Wednesday, December 08, 2010

This is Too Much Fun NOT to Share


I Got a letter from Grandma the other day. She wrote:

The other day I went up to a local Christian bookstore and saw a "HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS" bumper sticker. I was feeling particularly sassy that day because I had just come from a thrilling choir performance, followed by a thunderous prayer meeting, so I bought the sticker and put it on my bumper.

Boy, I'm glad I did! What an uplifting experience that followed!

I was stopped at a red light at a busy intersection, just lost in thought about the Lord and how good He is... and I didn't notice that the light had changed. It is a good thing someone else loves Jesus because if he hadn't honked, I'd never have noticed! I found that LOTS of people love Jesus!

Why, while I was sitting there, the guy behind started honking like crazy, and then he leaned out of his window and screamed, "For the love of GOD! GO! GO! JESUS CHRIST, GO!" What an exuberant cheerleader he was for Jesus!

Everyone started honking! I just leaned out of my window and started waving and smiling at all these loving people. I even honked my horn a few times to share in the love!

I saw another guy waving in a funny way with only his middle finger stuck up in the air. Then I asked my teenage grandson in the back seat what that meant, he said that it was probably a Hawaiian good luck sign or something. Well, I've never met anyone from Hawaii, so I leaned out the window and gave him the good luck sign back. My grandson burst out laughing... why, even he was enjoying this religious (Toronto) experience!

A couple of the people were so caught up in the joy of the moment that they got out of their cars and started walking towards me. I bet they wanted to pray or ask what church attended, but this is when I noticed the light had changed. So, I waved to all my sisters and brothers grinning, and drove on through the intersection.

I was the only car that got through the intersection before the light changed again and I felt kind of sad that I had to leave them after all the love we had shared, so I slowed the car down, leaned out the window and gave them all the Hawaiian good luck sign one last time as I drove away.

Praise the Lord for such wonderful folks!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Advent Soon Begins!

A Nativity Scene was erected in a church yard.
During the night someone came across this scene.
An abandoned dog was looking for a comfortable, protected place to sleep. He chose baby Jesus as his comfort.
No one had the heart to send him away so he was there all night.
We should all have the good sense of this dog and curl up in Jesus' lap from time to time.
This is too good not to share.
No one mentioned that the dog breed is a "Shepherd!"

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Elections Are Over! Thanks Be to God!

I am so happy the elections are over. Congratulations to those who won their elections yesterday. Whether our choices win or lose is less important than embracing those who did win and keeping them in our prayers. My great prayer is that all those who serve our nation choose nation over party and always attempt to do the right thing. And be honest. Please be honest. Please let the lying season be over.

A piece of historical reality that many people fail to realize is that while the United States is considered to be a young nation, our system of government is amongst the oldest and enduring systems in the world. The vast majority of nations have had major changes in government long after ours. We have our bi-annual 'revolutions' called elections and those elections often change the course of the nation.

Several things I've observed are these:

It is difficult to get really good people to run for office. It is expensive, grueling, and painful for someone to listen to the attacks on you. I found myself cringing at the attacks people launched on each other. Most candidates were guilty of this; some more than others. I can't imagine having to endure the slander and vitriol hurled.

Being the President is a really dreadful job. I guess it has its perks, but in listening to an interview of George W. Bush today and watching Barack Obama at the press conference, being the President has its own special agony. No matter what you choose to do or not do, you will be vilified for it. Yuch.

It also reminds me of something about myself. So many speak of 'no compromise' and being, by nature, a consensus builder, I find such speech uncomfortable. Maybe that's what drives governments but I don't find it something I'd be comfortable with. I, for one, would love to see everyone sit down and actually try and solve the problems of our nation together instead of hurling insults at each other.

But that's just me.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What Disappointments Me About This Year’s Election

I decided to write this before the results are in. I am incredibly disappointed in this election cycle and it has little to do with the results.

Here is why.

First off, there seems to have been epic lying and dishonesty in this year’s election. People were assaulted by Republican commercials stating that there Democratic opponent voted to reduce Medicare. Actually, the healthcare plan voted to increase Medicare but was removing funding from privatized Medicare Advantage. The Democrats, not to be undone, were equally bogus with their 23% sales tax ads leaving out the little detail of this tax being in lieu of other taxes. The lies went on and on and on and there are no innocents in this one.

Secondly, the smearing and the defense of smearing. “Oh, there have always been smear campaigns.” Perhaps there have always been smear campaigns but now we have mail, Facebook, E-mail, and endless phone calls telling us that our opponent is the worst person who ever walked the planet. In this part of the country no one was willing to sink deeper and dirtier than Jack Conway in Kentucky. His ‘Aqua Buddha’ ad was disgusting.

Thirdly, there are some really bad candidates. The people of Nevada have to be really, really angry at Harry Reid to consider voting for a Sharron Angle who may be one of the all time worst major party candidates in the history of the universe. Of course, she is running at the same time as Alvin Greene in South Carolina so this may actually be a toss up. If you were to ask, I’d vote for Christine O’Donnell over either of these two. If I lived in Kentucky I’d vote for “None of the Above” in the Senate election. In my own district Todd Young’s major campaign platform is that he’s not Baron Hill. He made me long for the days of millionaire Mike Sodrel who is at least from here and seems to be a sincere man.

Fourth, there is really bad party leadership. I have not been a huge fan of Nancy Pelosi. She does get things done, but she’s a diehard partisan and ideologue. I tend to see myself as a consensus builder and a pragmatist so I have an innate distrust of partisans and ideologues. I have to believe the Democrats could have done better than her. Sadly, the quality will not improve when the balance of power shifts. John Boehner shares two of Nancy Pelosi’s worst qualities. He’s a diehard partisan and ideologue. Harry Reid was terrible and if he loses the election and the Democrats maintain control of the Senate, one of the people who wants to be the new Senate Majority Leader is Chuck Schumer from New York. God help us all. If the Republicans gain control the new leader will be Mitch McConnell. God help us all.

Fifth, in an era when things are very difficult and solutions need to take place, more and more ideologues win elections and pragmatic people are cast to the sidelines. I do not trust ideologues to solve problems. They busily try and follow the same path and plan no matter what the world is doing around them. It’s nuts!

Lastly, we still have a major healthcare crisis; we still have a lot of people who do not have jobs or are underemployed. Our national infrastructure if rotting away and we will have major education issues. We still have a major presence in Iraq; are fighting a war in Afghanistan, and terrorism is still a major problem around the world. Despite a lot of rhetoric and posturing by both sides, no one seems to be seriously discussing real solutions to real problems.

Maybe next time....

