them then went out to lunch at the White Castle...

Here's my Iowa prediction. John Edwards. He may be good or he may win because of Hillary/Obama fatigue.

For all those who wait breathlessly for my weekly analysis of the NFL, I let you down this week. My heartfelt apologies. Watching the Giants attempt to play football on Sunday night was a great deal like a potential swimsuit competition from Presidential candidates. Bleh!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Major League Baseball has a big problem.

Immediately people are out to blame George Mitchell. The reason they are out to blame and vilify George Mitchell is that they didn't like the results of the report. The report came out of an investigation where it was difficult to get much cooperation.

Major League Baseball did not want to cooperate no matter what they say. When the owners made Bud Selig and 'Acting Commissioner" and then the Commissioner, they were making an owner as the Commissioner of Baseball. An owner who was going to protect their interests. They wanted a person who was not going to hold them accountable for anything. They got what they wanted.

The Major League Baseball Players Association did not want to cooperate either. They want the players to make huge amounts of money and do anything and everything to assure that the players make that might. The last thing they want is to make the players accountable.

George Mitchell is not a lightweight nor is he a person inclined towards sensationalism. If he had found baseball to be clean he'd have no problem reporting that. It wasn't a list of all the superstars in the game----just some. Some of the more regular players were in there as well.

There is a nasty secret behind all of this. Most within baseball were not surprised at the list. They knew who was using the drugs. The whispers had been around for a long time. The secrets were in the shadows and George Mitchell merely came along and turned the lights on.

Here's what I think. They need to further investigate WITH cooperation, this time, full medical records, etc., to see if the charges against the individuals players are true.

If they are true that player should:

Not be eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Any records or awards the player received be rescinded.

If a team had multiple people and they won the World Championship, that Championship ought to be removed from the record books.

This is only after a complete investigation with full cooperation. And if a player or team refuses to totally cooperate, act as if they were guilty.

Neither Selig, the owners, or the players union will want to do any of this. I suspect, frankly, that they won't. Life will go on as usual.

Maybe, however, it's up to the fans to express what they think. Empty stadiums and no television ratings, and no purchasing of MLB products might get their attention.

And, the players who played honestly, who didn't get juiced up, need to speak up and recognize that they were cheated.

As far as I'm concerned the record for the most home runs for a career remains Henry Aaron, one of the games great stars and honest men.

The record for the most home runs for a season remains Roger Maris, sans asterisk.

Aaron and Maris earned their records honestly.

When I was growing up my parents taught me something. They said that 'cheaters never profit.' Major League Baseball is trying to prove my parents wrong. Cheaters HAVE profited and the honest players and the fans are left bewildered as to why this was allowed to happen.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

An Interesting, Maybe Remarkable Field

This is actually pretty remarkable.

I might not include your favorite and I have no intention of slighting anyone with this. I was looking at the slate of Presidential candidates and found this to be a remarkable time for us. These are not in order of preference and I’m even going to mix the parties together. My thoughts are not partisan as much as they are fascinated.

Hillary Clinton is the first woman who has a realistic shot at the White House. We have never elected a woman to be the President and have never nominated one either. The only nomination from either party for either President or Vice President was Geraldine Ferraro. Women have served as Governors, Senators, in Congress, and as Presidents/Prime Ministers of other nations and have done so with great distinction. People in England still revere Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir was an amazing Prime Minister of Israel. Not an exhaustive list, to be sure, but we certainly haven’t set the pace for women’s rights around the world. To me, the big rap on her is that as a Senator from New York, she has become a Yankee’s fan, an obvious character flaw on her part.

Whether you like Rudy Giuliani or not, his career has been remarkable. He was a Federal Prosecutor in New York City with the primary responsibility of taking on organized crime, the Cosa Nostra. For many within the Italian culture, this was not seen as a good thing. Mafia leaders had a special vendetta against him because of his Italian heritage. Giuliani was highly successful and became the major of New York. His work in cleaning up mid-town and dealing with 9/11 put him in the national spotlight. He is a Roman Catholic who is on the ‘outs’ with his church because he’s on his third marriage and is pro-choice. He is a pretty tough guy. He grew up in Brooklyn and was a Yankee’s fan in Brooklyn. His numerous affairs are more easily forgiven by Brooklynites than this. And, like Hillary, he has the character flaw of still being a Yankee’s fan.

To the above two candidates, all I want to say is, “Let’s Go Mets!”