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sermon for September 26, 2010

Profiting from the Prophets----Of Dry Bones Dancing
Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14
September 16, 2010
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

Sometimes we read about things in the Bible and what you see is what you get.
Jesus turns what into wine and the story is about Jesus turning water into wine. We can discuss it and speculate as to the why's and the wherefore's, but ultimately the story is pretty straightforward.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and, again, it's about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

But then we have this very familiar passage from Ezekiel; the valley of the dry bones. God commands Ezekiel to preach unto the dry bones so that they might be reformed into bodies and then given life. And Ezekiel does what God has commanded him to do and the bones go back into bodies and become alive again.

The passage seems to indicate that these dry bones were very old; people who had died, probably in a huge battle many years earlier. If taken totally at face value they are brought back to life and Ezekiel is left standing there with a huge army in front of him; for no apparent reason. This would seem to indicate that this passage means something symbolic.

The trick is trying to determine what this actually does mean.

I read one person’s take on it. He said that it was a prophesy that Israel would be brought make to great might and have a great army, etc. He went on to indicate this is why American foreign policy must always favor Israel so that this prophesy would one day come to pass. Without getting too technical here, I can’t fathom why God would be giving Ezekiel a prophesy to determine American foreign policy in the 21st century. To me there had to be a deeper, more theological rationale.

To me the dry bones symbolize people of faith who keep the bones of religion alive, but lose everything else. From this perspective, I can see a great deal of this prophesy being played out over and over again.

The dry bones symbolized people of faith who keep the bones of religion alive and lose everything else.

There is a difference between faith and religion. Faith is our actual belief in God; religion is how we practice that belief. Faith is what we have in our hearts and minds and religion is the structure in which we live out that faith.

It can be said that faith without religion, or some sort of structure, is inclined toward chaos. Over the years I have heard numerous people make the statement that they don’t need the church to Worship God. Theoretically this is true, but I live by an adage that we really do need the church to grow in faith. It is very difficult to maintain the discipline and the presence of others to grow in faith.

But having said all that, the issue of the dry bones speaks of religion without faith.

One of the issues of ancient Judaism, an issue that was central to Jesus’ ongoing people with the Pharisees, was this very issue. It was a religion without faith. Judaism had been reduced from being a vital, faithful response to God into an organization of rules and laws. It had morphed into a religion without faith and Jesus was attempting to renew it.

It is, of course, easy to say that Judaism in Jesus’ day and age had difficulties, but it can be said of Christianity here and now. Christianity is, at its core, a movement, and not an institution. The biggest problem Christianity has had over the centuries has not been Jesus, has not been the message of Jesus, but has been the institutional church. Over the centuries on Church History there are stories that plague virtually every tradition within Christianity about something that the Christian Church was doing wrong.

In the Amish tradition the second most revered book of all, behind the Bible, is the Book of Martyrs. The Amish, who come out of the Anabaptist tradition, read about their forebears in faith persecuted and killed for their beliefs. And there are a lot of them; and mostly all of them were persecuted and killed by other Christians. The institutional church got in the way of faith. When we allow that to happen, the dry bones show up.

A second thing that leads to dry bones is when faith loses its heart. Unless we have a heart for God and a heart for God’s people, our faith drys up into dry bones.

Having heart is important.

One of my favorite stories is the story of two brothers, one very sensitive and one less so. The very sensitive brother went away and left his dog with his less than sensitive brother. After a few days he called home and asked his brother how the dog was.

The less than sensitive brother said, “The dog died.”

The very sensitive brother said to him, “Oh no. I’m crushed and you just made it worse! You need to learn to be more sensitive to give a person warning.”

The other brother said, “I don’t understand. What did you want me to do?”

Well first, the sensitive brother said, “When I ask how the dog is, you say, ‘Well, he’s not looking so good. I’m going to take it to the vet tomorrow.’”

“When I call back the next day, you say, ‘the vet kept the dog and said it’s not looking very good,’ then the next day you say, ‘The vet did everything he could, but the dog died.’”

“Okay,” said the other brother. “I’ll be more careful next time.”

“Great,” said the sensitive brother. “So how’s Mom?”

“Well,” the other brother said, “She’s not looking so good, so I’m going to take her to the doctor tomorrow.”

You probably get the point. Sensitivity and heart are important. And they really are! If a people of faith have no heart, we miss the heart of God.

We begin each Worship Service with the words, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” In theory, those words are easy to say. In theory, every church since the beginning of time believes they say those words. We all want to, deep down, say those words.

But when we say those words we open ourselves up to saying ‘yes,’ to everyone. And everyone is a lot of different types of people.

St. Marks has attempted, over the years, to be a ‘yes’ kind of church. When this church was founded over 170 years ago everyone was German and the Worship Service was in German. At some point, in this church’s history, in order to welcome people who weren’t German, they had to stop doing the Worship Service in German. They did.

When we started to do the Soup Kitchen and later, the Clothes Closet, it meant opening our doors to a lot of different folks. It was a big ‘yes.’ A lot of churches don’t want those folks in their building. They’d never tell you that, of course, like we wouldn’t have said it years ago. But when you open the building you open your hearts and say ‘yes’ to people very different from most of us most of the time.

The United Church of Christ and St. Marks made intentional efforts to welcome people who are gay as they are. Every church welcomes gay people, but a lot of churches escort gay folks to classes where they are going to get ‘cured’ from being gay as if it were a disease which needed to be cured. Everyone is welcome, as long as they are willing to be ‘fixed,’ even if they didn’t consider themselves broken. Even if God doesn’t consider them as broken.

The United Church of Christ was the first mainline Christian denomination to determine that ‘gay’ was not a disease and people who are gay are welcome. We, as a denomination, and then as a church, decided to say ‘yes,’ to everyone, and welcome everyone as they are. There are no distinctions between any person here. We say ‘yes’ to everyone. That is having heart.

The last thing is equally crucial. We become dry bones when we no longer see our intellect as an important component to our faith.

Michael Jinkins, the new President of the Presbyterian Seminary in Louisville recently gave a convocation address entitled, “The Life of the Mind in the Service of God: Why a Thinking Faith Still Matters.” He begins by citing the columnist Nicholas Kristof who bemoaned a loss of an intellectually rigorous faith. Kristof makes the observation that “The heart is a wonderful organ; but so is the brain.”

Jinkins cites Thomas Long, a preaching professor, who made the observation that the greatest heresy of modern day Christianity is not atheism, but superficiality.

In recent years there has been a resurgence in atheism. Most of the arguments made for atheism are about how superficial and illogical Christianity is.

People like Bill Maher made the movie Religulous, in which he interviewed religious people and made fun of them. Christopher Hitchens wrote the best selling God is Not Great in which he blamed virtually every ill in the world on people who believe in God. God, he argues, is not real.

Both authors, and many others like them, do the same thing. They take the most simplistic arguments made by Christians and Christianity and put holes in them. They attack the most superficial arguments and use their own superficial arguments to refute people of faith.

Interestingly enough, Maher and Hitchens do the same exact thing as they people they are critical of. They use superficial examples and interview superficial people who give them superficial answers. They attack a shallow faith with their own shallow arguments.

But Christianity, at its core, is not a superficial faith. Actually, no world religion really is superficial. Any religion is at its best when it is vigorous intellectually and challenges the minds of people. Jinkins makes a great statement when he overses that the greatest antidote to such people as Maher and Hitchens is not retrenching ourselves against their ideas, but engaging their overly simplified and often silly statements with far more sophisticated, self-searching, and even self-critical observations.

A non-thinking critical faith is a superficial faith, and a faith that leads to dry bones.

The philosopher Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It can easily be said that an unexamined faith is not worthy of God.

This passage from Ezekiel is a passage that challenges us deeply. We are either a living, vital people, living a living and vital faith filled with heart and mind; or we are dry bones. There is no happy medium on this. God created us to be a people of faith; and so we are challenged to have that faith. And God gave us hearts and minds and challenges to use both in celebration and faithfulness.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Answer!

Here's the answer to the question as to what Jesus would do:

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Price of Religious Freedom

Most denominational clergy are ordained after scrutiny from their respective denominations after having received a Bachelor's Degree and a 90 credit Master of Divinity degree. Religious freedom indicates, however, that any group of people can start a church and clergy can be ordained by a group of people within that church or receive mail order certificates of ordination. People can start their own churches and set their own belief patterns. As a result, unlike physicians or attorneys who have a standard of education that everyone must have, clergy do not. We live with this because of religious freedom. It is better to have the freedom to live like this than it is to not have this freedom.

Here is what else if means. If people want to build an Islamic Center in downtown Manhattan, blocks away from Ground Zero, they can. They have as much a right to do this as the people from Westboro Baptist Church have to protest at funerals because other Christians happen to believe Jesus loving everyone, and if some fool in Florida wants to burn the Quran, he also has that right.

The right to do something, of course, does not mean that one ought to do something. There are some things that are ethically dreadful that people have the right to do. There is some practice of religion that is deplorable and even objectionable to most people. Religious freedom is worth all this, however, because it enables each of us to practice our faith (or not) the way we so choose.

Ponder for a moment. We ban a mosque. That means when a Baptist Church wants to open a congregation we say, "No, because Westboro Baptist Church calls themselves Baptist and they are dreadful." The fact that Westboro is not representative of most Baptist Churches would be lost. The move goes further when we begin to believe we can ban ALL churches because, well, we can.

The price of religious freedom is that we live with stuff we don't like so that everyone has the right to their own faith. The price is actually pretty high, but, I believe, well worth it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A Loss of Faith in Institutions II Refinding Faith in Institutions----The Government

The upcoming elections are going to be interesting, but it’s certainly not something to relish. Sadly, many of the people running are no great shakes.

The people of Nevada have a choice between an incumbent Senator who will say and do anything to keep his job. It’s very difficult to see him as a man of great convictions and he was a surefire loser in the upcoming election. He has a burst of hope, however, because the Republican nominee is pretty fair out there. There are no good choices in Nevada.

Barbara Boxer is running for re-election in California against Carly Fiorina. Boxer’s career has been the definition of mediocrity; and people at Hewlett Packard, where Carly was the CEO are quick to tell everyone what a disaster she was in that role. No good choices there.

The House of Representatives may easily change hands from the very partisan Nancy Pelosi to the very partisan John Boehner.

And this is just to name a few. We will all experience the joy and wonder of modern technology as mud and manure are flung far and wide around our great land. All of this brings me to some points.

First is this. There is a reason candidates throw mud and manure. Generally the person who throws the must mud and the most manure, and makes it stick on his or her opponent, wins the election. Dirty campaigns and dirty tricks are used because they work.

The problem is that the winner himself or herself, wins, covered in manure and mud and with the label that he or she was even nastier than his or her opponent. Off they go to Washington, DC lacking a great deal of respect. And, of course, when they arrive in our nation’s Capital, the same thing goes on. In time there is an erosion of trust for these people and it impacts everyone. Why would people respect a government that looks like a mud pit and smells like a pig’s stye?

Add to this how we deal with Presidents. I’ll use the last two as examples.

Whether one liked or disliked President George W. Bush he was demonized on a regular basis. Many, me included, did not agree him and allowed that disagreement to fester into dislike and often into ridicule.

Many carried it way too far. I believe, fervently, that ALL Presidents are patriots. No one would put the amount of energy, angst, and personal danger they put into being President if they had any questions about their own personal love of nation. As a result, I also believe most every President does act on what he (hopefully one day soon she!), believes is right for the nation. Bush was called a traitor, a fascist, a Nazi, etc., on a regular basis. As a result he was so vilified that people stopped taking him seriously. How can one respect a villain?

Much the same is taking place with President Obama. He, like his predecessor, is demonized on a regular basis. Whether the overtones are racial, religious, or ideological, the ending result is much the same. Again, like ALL Presidents, he is a patriot and regularly accused of not loving America and is regularly called a socialist, a Nazi, and a fascist. And, like his predecessor (and others before him), he becomes so vilified that people begin to not take him seriously. Again, how can one respect a villain?

So, where does this leave us?

It leaves us with many people who hold extreme positions and people with demonstrated incompetence as out leaders. This does not reflect, everyone, of course, but a growing number. It also leaves us with people who are callous and ruthless in keeping their own jobs and keeping power for their party; or getting power back from the other party. In short, we are not sending our best and our brightest to our nation’s capital because our best and our brightest have too much dignity, ability, and self-respect to go there.

It is very difficult to respect institutions when we demonize the people in them and the people in them make it so easy to do because they are busily demonizing one another and being demonized by people who hate them.

As a result, the re-finding of faith in institutions begins with us. Who we choose as our leaders, and how we tolerate them to behave is on us. Until we expect and demand more, we will get what we have.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Loss of Faith in Institutions I

There is something striking taking place that is, at this point, under-reported. It does not take much to connect the dots to come to this conclusion as it is painfully obvious that people have lost faith in institutions.

There is anger toward our leaders in Washington, D.C. This is not new. People were angry at the government and tossed Republicans out of power. President Bush left office with very low approval numbers and Vice President Cheney was a little less popular than phlegm when he left office. There was a major power shift in Congress. There was a rebellion on those in power. We were in two wars with uncertain outcomes and the economy was bad.