Barack Obama is a young (46) year old African American candidate. He is truly the first African American candidate who is running a serious campaign to win the nomination. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, to me, were more humorous interludes than serious candidates. Obama, however, is very serious and increasingly more popular. This nation’s history and difficulties with racism make Obama’s rise to be remarkable. It is amazing to see the crowds that he and Oprah have drawn together. In South Carolina. I never would have believed I would see such a thing in my lifetime----we may be growing up as a people. Obama has been called by some groups to be Islamic but he’s a long time member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Unless I missed the memo that the United Church of Christ was now an Islamic denomination, he is a Christian.

John Edwards grew up in a blue color world.

John McCain is a true American hero, a former POW from the Vietnam War.

Bill Richardson is an Hispanic candidate.

Fred Thompson is an older, former actor. We’ve been down this route before, obviously. He did something great at the last debate refusing to answer a complex question ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with a show of hands. He refused to offer a one word answer to a complicated question. Good for him.

John Biden has run before and has been in Washington DC since he was 29 years old. He’s had a distinguished career. He has one of the great lines about Rudy Giuliani when he said that every sentence Rudy utters has a noun, a very, and 9/11 in it. I don’t know if it was fair or not, but it was a good line.

Mike Huckabee is another former Governor from Arkansas, the new home of interim coach Bobby Petrino. Any team that has Bobby Petrino as their coach has an interim coach... Huckabee is a former Southern Baptist pastor.

Mitt Romney is a former Governor from Massachusetts. It’s unusual to see a Republican candidate from Massachusetts which is most typically, a very Democratic state. Romney’s Mormon faith has challenged people’s religious tolerance.

Dennis Kucinich is an interesting guy with a populist flair and about $1.99 in his coffers. He’s the only one who has professed a belief in UFO’s.

Ron Paul is the most popular Libertarian of all time. Like Kucinich, he likes to walk to the beat of a different drummer.

There are others. Their distinction is that I didn’t write anything about them!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pop Goes the Weasel!

Bobby Petrino had signed a long term contract with the University of Louisville. He was/is a fine coach who had coached his team to an almost perfect record. Many were saying that he had a chance for the National Championship this year. Bobby Petrino was on top of the coaching world. Then: Pop Goes the Weasel!


He rewarded the confidence of the University of Louisville by jumping to the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. Perhaps it was a lifelong dream to be a Head Coach in the NFL, but no one dreams of becoming the coach of the Falcons. But he jumped. He lost Vick. He lost games and he lost more games.

But, he was getting a bye. After all, he had lost his best player and the draft was coming and he was going to be poised to get some good players. Then: Pop Goes the Weasel!

But for Bobby Petrino the NFL stands for Not For Long. He's moving to Arkansas. Arkansas?

The people at the University of Arkansas need to realize that they have a coach whose favorite song is "Pop Goes the Weasel," and he will start his job by looking for his next job.

What a weasel!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Weekly Football Musings

It was another good football weekend. The Giants won. Whatever else happens, the Giants won so it was a good football weekend.

The G-Men are 9-4 and beat the 5-8 Eagles. The Eagles went into the game, a home game for them, as 3 point favorites. Most analysts predicted the Eagles to win and many said that they thought the Eagles were a better team than the Giants. The Eagles have played some solid games and really go look like a good, solid team. The Giants, on the other hand, often play ugly. The Eagles, however, when the game is on the line, have found ways to lose and the Giants keep finding ways to win. Indeed, they have lost four times, twice to Dallas, once to Green Bay, and once to the very hot Vikings. This was the year the ‘nice’ analysts said that if al went well, they would go 6-10. Many felt it would be worse and Coughlin would be a bitter memory. After the first two games of the season I wondered if they were ever gonig to win. They are now 9-4. They’ve done it playing ugly----but they’ve done it.

Speaking of the Vikings. They may be, right now, the best team in the NFC. I’m serious. Great run defense and a great running game. Their offensive line is excellent and a quarterback with great running backs and time can beat you and they are winning their games. Some division winner who plays them is going to regret it. The Vikings are the best dark horse in the NFC. Sniff. That means the Giants aren’t.

Tony Romo is getting on my nerves. He’s good, no doubt, but he’s annoying me. Of course, he does play for Dallas...

The University of Louisville’s Brian Brohm could end up in Atlanta playing for Bobby Petrino. I have no clue if he’d enjoy playing for Petrino again, or not. Of course no one would be delighted to play behind the Falcon’s offensive line. Michael Vick’s running ability spared them the harsh spotlight...