Times have changed but people’s anger has not subsided. President Obama’s approval ratings have dropped and Congress is as beloved now, in Democratic control as it was in Republican control. Combat troops have left Iraq but over 50,000 American soldiers remain there and no one really knows the future of Iraq. Afghanistan remains a mess and the economy is still bad. The strategies for dealing with the economy changed, but far too many people remain without jobs.

People are angry. Democrats rallied and supported the non-establishment candidate, Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton and followed this through to the election.

People have lost faith in government in a big way. Both parties have attempted to take advantage of this, but if either party had the courage to really deal with this they would find that the problem is that both parties have failed the country miserably. Ideologies are not principles; ideologies are simply ideologies that, when followed blindly lead into an abyss. As our political parties become increasingly ideological, they become increasingly less pragmatic and increasingly less interested in serving people.

People have lost faith because they are being sold a bill of good by both the Democrats and the Republicans. Both parties are living by the same credo: Party First!

But, alas, there is more. People have also lost interest in church. Increasingly people are identifying themselves as atheists or spiritual but not religious. By the end of the next decade I suspect that at least half the churches in existence across the country will have closed. Many will have run out of people and money and will cease to exist. Others will have run out of clergy.

The problem isn’t God. God remains the same. People’s need and desire for God remains the same at gut level. The problem has been the Institutional Church. The child molestation issues within the Roman Catholic Church have been devastating to everyone. If people cannot trust their children, their precious children, with clergy in the church, who can they trust? That lack of trust is devastating.

But it is far more than the Roman Catholic Church. The Institutional Church, on every level, has been in a civil war. Conservative versus liberal. Prosperity Gospel versus Liberation Theology. Traditional versus contemporary. When the author Anne Rice made the observation that the Christian Church was more interested in fighting amongst itself, her words were an honest indictment on Christianity. Denominations, often seem more interested in determining how to survive than how to serve. Local churches are often trying to figure out how to stay alive for even five more years than to serve the communities around them.

I love the words St. Paul wrote to Timothy so many years ago:

I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

In watching Glenn Beck ‘preaching’ it was startling. His ‘theology’ was bogus nonsense. He had nice pious platitudes wrapped around the Prosperity Gospel and seemingly Messianic ambitions of his own. But there are a lot of itching ears embracing his words and believing in him. As a member of the clergy who does try to embrace the truth of God, it was chilling and frightening.

Yet, I don’t blame Beck. He’s filling a void and his coffers. I feel badly that people embrace this nonsense, but I’m also recognizing that they are embracing it because the Institutional Church has failed and is failing on so many levels.

People have lost their faith in institutions because those institutions are failing them on a regular basis. I’m going to continue to wrestle with this over the next days and share my wrestling match with others. I’d love to hear others’ observations as well.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Random Thoughts

I watched the news this morning. A second person from “Jersey Shore” was arrested for something. These people are going to give the impression that people from New Jersey get in trouble or something. What bugs me about “Jersey Shore” is that Seaside Heights is a family place that most people from New Jersey have been going to all their lives. The television show makes it look like it’s this awful place.

“Jersey Boys” is a play and a lot of people have been going to see it. Whenever I want to see a Jersey boy, I look in the mirror. (For those who are wondering, this is a joke.)

The whole mosque controversy in New York troubles me. Seriously. To be perfectly honest, I am not feeling warm and fuzzy toward Islam. I sincerely believe that moderate Islam and moderate Islamic nations need to be more pro-active in addressing the abuses of radical Islam. As for the mosque in that area of New York City, again, I’m not feeling warm and fuzzy about it. I’d greatly prefer an Interfaith Center where all faiths can come together. I believe the symbolism of that would be important and good.

But, I don’t believe that it ought to be stopped. The President’s comments the other day were, in my mind, right on. We do have a freedom of religion in the United States that cannot be trampled by anyone. Newt Gingrich recently said that Saudi Arabia does not have any churches or synagogues in their nation. That’s dreadful, but I has nothing to do with us other than make us happy we are not like them. I’d hate to go down a path of denying religious freedom. It’s just wrong. Nothing is more American than allowing a place of Worship to be built; even if we disagree with who they are and how they Worship.

While I am ranting, the immigration debate is obviously hot and heavy. An underlying problem in this debate is this. There are actually two ‘signs’ up for the people crossing over from Mexico. One sign says, ‘Keep Out.” The other sign says, “Help Wanted.” There is a great deal of energy spent in wanting to keep people out and to toss the people who are here illegally; but there is virtually no energy at penalizing the people and businesses who hire illegal immigrants. If those hiring the illegal immigrants were targeted and illegal folks had no place to work, the incentive to cross the border would diminish greatly.

I have a modest budget balancing proposal for Congress that would address term limits and the budget deficit. Eliminate all Congressional pensions. The money the nation would save would be huge and people who limit their terms without having to change the Constitution.

Speaking of the Constitution, it is always entertaining how the party out of power always speaks about the other party not following the Constitution. The Democrats screamed it when George W. Bush was the President and the Republicans are screaming it now.

And if it’s so good, why do people always want to amend it?

The Giants and the Jets have their pre-season game tonight. I have my DVR ready to record it. I’m not expecting a great deal. Pre-season football is pretty awful. From the looks of the weekend the Colts will be terrible and the Redskins will be a powerhouse. I doubt both of those premises a lot. But speaking of the Colts, I hope they do well, but lose the second game of the regular season on a last second winning touchdown pass thrown by Manning. For those who are wondering, there is a way for Manning to lose this game and for Manning to win this game...

Bristol and Levi are turning into the new Jon and Kate. And one Jon and Kate was enough. Please. Stop!!!

And lastly. Brett Favre retired. Again. If I express skepticism at this, please forgive me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some Interesting View Points of Honesty

In looking at PolitiFact, which is non-partisan, it checks out statements made to see if they are honest or dishonest. They have six categories that I have summarized into three.

The first are either totally true or mostly true statements. The person is speaking the truth or they may have one small insignificant piece of information of no consequences that throws off their total.

The second are half true or barely true statements. It is not a lie, but sometimes to make it true you have to take several pieces of information and stretch them in an unnatural way.

The third things stated that are totally false and, in their words, liar, liar, pants on fire lies. However one parses it, the person ought not to have said this as what they are saying is totally false.

It should be stated that PolitFact is non-partisan and unbiased. In each case they validate, beyond doubt, by proving the person to be right, half-right, or dead wrong.

I chose a wide range of people and there are people who are clearly more honest than others. Barack Obama is the President and Sarah Palin is one of the leading Republican spokespersons at this time.

John Boehner is the House Minority leader, and Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House and interesting as are several other pundits and political leaders.

I have no editorial comment to make on anyone other than the fact that I was appalled at many of the percentage figures for dishonesty. The Ninth Commandment must not be in a lot of Bibles...

Barack Obama
Truthful 47.5% of the time.
Halfway 34.7% of the time.
Dishonest 17.7% of the time.

Sarah Palin
Truthful 37.5% of the time
Halfway 30.0% of the time
Dishonest 32.5% of the time.

John Boehner
Truthful 50.0% of the time.
Halfway 25.0% of the time.
Dishonest 25.0% of the time.

Nancy Pelosi
Truthful 20.0% of the time.
Halfway 60.0% of the time.
Dishonest 20.0% of the time.

Rush Limbaugh

Truthful 8.3% of the time.
Halfway 41.7% of the time.
Dishonest 50% of the time.

Keith Olbermann

Truthful 28.5% of the time.
Halfway 43% of the time.
Dishonest 28.5% of the time.

Glenn Beck

Truthful 12% of the time.
Halfway 44% of the time.
Dishonest 44% of the time.

John McCain

Truthful 39% of the time.
Halfway 34% of the time.
Dishonest 28% of the time.

Rachel Maddow (in fairness, only four comments, but not a good start)

Truthful 0
Halfway 50% of the time.
Dishonest 50% of the time.

Joe Biden

Truthful 40% of the time.
Halfway 39% of the time.
Dishonest 21% of the time.

Mitch McConnell

Truthful 40% of the time.
Halfway 30% of the time.
Dishonest 30% of the time.

Hillary Clinton

Truthful 46% of the time.
Halfway 43% of the time.
Dishonest 11% of the time.

Harry Reid

Truthful 17% of the time.
Halfway 50% of the time.
Dishonest 33% of the time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Musings

BP is evidently close to putting a better cap on the well and the goal is to collect 100% of the oil being leaked. I do hope they are able to do this and the Gulf is able to be cleaned. This is a disaster of monumental proportions. The well is close to a mile underwater. I can’t fathom how it was drilled in the first place. I would think we need to be assured we can manage wells that deep.

Trading spies with Russia sounds weird to me. Evidently the spies in the United States had information mostly findable on Google and didn’t do a lot of damage. I’m wondering what the American spies found out. I’m not really sure any of us can really analyze if this was a good trade or not as we don’t know all the details; and never will.

The perfect ending to the story was LeBron James having a press conference at an inner city gym in Akron or Cleveland telling people he would never leave his home area and was committed to the people of the hard-working Midwestern area that has always been his home. It would have been the right thing to do and it would have been a good thing to do. Unfortunately, in this day and age ‘good’ and ‘right’ only seems to happen in fiction.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says he's considering running for president in 2012 and expects to make a decision by early next year. I’m sure people are holding their breath in excitement waiting for him to make his decision.

There is something striking, to me, in the immigration debate. For all the comments about the Arizona law, it is difficult for me to make a lot of comments. I do not live in Arizona and have never been to Arizona and I don’t really have a grasp of the kind of problems the people of Arizona are facing.

But here is what I do know. The border between the United States and Mexico has been porous for as long as I can recall. The problem, at least to me, is that we have two competing signs up on the border. One says, “Keep Out!” The other one says, “Help Wanted!” People come across the border because people not only hire them, but people want to hire them for illegally low wages. We will not be able to enforce the “Keep Out” until we stop people from hiring illegal people for illegal wages. And, this little detail is the one that never makes the news and the root problem of the whole problem.

Speaking of illegal immigration, there is also the human slave trade issue. Increasingly, more and more people are smuggled into the United States from Asia and Eastern Europe especially, to work for slave wages or to ‘pay off’ their trip. Many end up abused in the sex trade. Not a lot of clamor about this in Washington, D.C. these days.

Jesse Jackson criticized Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert on Sunday, saying Gilbert sees LeBron James as a "runaway slave'' and that the owner's comments after the free-agent forward decided to join the Miami Heat put the player in danger. Jackson indicated that Gilbert saw himself as the owner of James and not the team. Jackson also conveniently left out all the money Gilbert offered James and all the perks that James received by Gilbert over the years to reward James for playing for Cleveland. Referring to a modern day professional athlete as a ‘slave’ dishonors those who actually were and are slaves.

Recent tapes are demonstrating that Mel Gibson is a racist and a sexist, and all around nasty guy. People are shocked the world over. Next thing they may do is tell us that the artist formerly known as Prince, Prince, and the artist formerly known as Prince is now known as Prince, is odd.

Lindsey Lohan is incredibly talented and beautiful and in trouble. I’m wondering of the judge was overly harsh on her because Lohan is a celebrity, or if the judge is actually going to save Lindsey’s life with this? I really hate to see young people like her go down the tubes.

Barbara Walters is 80. That is difficult to believe.

Jonathan Alter writes that Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner should have to debate on national television. Have them debate on what their role as the Speaker would be and how they would guide the House of Representatives, and what their ideas are for the future. I agree.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Revolting Comments

This was a recent Letter to the Editor in the Louisville Courier-Journal

The other day, a local talk-show host said people who get unemployment should be ashamed, and use that shame to motivate themselves to get a job. Isn't being poor, and having the family you love do without because you can't get a decent job, motivation enough?

I didn't choose to be poor, but I have been most of my life. My mother and I were by ourselves. She made 35 cents an hour as a stenographer and rode a bus to work; we had no car. I picked up bottles and cans for refunds until I was big enough to rake and mow yards. When I was a staff sergeant (E6) in the Army, with a wife and two kids, we qualified for the subsidized lunch program in public school and our kids were treated badly by kids with more money. My pay to die for my country was below the poverty level set by our government, and my wife and I both had part-time jobs to try and have clothes, food and shelter.

I am not ashamed. I have been poor, and I'm proud that we persevered through it all. The shame falls on the shoulders of the politicians who let our jobs go overseas, while the products are sold back here to those who lost their jobs. God bless the people who help the less fortunate in any way that they can. I've yet to meet a person who chooses to be poor because he or she is too lazy to work.

Fairdale, Ky. 40118

I am on a crusade to find out who said this. The radio talk show host should himself or herself be terminated and join the ranks of the many unemployed and, perhaps, receive some lessons.

The first lesson is this. The sin of poverty is a sin of the impoverished, but a sin on those who do not care for them. There are many debates on how to aid the impoverished. Those debates are political and valid. But aiding the impoverished and caring for them is actually a Gospel imperative.

If a person who had never read the Bible and new nothing about the history of Christianity were to listen to modern day Christianity the thing the person would presume Jesus spent the bulk of his time discussing was human sexuality and most especially homosexuality. The reality is that Jesus barely glanced on the subject of human sexuality and spent as much time discussing homosexuality as he did nuclear physics, namely none. There were two topics he spoke about a great deal.