Speaking of Michael Vick. So sad. So much talent. So many opportunities and he blew it all with dog fighting and brutality...

The Colts are starting to get healthy again and they look really, really good. I can easily see them in the AFC Championship game. I can easily see them returning to the Super Bowl.

The Steelers Anthony Smith guaranteed that they Steelers would beat the Patriots. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Some guys need to learn that you play the game ON the field and not with your mouth. But, something else. Tom Brady torched the kid which was fine and well deserved. Then Brady had to go up to him and give him lip. More trash talking. I think of the great ones. Unitas wouldn’t have said a word, just torched the kid. Montana, same thing. Peyton, same thing. Tom, real stars don’t need to flap their jaws. Shut up and play.

The Colts-Ravens game. Wow. The Colts looked awesome. The Ravens are a team that LOVES to trash talk. Billick loves to trash talk. They need to learn to shut up and put their game on the field...

In Bears games they keep showing Lovie Smith standing on the sideline. He demeanor and facial expression are always the same. Happy Lovie, angry Lovie, indifferent Lovie, bored Lovie, excited Lovie, all look the same. They keep their cameras on him. What are they waiting for? An expression? Take a picture and just post the picture every so often and you’ll have the ranges of Lovie Smith emotions.

Now Tom Coughlin on the Giants. Lordy, the man looks like he’s going to have a stroke any moment. Brian Billick throws kisses to opposing defenders. They provide interesting sideline material if you can stand it. But Lovie Smith?

Speaking of Lovie Smith, the Bears were going to repeat this year. Losing your best defensive tackle, losing your best running back, and never having a quarterback tends to enable a team not to repeat. Devin Hester can kill you, but he’s about it right now. Almost no one is stupid enough to kick to Hester and they haven’t this year. That excludes the brainless, manly wonder on Denver, Todd Sauerbrun, of course.

I wonder if Sauerbrun decides to run for office how Oprah would feel about him?

I was watching the Saints play. Drew Brees is an excellent quarterback. The Chargers let him go in favor of Philip Rivers who they got from the Giants for Eli Manning. Manning can hurt you, but he can win games for you. Brees can win games for you, but Rivers doesn’t seem to be able to do that right now. I believe that the Chargers have made some huge mistakes in recent years and may have squandered Super Bowl chances. Maybe. LT is a great player and in his prime. But you do have to wonder.

Speaking of the Saints. Reggie Bush has been hurt most of this season and didn’t play that well. The Texans, however, are very happy with how that draft turned out and they certainly don’t look foolish at all. In watching the Texans play with Schaub and his back up, and watching David Carr play for Carolina, it makes you realize just how bad David Carr is.

Two teams might be competing for him next year. The Bears and the Ravens.

Actually, I wonder if Rex Grossman wouldn’t be better off elsewhere, different system, and a change of scenery. He has some flashes of capability and I think he does have zeal for the game. He may end up elsewhere and do well.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Strange Bedfellows

I'm not sure exactly what this post is. It may be rambling and it may be topically all over the lot. Read it at your own risk!

Politicians and churches truly do make strange bedfellows. Frankly, venturing into the realm of sexual ethics, there are some trysts that ought not happen. This truly seems to be one of them. It doesn’t mean that church people and clergy can’t have their own beliefs as to who they want to govern. It does mean, however, that preaching should not be political and churches need to be careful not to put their arms around too many political leaders.

Churches do need to speak to power. They do need to be prophetic witnesses to societal ills. They need to stand outside the buildings filled with power and be, as was John, a voice in the wilderness crying out for change. They can’t be surprised, however, when, like John, they lose their heads for their convictions.

Churches have not always been very consistent in their preaching to power.

In the years leading up to the Civil War there was a tale of two cities, different churches, with different agendas.

The first city was Boston. The Congregational Churches (now part of the United Church of Christ) of Boston were preaching in strong, strong opposition to slavery and were constant in their charge that slavery needed to be stopped. Their message was strongly preached through much of New England and the Amistad case became a landmark case ultimately determining that a group of Black Africans were not slaves and were entitled to overpower the crew which had captured them, and earned the right to go home. Congregational Churches paid their legal bills and John Quincy Adams, a Congregationalist, defended them out of his religious convictions. The Boston pulpits made people increasingly uncomfortable that slavery was alive and well in the nation.

The second city was Atlanta. In mostly Southern Methodist congregations (NOT to be confused with contemporary Methodism which has a marvelous human rights record) the exact opposed message was being preached. Like their Northern counterparts, they quoted Scripture and made strong arguments that slavery was not only tolerable, but a good thing sanctioned, even commanded, by God. The Atlanta pulpits made people increasingly convinced that they had to do whatever needed to be done to assure that their way of life prevailed.

A couple of years ago I heard Dr. Peter Gomes, an African American clergy-person who is the Dean of the Chapel at Harvard University, preach about this very topic at the magnificent Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Buckhead. (This was not a church involved in the controversial era pre-Civil War.) A Black preaching was preaching about this to a full house in suburban Atlanta and marveling on how that debate had concluded and recognizing that it is now a universal belief that slavery was evil.

This was an example of churches speaking to power. They weren’t part of it, however.

Mainline Protestant Churches, in recent years, make political statements in preaching to power, but, for the most part, stay out of getting to cozy with political leaders.

The Roman Catholic Church had a series of Bishops highly critical and even condemned John Kerry’s positions on abortion. They did not cozy up to President Bush, however, as they have consistently condemned his enthusiastic support of the death penalty and American Bishops recently strong condemned the war in Iraq as an unjust war. Roman Catholic ethics strong abides by the Just War Theory and this war never qualified.

Lots has been written about Evangelicals in America.

It’s important not to have too many stereotypes about Evangelicals. Evangelicals tend to be a pretty diverse group and they are speaking less and less in one unified voice.

Often strict Fundamentalists are lumped in with the Evangelicals. There is some validity to this as they do tend to come from similar places, but there are some major differences. All believe in God’s creation, but many have a similar viewpoint to the Mainline Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. In synch with science, they believe that God created that which evolved. Evolution and creation are not contrary. It’s from this theory that the often misused and misapplied phrase, ‘intelligent design’ originates. The people who began speaking in terms of intelligent design saw it as a rational theological to science. They didn’t view it as science, but as a religious teaching.

Strict Fundamentalists, however reject this and say that God created everything 6000 years ago. The Creation Museum is a result of this kind of teaching. It strikes many as an outright rejection of science (or revisionist science), and frankly has made a mockery of the Creation Story which is a very beautiful story with great theological truths being taught by its various authors.

Many Evangelicals will not be visiting the Creation Museum and do not view the world in such a manner.

Everyone in the Evangelical community, and everyone in Christianity, views ethics and morality as important and vital.

In past elections ‘values voting’ has become popular. The values of many of the Evangelical always ended up boiling down to gay marriage, abortion, and lower taxes.

It was an interesting agenda, to say the least. Jesus never spoke of gay marriage or homosexuality at all, he never mentioned abortion, and he was amazing indifferent to taxes and was downright hostile towards money and those who had money. How these values popped up as central pieces still amazes me.

And this is where the strange bedfellows came to be. Many/some of the Evangelical community adopted political issues and made them religious issues instead of speaking the truth to power and confronting some major ethical issues.

Having said this, however, there is a growing number within the Evangelical led by people such as Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren, who are very much Evangelicals, who are beginning to say that Evangelicals need to leave the halls of power and stand outside, preaching the truth to power.

I have a strong belief that Christianity needs to be a voice and needs to be a voice outside the walls of power enabling the church to confront a culture rather than being beholden to the culture.

I’ve been thinking of my own values of late and have come to some conclusions. I’m not saying I’m right, but these are some of my thoughts.

The first value issue that comes from my faith is dealing with poverty. The divide between rich and power is growing. The poor are getting hungrier and the quality of they food they are able to get is getting worse. It is increasingly more difficult for them to find food in depleted food banks. If our Clothes Closet is any reflection of our society at all, the need for clothing and BLANKETS is staggering. Many of us have more blankets than we’d ever use----there are many families where blankets are shared. My hope is that Christianity challenges leaders on the issue of poverty.

The second value issue is not just about abortion but about life. Many people in the alleged pro-life organizations are not really pro-life, they are merely against abortion. If people are going to be held accountable for their pro-life issues, make them be serious about it.

Thirdly, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the way our society deals with the gay community is a civil rights issue more than anything else. Being prejudiced against gay people seems to be, for many, a socially acceptable bigotry. The euphemism ‘gay lifestyle’ is used more and more to mean that sexual orientation is a choice as opposed to an orientation. If one makes it a lifestyle ‘choice’ it enables that person to be prejudiced against those who have made that choice.