The first was the sin of self-righteousness. The second sin most often addressed by Jesus was the sin of poverty. Often, when we see poverty, we blame the impoverished. Jesus consistently turns the tables on this way of thinking. When we see poverty, we are called, as Christians, to address it. When we care for those who are less fortunate to us, we are doing what Jesus calls us to do. When we walk on by, the sin is not on the guy laying in the ditch, it’s on us.

When there are people in our community who are hungry and we do nothing to provide them food, the sin is on us.

This radio talk show host demonstrated little knowledge of poverty or poor people. In our church’s Soup Kitchen and Clothes Closet and Health Fair we’ve really seen that a significant number of people who are poor have jobs. I see our clients all the time. They often work at local fast food restaurants, some in small family run restaurants, and large chain stores. Many work hard, have little to know benefits despite their long hours, and make close to minimum wage. All the manufacturing jobs people like this used to have are now gone. These people are hard working, proud, and poor.

When these folks become unemployed or have spent time on unemployment it was not that they were lazy or didn’t want to work. No one would hire them. Sadly, many went back to work taking jobs that not even didn’t pay what their previous job paid them, but the job actually paid less than their unemployment benefits did.

The comment by the talk show was ignorant, at best.

Secondly, this person needs to have a heart. Was the comment heartless? It was beyond belief heartless!

Often the stories of people who are home, out of work, are heart breaking. Self-esteem dies. Shame does come, but comes because the person is unable to find a job. Sadly, many people apply for dozens, even hundreds of jobs and never even receive the courtesy of a rejection letter. People are home, waiting, and praying, and hoping, and dying a little bit inside each and every day. This person wants them to feel MORE shame? Heartless.

My last point is this. I hope this person does not attend church. Seriously. I would be greatly depressed if this person is a Christian. It would mean, either, the person was ignoring the message of Jesus or that the person was in a church that was ignoring the message of Jesus. If the words came from a person who was practicing Christianity, I would be greatly distressed.

People all have different perspectives and I can live with many of them. This person’s perspective on this topic, frankly, sickens me. It makes my heart ache that there is this kind of cruelty and ignorance being shared with others.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Taking America Back

The other day a Facebook friend had a status update wondering about people who want to ‘take America back.’ He was wondering where they wanted to take America back to.

Sometimes I hear people speak about taking America back to when it was a Christian nation. I have often wondered when exactly that was.

Often people refer to the Founding Fathers and their Christianity. If one looks at the first four Presidents it is nebulous. George Washington worshiped in Anglican/Episcopal Churches, also known as the Church of England of that era. He was very quiet about his religious faith.

John Adams was probably the most religious having been raised a Calvinist Congregationalist (when Congregationalists were Calvinists) but rejected Calvinism, the Trinity, and the Divinity of Christ and became a Unitarian.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were both Deists who were avid supporters of separating church and state. The Colonial Era was many things religiously, but actually the vast minority of people attended church. It was like that through the 19th century as well.

The high point of church going in the United States was post-World War II, and through the 1950's. Again, the majority of people didn’t go to church but churches were at their largest.

So I’m not sure when we were a Christian nation. There have been Christian principles in much of our history, but we have never really been a Christian nation. And, unless George Washington’s letter to the Tauro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island was a forgery, Washington encouraged that congregation and promised it religious freedom to practice Judaism without interference.

So, where are we going back to?

Through much of the 19th century life was hard and there was slavery through the first half, a brutal war, and reconstruction. The latter part of the 19th century was great if you were rich and terrible if you were poor, and women had no rights or right to vote.

The first half of the 20th century had two World Wars, prohibition, the rise of organized crime, and a difficult fight for women to gain the right to vote. The second half of the 20th century had Korea and Vietnam, racial riots, and a war with Iraq-----as well as many other things.

So, what are people looking to go back to? Or when?

Makes me think we ought to learn with the world we live in right now. Right now doesn’t seem to bad...

Monday, July 05, 2010

Monday Random Musings

I decided I need to get back to blogging. I’m going to start with my Monday Musings.

Independence Day, to me, is an awesome day.

We remember the heroism and the hardships of the troops. George Washington was never noted as a brilliant strategist. He actually lost more battles than he won. Of course, he won the last battle, so.....

The thing about Washington was that he was a man of tremendous character and tremendous courage. He suffered, along with his troops, through difficult times. The only way to win the war was to keep at it for a long time. The British were will trained and an outstanding army. He had to make it a war of attrition and he did.

Conversely, we ought also honor the ‘thinkers’ of the day. Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison, etc., were not noted for battlefield courage, but they were noted for their philosophical courage and intellectual genius. We might have never have had the wisdom of group of individuals again. They were the architects of the nation we now love.

Speaking of serious:

In reading about the conflict between Turkey and Israel, there is something nagging me. In the early part of the 20th century, Turkey afflicted upon the Armenian population one of the most horrific blights of the 20th century. While we speak of the Holocaust and of Stalin’s murders, we also need to include this. The Turks slaughtered the Armenians. President Obama promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide and stepped back from this in light of Turkey’s protestations. President Obama was wrong in backing down. Right now it is difficult to be excited about Turkey’s protestations about Israel...

The arrest of the Russian spies fascinates me. They were busy living the ‘American dream” and were spying for Russia? If they were so interested in the “Russian dream” then go back to Russian. It’ll be interested to see how well they live their ‘dream’ in prison.

The Reds and the Mets have a series in New York starting tonight. They are both in the thick of it. Who’d have thought this???

Toy Story III was wonderful.

I’m thinking that, whichever Democratic strategist who got Michael Steele his job as the head of the RNC deserves a raise...

I might be in the minority of this, but I hope LeBron James stays in Cleveland. Struggling Midwestern cities, like Cleveland, deserve a break. And, it’s not like he’s going to be poor if he stays there.

I’m looking forward to the Harry Potter movies. I LOVED the books. They are works of genius. And, for people who refer to them as demonic, I say only two words: READ THEM!!!

Apple is ‘stunned’ to have learned there was an IPhone 4 flaw. Who do they think they are? Microsoft?

Mel Gibson went on a racist, sexist tirade and it was all caught on tape. Now people are saying that Gibson is a racist, sexist guy. What a surprise...

Takeru Kobayashi was arrested because he’s in a contract dispute and was not part of the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. He charged the stage, I guess, wanting a hot dog. I love Nathan’s hot dogs, but he was in Coney Island where they are readily for sale. He just needed to wait in line like everyone else.