This really stands on stark opposition to research. Research indicates that sexual orientation is as much a choice as race or gender are. I am a white, male, heterosexual. I made none of those choices. I would think that if I am going to be excluded because I am male, I’d be angry. I’d be hostile if I was excluded because of my race and mystified as to why I’m being excluded on my sexual orientation. None were my choice.

With the coming of Christmas, I think it’s notable to realize that Jesus was born in a stable into a peasant family. He spoke to a small number of people in a rather remote portion of the world.

He preached against poverty and challenged the rich to care for the poor.

He associated with those classified as sinners by society and loved them and was loved by them.

He healed lepers when society was teaching that the lepers received their disease because of sin and were society’s worst sinners.

Jesus consistently preached to power often making them rather uncomfortable. He was a voice, often in the wilderness, challenging people to change. He had no political ambitions, no money, no status in the villages he preached in. Ultimately his lack of political ambition, his poverty, and his lack of status led him to his death.

As Christians, his life and example are our guide and need to be our guide. We Christians have become too disjointed and too eager to status that we are missing that.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Faux News War on Christmas

The Faux News War on Christmas is taking place once again.

Faux News and the Comedy Channel are in a fierce competition in doing parodies on the news. I will give the Comedy Channel a slight edge. Jon Stewart is a lot funnier than Bill O’Reilly, but I do think that Sean Hannity is giving Steve Colbert a good run for his money in the comedic department. I do appreciate good comedians.

But, tiredly, once again Faux News is doing the parody of the war on Christmas. The other channels are showing Christmas trees, people singing, and doing Christmas shopping, and Faux News is once again trying to create a war on Christmas. A couple of years ago it might have been a bit amusing and caused some smiles. (Except the priest who officiated at my Mom’s funeral two years ago just days before Christmas seemed to miss the fact that Faux News was joking and cited the war on Christmas in a funeral sermon. Yeah, it was pretty bad...)

It is no longer amusing. Bill O’Reilly has gotten any laughs he was going to get out of it but now it’s time to put that joke to bed.

Besides that, as a Christian, I find Faux News’s constant attack on Christmas to be unseemly and inappropriate. I do hope that they soon stop.

These People Vote

These people vote.

Sherri Shepherd on The View recently demonstrated her vast historical knowledge. This is the same Sherri Shepherd who, some time back, could not state clearly if the world was round or flat. One might wonder if she had been reading a great deal of Thomas Friedman except, I do not believe that Classic Comics has, as yet, published his book. I'm guessing that she might hold the entire NASA program as suspect as, I believe, they do have pictures...

She later stated that she got rattled and made an error and concluded that the earth was, in fact, round. Nice of her to clear this up.

But, if ignorance is truly bliss, Sherri Shepherd is one very, very happy person. She recently stated that nothing in human history happened before Jesus. There were Christians from the start.

And the Greeks were feeding Christians to the lions. Abraham and Moses, I guess, came after Jesus and 4000 years of Jewish history bid the world a fond adios.

There is a frightening reality, however. This is not really comedy or as funny as even I would like it to be. Sherri Shepherd votes.

My wife spoke to me about a conversation on the radio. (I do not listen to the radio.)

The radio person was talking to a caller and asking when the birthday of the United States was. She was debating between 1942 or 1922. The year 1776 never came up.

She has the right to vote.

When I lived in Ohio they were voting on a prison levy. One letter to the editor wrote that the country started on July 4, 1776 and, it started from scratch. There were no people in prisons in 1776.... Somehow he missed the fact that Colonial America as under England and very much had life and prisons, etc. Sadly, it was apparent that he was voting.

These people vote.

The question I have is this. Who are these people voting for? And if they are voting for a particular person or party, ought we not be afraid, very afraid?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

NFL Officiating

In Super Bowl 40 Mike Holgrem, the coach of the Seattle Seahawks made the observations that he hadn’t realized that the Seahawks were playing both the Steelers and the officials. He was right. The game had at least four highly questionable calls that potentially helped change the outcome of the game. Repeatedly we see that there are dubious calls that completely change the game and most probably the outcome.

In the Bears against the Broncos the Broncos and the Bears were on the receiving end of some amazingly bad calls. Grossman fumbled and a defensive player picked up the ball and ran it for what would have been a touchdown. It was blown dead but the Broncos challenged the call and the play was reversed and it was called a fumble. But two problems hung on this. If it had been blown dead, why was the call reversed? A whistle ends the play. Period. Except here. But, maybe worse, if it was a fumble and Denver recovered why weren’t they given the touchdown? The answer was that the play had been called dead so they couldn’t advance the ball. Later on a phantom defensive holding penalty or pass interference call was made against Denver, keeping the Bears’ drive alive and helped them win the game. Helped. The Bears did drive down the field, and they did drive down the field on overtime to beat the Broncos, so no one can say that the officials totally gave the game to the Bears.

The Bears-Giants game. Grossman, who was struggling to get away, is tackled in the end zone. It was clearly not a forward progress kind of deal. Safety. Except the officials called forward progress and the Giants don’t get the two points. It’s dubious, however, who benefitted from this call. The Bears were forced to kick out of the back of their endzone, a tough kick, it was partially blocked and the Giants got the ball on the 30 yard line. Their offense had been pitiful, but they were able to go the 30 yards and score a touchdown.

But, and replays showed this, as the balled was snapped, the Bears’ coach decided to challenge the previous play. The red flag was in the air and the ball was in motion. It was too late for a challenge. The Giants scored a touchdown, but the officials decided to accept the challenge, despite its lateness, and the touchdown was taken off the board. The challenge was not upheld. The Giants later did score on third down. I suspect that the Giants benefitted from this, however. All the extra plays burned a lot of clock time and the Bears needed more time at the end of the game. Toomer’s catch at the end of the game was a catch that sometimes is ruled a catch and sometimes ruled a trap. Officials are incredibly inconsistent with that call.

Pass interference, illegal contact, defensive holding, and even offensive holding, are called all the time and sometimes the calls are phantom. Quite often we see a player fall down and another player is near them and is called for a penalty. Replays often show that the first player slipped and the other player had nothing to do with the slip. But a penalty was called. It can’t be reserved because replay cannot be used for this.

Furthermore, these calls are often subjective and often inconsistent. I strongly suspect that NFL players do what they do because they have to test out what they can and cannot get away with. Personally, I think that the rules are tilted to allow more completions and make the game more offensively exciting. Defensive football, which, to me, is a treat to watch, is pushed aside for more points. But this is usually at the whim of the officials.

Baltimore Ravens players made the charge that they believe that the NFL encourages the officials to lean towards one team. It sure does seem that way. Something to note, however, is that the Ravens objections to the calls were bogus. The officials actually did get them right in that game...

The Ravens love to trash talk. It’s more effective to play well than it is to talk a lot.

Are the officials biased? I’d like to believe that they are not. I do know this, however, two years ago many, many games had outcomes very much impacted by the officiating. Last year it seemed better. This year is looking more and more like two years ago.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why I'm Not Turning My Radio On

Joe Elliot is being replaced on the radio by syndicated talk show host Michael Savage. A congenial and kind man is going to be replaced by Michael Savage’s savage rants. Aren’t we lucky.

I do not listen to the radio and intentionally will not listen to the radio. I know that the CD player in my car works, but, to be quite honest, I do not know if my radio works and I do not know how to set stations on it or what stations there are to listen to. I will not listen to the radio.

Talk radio has polluted the airwaves. Obviously Rush Limbaugh has been the leader of talk radio and has, in his own right, become a very influential voice in American society. Much of my focus is on him, but I will not listen to anyone any longer, right wing, left wing, or wing nut. To this end, much of what I have to say about Rush Limbaugh is something that has permeated the rest of talk radio.

Here’s what is wrong.

First, talk radio has lowered the level of discourse in the nation. The age of civil conversation is dead. The era of thoughtful Lincoln/Douglas debates is over. The era of people of unlike minds sitting and having long, respectful, and intelligent conversations has gone the way of the Model T. It’s a great relic of the past, but no longer functioning.

What has replaced civil discourse is the prevailing usage of ad hominem attacks.

Ad hominem, in Latin, means “to the man.” An ad hominem attack is this. A person places an issue before you. Instead of discussing or debating the issue, you simply attack the person placing the issue before you. Ultimately you attempt to humiliate the person making the proposal and you are making the argument that this person is too dreadful to even make such a proposal. Meanwhile, the proposition that ought to be debated is never really discussed.