Anthony Bourdain, a real hot dog afficionado, (he really is), recently decreed that Chicago has better hot dogs than New York. I also love hot dogs and was surprised he said this. Makes me have to truly respect the hot dogs coming from the Windy City. I mean, Anthony Bourdain is a world class chef and LOVES hot dogs. He, to me, is a credible voice. And, for those who know me and know that I tend toward sarcasm on occasion, please note. I am not being sarcastic about this. For once, I’m being totally serious.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

I Am So Lucky

I am so lucky that I will soon receive my fortune. It's only going to cost me a half million dollars!!!












FULL ADDRESS WITH ZIPCODE: {where you wish the consignment delivered}:



Saturday, May 15, 2010

Faith Debate on Bill Maher's Show

The headline on this video clip is actually pretty misleading. It is a question that Bill Maher raises, but the longer conversation is on faith and atheism. Maher’s guests were: Newark Mayor Cory Booker, author John Avlon, and author S.E. Cupp. A centerpiece of this conversation was Cupp’s book, Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity.

On one level, Maher, a staunch and zealous atheist, attacked the premise of Cupp’s book and, frankly, did an effective job. Cupp, who is an atheist herself and does not seem to have a very good grasp on what religious faith actually is, strung together pieces of anecdotal evidence to write her book and was dissected by Maher. It was painfully sad, actually to see him pick her apart, but her book is a book with a political agenda rather than a spiritual agenda and the dissecting was pretty ugly and effective. It also demonstrated that people of faith ought not to rely on non-believers to defend them. Part of her problem is that she was cherry picking some attacks on the ‘fruits’ of ‘some’ ideas, but never really proved her point. Maher used an allegory to describe her research and it was like picking one raisin out of a large loaf. It is a good reminder that anecdotal evidence is not very effective. Anecdotes make good reading and great stories, but they do not really prove anything.

In fairness to Cupp, before they really discussed her book, the three guests were arguing with Maher over religion and war. Maher said that most wars are caused by religion and they countered that there are many things that cause war. Cupp used the examples of Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin, and Maher dismissed this by saying they promoted state religions. I think she made a good point and Maher is just going to call anything he doesn’t agree with a religion.

Booker and Avlon, however, were a different story. My sense is there two people, both of who are actual believers, made the best arguments. Avlon argued that the greatest factor in everything, believer versus believer or non-believer is the issue of arrogance. No one position owns God. Booker than affirmed that one of the truest demonstrations of faith if humility. From that point on, in my opinion, the Mayor of Newark carried the day. Maher was left with little more than his own personal talking points.

Booker spoke of having a collection of Holy Books that Maher decreed all contradicted each other. Booker, most appropriately pointed out the great fact that they mostly do not; Maher semi cited Jesus ‘only through me’ from John’s Gospel----an often misinterpreted passage.

Booker observed that many churches in Newark, New Jersey are doing amazing, transformative ministries, and changing people’s lives. Of course, Maher didn’t want to hear about that, this is not what he wanted to talk about.

I walked away from this exchange with some real thoughts.

First, religious faith is, at its best, apolitical. Neither American political party could safely invite Jesus to their convention. They might claim that they could, but they really couldn’t. Considering Jesus’ moral teachings centered on caring for the poor and a promotion of the outcasts of society, Jesus talking to an exclusive crowd and the biggest downers would not go over well. Jesus would pick the meat off every bone in the room at either convention. Jesus, in his own life, lost his life after appearing to two different political leaders, Herod and Pilate. Politicians didn’t love him then and only love him now as long as they are able to only promote the parts of him they like. The real and total Jesus? Not hardly.

Secondly, Booker was right about humility. It requires humility to believe. Maher arrogantly kept calling Booker arrogant because Booker ‘believed’ (in Maher’s mind) that he, Booker, knew all the answers. Booker did not know all the answers and explained why. It didn’t convince Maher but Maher was beyond being convinced. He was right and everyone else was wrong. True faith does require humility.

Thirdly, S. E. Cupp is an interesting person. I’ve watched her interviewed by Bill O’Reilly who loved the book (it’s a political book that agrees with him, so he would love it) but kept trying to convert Cupp to being an actual person of faith. She was also interviewed by Bill Maher who hated the book (it’s a political book that doesn’t agree with him, so he would hate it) and kept trying to convert Cupp into being an actual atheist. She just finished a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies and understands that religion is good for people, but she doesn’t, herself, believe in God. My sense, with her, is that her arguments really do fall way short of the goal because she genuinely doesn’t understand religious faith. It is not something she has an experience of, and she’s stuck writing on things about faith, while missing the point of faith.

Lastly, whatever one things of the three guests, Booker, Cupp, and Avlon, they were all better than Maher. Of course, Bill Maher is, first and foremost, a comedian and he sees, first, to bring great folly and laughter to his show by making God and religious people, the butt of his humor. Faith is not irrational, it is not the domain inhabited by stupid, poorly read people, but it is a domain that is filled with a vast cross section of individuals with a wide variety of beliefs. Bill Maher’s mocking of things, of beliefs, of deeply helped values built on faith, is not particularly funny.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Boys" Need to be Men

University of Virginia student, Yeardley Love was founded murdered, beaten and killed by blunt force trauma to her head. A young man, a fellow University of Virginia student and fellow Lacrosse player, George Huguely, was arrested and charged with the murder. This is not the first time Huguely has been in trouble for a violent offense. Police in Lexington, Va., about 70 miles from Charlottesville, said that in November 2008, Huguely was shocked with a stun gun by an officer there after resisting arrest for public intoxication. He pleaded guilty to two charges last year, was placed on six months of probation and given a 60-day sentence, which was suspended.

The arresting officer, R.L. Moss, said in a statement Tuesday that she felt it necessary to use the stun gun because Huguely became abusive and his size was no match for her.

She said in the statement that Huguely was "yelling obscenities and making threats."

News reports state that people were shocked and dismayed because Huguely was a star lacrosse player. Actually, so was Yeardley Love, but people haven’t paid that much attention to that. The University of Virginia is going to grant to Love her diploma on graduation day----post humously.

Ben Roethlisberger is a major star in the NFL. He has been the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and, even as a young player in this league, has two Super Bowl rings. In his second Super Bowl appearance many said that he was the real MVP of the game, though he didn’t win it. He is noted for being a great player and a great athlete.

He has also been accused of sexual assault by three different women. Thus far no charges have stuck because of the intoxication level of the women and lack of physical evidence. Roethlisberger had body guards who probably do know what really happened but claim they know nothing, other than talking in derogatorty language about the intoxication of the victims. Roethlisberger’s behavior and own intoxication levels were of no concern to them.