Rush Limbaugh is quite adept at this. If you recall, years ago, during the first term of Bill Clinton, Hillary was in charge of the health care plan. The health care plan never really got discussed. Bill and Hillary were attacked repeatedly and called every name in the book and the premise that they were going to make us all socialists was the level of the debate. Rush helped lead the charge and it was effective. The health care plan never really even got discussed or debated. Whether or not his plan had merit is not the issue. The issue is that nothing of substance was ever discussed and we still have a broken system. Anything Hillary would bring forward now will still be tarnished because she was so successfully vilified.

This particular approach is vile. Right wing people use it and left wing people use it. Character assassination is an effective ploy and talk radio has helped lead the way. Our level of discourse has been greatly diminished because people no longer know how to interact with one another with civility. It has become increasingly distressing to recognize that people with unlike views choose not to interact with those with whom they do not agree. Talk radio, in my mind, has had a devastating impact on the level of civil discourse in our contemporary society.

The second issue I have with talk radio is that it attempts to simplify that which is complex. We have become a society that places labels on everyone and every issue and we have become fixated with clichés.

People are now either liberal or conservative. You must be one or the other. If you aren’t one or the other you are a person with no convictions on anything. Moderation is a myth. These labels are a standard world view.

The great cliché and myth is, “there are two sides to every story.” Huh? Who said that there are two sides to every story? In fact, most issues that I have encountered to not have two sides to them....

Now, here is a digression. If you are a person who spends a great deal of time listening to talk radio and have bought this way of viewing the world, you are thinking that what I am driving at is that stories really only have one side and there is only one true answer...If this is what you think, please do read on.

Most issues that I have encountered do not have two sides to them. Most issues have lots of sides to them, lots of angles to them, lots of approaches to them. The fact that these people on the radio are preaching that there are two sides does not make this so. For better or worse, most issues are incredibly complex and have a lot of variables.

The latest cliché on complexity is to label it post-modern relativism. A philosophy professor of mine, years ago, made the prediction that society was leaning away from seeing things from many angles and would be gravitating towards over simplifying that which was complex. His feeling was that people were too lazy to really think.

Clichés and labels are popular because they over simplify things. They have become the great tools of talk radio hosts.

Lastly, many talk radio show hosts do something Rush Limbaugh does. They use anecdotal arguments to make their points. The ‘war against Christmas’ got its start like this. There was/is a war against Christmas, thus making it a war against Christianity because some people in some places would not allow Christmas trees or said “Happy Holidays.” There is usually a laundry list of anecdotes to make this point.

There is a war against Christianity because Reverend Such and Such from this church someplace was not allowed to pray at a gathering of car dealers.

The list can go on and on and on. Whatever issue one has on any given subject, there is certainly a story from some place by some person which is a marvelous example of the point.

The problem is that anecdotes do not necessarily validate points. The only thing that they do is speak for themselves in the situation in which it occurred.

There is not a war against Christianity if several clergy are stopped from doing certain things at certain times. It may be a fact if we see this happening in mostly all the churches all the time.

Years ago a hospital in Pennsylvania mandated that the clergy sign a ‘code of conduct’ policy before visiting the hospital with a list of rules. There was a hue and cry that clergy were being persecuted.

But not so fast. Some of the rules had interesting roots.

Please do not enter the operating room during surgery. Some fool member of the clergy did not get to the hospital early enough to pray with that person before surgery, so he decided to pop in and say a prayer in the operating room.

If a patient is restrained, please do not remove the restraints. While it is difficult to see a person suffering from the restraints, one fool member of the clergy untied the restraints and the person removed their IV and catheter.

The joy of having freedom of religion is that we can Worship in churches of our choices and choose our own doctrines. The bad news is that there is no uniform training for clergy. The standard educational process for clergy was four years of college followed by three or four years of graduate school/seminary. Most denominations still mandate this. In the process of education and training one learns proper protocol.

The dilemma is that clergy in many churches that are of the more independent variety may or may not have much education. Some require college, some require college and seminary, and some require neither. Rev. Al Sharpton was ordained at the age of nine. Unless he was a prodigy, I strongly doubt he did four years of college and three years of seminary...

I’m actually not being critical of this. I am merely trying to point out that often what appears to be anti-Christian may not be. And I am, admittedly, being anecdotal. Anecdotes are great to illustrate points but they cannot be used to validate or verify large sweeping issues. Sadly, they are often used in this manner. I’m merely making an observation that what was used as an anecdote about religious persecution in a specific time and place could not be validated as the reasons behind the policies.

Talk radio hosts are entitled to their opinions and entitled to share their opinions. Whether we agree or disagree with him is not a huge issue. What is a huge issue, in my mind, is that we have allowed people to lead us in lowering our level of discourse, in trying to oversimplify complexities, and create an environment where well stated arguments nicely illustrated with anecdotes are taken as fact as opposed to hypothesis.

In my mind we are rapidly becoming, or have become coarser and less respectful of one another, and significantly less insightful and knowledgeable of the world around us. It’s not the fault of talk radio hosts. They are making a bunch of money doing what they are doing. It’s not their fault. It’s our fault for buying the nonsense.

That’s why I’m not turning my radio back on.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Monday Morning Quarterback

Well my predictions weren’t all that terrific.

The Cowboys won, but they didn’t quite crush the Packers like bugs. They beat them pretty well. Half a prediction correct.

The Jets crushed the Dolphins. Totally wrong on that.

The Giants slipped and slid their way against the Bears. Wrong on that.

Todd Sauerbrun, however, still has a low IQ.

The weekend in football.

It’s always a better week for me when the Giants win. They beat the Bears. It was an UGLY game, however.

There were several things of note.

Rex Grossman had a decent game. He threw the ball well and for him, Giants defenders were not able to pick off his worst throws. He got away with a few. He did hit a wide open Devin Hester who was almost 10 years behind Giants’ defenders. Grossman’s pass was right there. Hester made no adjustment and it hit is hands and shoulder pads for a drop. Giants got lucky on that one. That incompletion was on Hester, and not on Grossman.

Rex had two problems. First, he was sacked six times and hurried a lot of other times. The Bears had no running game at all and Grossman had precious little time to set up and throw. It was difficult to say if the Bears’ lack of running game was the fact that they lacked the skill to do it or the Giants’ run defense was too good, or both.

The Bears also had a dilemma in the fact that they did not stop the Giants’ running game at all. Ultimately the game boiled down to the fact that when the Giants needed short yardage they could run and get it and the Bears couldn’t.

The Giants got lucky that they survived way too many turnovers. The Bears had great field position most of the game and could only muster one touchdown.

Eli threw two picks. One to a wide open Bears’ defender and one poorly thrown pass to Burress in the end zone.

The Bears made the consummate mistake. They didn’t get the points they needed to get and they let the Giants stick around. When you do that, you often lose.

It was an ugly win, but, ultimately, a win is a win.

The Colts played tough against the Jags. The Jags are a touch, physical team and they Colts played them tough. Very tough. Everyone is saying that the Pats are a given. The Colts have a lot of injuries and most of those hurt will come back. I do not count them out.

Joe Gibbs WAS a great coach in the NFL. His return has been marked by some serious gaffes in game management. Yesterday he called successive time outs to ‘freeze’ the Bills’ kicker----but you can only call one. The second turned into a 15 yard penalty making a long field goal into one much more manageable. The Bills’ kicker may have made the long kick and the mistake might not have cost them the game. But, duh, if you let a team get a shot, you have made a major error.

Denver is a very disappointing team. Somehow one imagines that they should be better than they are.

The Eagles have played two decent games but have lost. AJ is obviously not their dream come true quarterback.

Right now one of the toughest teams in the NFC are the Vikings. They can run down your throats and they can stuff the run. Championships are made from such ability. They look better and better each week and are finding ways to win. They may be one of the most dangerous teams in the NFC at the moment.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Saturday, December 01, 2007

What are the issues of 2008 going to be?

I keep wondering what the issues of 2008 are going to be.

The big three to me are the war, the rising level of poverty, and health care. I was pondering fuel costs but they are part of the rising level of poverty. In reality, I suspect that the war and health care are as well. The war effort costs a great deal of money and that money cannot be used in other places, such as health care, food, or housing.

Some previous elections were on 'values' issues. Most of the time the 'values' issues raised were gay marriage and abortion. The biggest issue of Jesus, poverty, was never raised as a value.

It makes me wonder what values are going to be in the forefront if the election ends up between Rudy and Hillary. It probably can't be character or family values. Actually Hillary can stand up on the character and family values platform a whole lot higher than Rudy. And Rudy is pro-choice and pro-gay rights. Or always has been.

Character is often a key component to who wins elections. Or so they say. Personally, it appears to me that the person of the worst character is usually the winner. It will be an interesting election. I suspect that the campaign won't be. Sadly, issues will be placed to the side while people perform character assassination on each other.