Lawrence Taylor was the great linebacker for the New York Giants. If people saw the movie, The Blind Side, it was his legendary hit on Joe Theissman that changed the game of football and began the movie. Taylor was the greatest player ever to put on a New York Giants uniform and arguably the greatest player even to play defense in the National Football League. He is accused of raping a 16 year old girl who he paid $300.00 for a sexual encounter. She had been beaten up before seeing him and had a bruised eye, forced by a pimp into this encounter. Taylor is claiming that he’s innocent of rape because he did, after all, pay her $300.00 for the sex and thought she was 19.

There have been warning signs about Huguely for quite some time. He was growing increasingly obsessive about Love, a girl he had dated and was breathing violent comments to many people around her and threatening violence toward other boys who found her attractive or showed her any sort of attention. He had demonstrated earlier that violence toward women was not something he was reluctant to do and that going into a drunken rage would not be a first time event. Many of his actions and words were dismissed with the comment, “Boys will be boys.”

Ben Roethlisberger has been cruising toward a disaster for quite some time. Three allegations and a motorcycle accident, sans helmet, later people have taken notice. Some have suggested he might have brain damage from so many blows to the head. Up to now his behavior has been dismissed wit the comment, “Boys will be boys.”

Most fans of the New York Giants (myself included) loved Lawrence Taylor on the field and have been willing to forgive many of his drug-related transgressions. He has, however, been notorious and quite open to the fact that he was a frequent customer to prostitutes. His association with a well known pimp seems to indicate that his behavior has not changed. Often his conduct has been overlooked using that old, weary line, “Boys will be boys.”

I have some thoughts on this whole subject.

The first is about sports, and I say this as a sports fan. We’ve gotten carried away with sports. Athletes often ‘get away’ with a great deal. They get through high school and college for being the star player and become professional athletes and then they do something really bad and end up in jail----wondering why no one was there to get them out of trouble. The list of athletes who are or who have been in prison is large and getting larger.

Our sports culture has become almost overwhelming. Sitting outside of Louisville I’ve become deeply disturbed by the fact that coaches for the University of Louisville make huge salaries and I’m wondering how their salaries compare to the professors, in let’s say, the medical school. What does it say about our society when we are willing to pay coaches untold millions of dollars while we pay professors teaching those in who we entrust our lives so much less? I find this troubling.

Secondly, there is an increasing concern that women are less and less safe around many of these men who play the games. George Huguely was praised as a great lacrosse player while Yeardley Love’s significant contributions to the University of Virginia’s women’s lacrosse team were pretty much ignored. Increasingly, we are learning that he spoke violently a great deal and no one was taking him seriously, despite the fact that Yeardley Love, herself, was growing increasingly concerned.

Ben Roethlisberger had bodyguards whose main job did not seem to be protecting anyone other than Roethlisberger’s reputation and hide. The women he was so cruel and crude to in the bar, and there were many, were simply seen as fodder for him. They were not safe.

And Lawrence Taylor was callous to overlook the fact that the girl he was with was beaten up to force her to service him. She would not tell him anything about being beaten up (despite being badly bruised) because she was afraid of him. And she had no reason not to be afraid of him.

Three men, all callous. One man callous to the point of murder. Two others, callous to the point of believing these women were there strictly to amuse them. They gave these women no respect and they were all unsafe----tragically unsafe. The University Virginia sees fit to honor Yeardley Love with a degree, but didn’t see fit to protect her from harm.. In a society that boasts of the equality of the genders, we are seeing women moving higher in careers than ever before, while often being in greater danger. Increasingly, a woman in the presence of the ‘star’ player is in grave danger. This should not be.

And, lastly, there is that comment: “Boys will be boys.”

What exactly does this mean? Does it mean that if you are the male of the species intolerable behavior is allowed? Does it mean that if you are the male of the species that you may say or do anything you want because you are a boy? How many free passes are men ‘allowed’ because boys will be boys? Does this mean, if you are a male, gross, improper, crude, and even illegal conduct is overlooked because boys will be boys?

As a male of the species, as a man, I find it offensive to think that less is expected of me because I am a male. It is a reminder to us that low expectations yield low results. It is time for us to demand better----and begin making that demand on ourselves. It is time to recognize that boys need to grow up and learn to be men.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mother's Day Sermon

God’s Peace! Here? Are You Kidding????
Text: John 14:27-29
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
May 9, 2010

Jesus speaks of peace, God’s peace, the kind of peace the world cannot give.

In looking at the Common Lectionary the passage we had to read today was on God’s peace and my initial reaction was to laugh. It’s the Festival of the Christian Home; Mother’s Day and, the concept of peace on a day about family sounds, if nothing else, amusing. I mean, most people, if asked about God’s peace and home would say:

God’s peace? Here? Are you kidding????

In 1983 one of the great all time movies about family life and family fun was made. It was National Lampoon’s Vacation. It was the adventure of Clark and Ellen Griswald driving from Chicago to Florida to visit Wally World. The movie was about their trip. In one short conversation between Clark and Ellen we learn a lot:

Clark: I'm just trying to treat my family to a little fun.
Ellen Griswold: Oh spare me, Clark, I know your brand of family fun. Tomorrow you'll probably kill the desk clerk, hold up a McDonalds, and drive us 1000 miles out of the way to see the world's largest pile of mud!

And later:
Clark: Despite all the little problems it's fun isn't it?
Ellen Griswold: No. But with every new day there's fresh hope.

Family life, is, in a word, interesting. And to the mix Jesus speaks quite earnestly and seriously about God’s peace. The more I have been thinking about this, the more I’ve come to realize that to understand and receive God’s peace, so much depends on us. For God’s peace to live, for God’s peace to thrive in the world, in church, and even in our homes, it requires each of us to come to a sense of peace within our own lives.

In light of this, from my own personal experience there are things that keep people from peace within themselves. There are things we can do to help ourselves.

The first is learning to say “I’m sorry,” when we are wrong.

I have found that there is nothing as character building as apologizing. Having the humility and courage to admit that you are personally wrong and have made a mistake, is liberating. Often a good apology clears the air between people. Families who learn to apologize to one another, live healthier and happier lives.

One thing that is crucial, however, is learning to truly apologize as opposed to pretending to apologize.

There is several words in the English language that ought never be in an apology. The word is ‘but.’

When we say, “I am sorry for offending you, but....” When we say this, we are putting the issue of offense on the person we offended. We are trying to justify our actions.

“I’m sorry for hurting you, but...” You deserved it.

“I’m sorry for stealing from you, but...” I wanted the money more you needed it.

You get the point.

Or when we use the word ‘if.’

“I’m sorry IF I offended you, “ and we’re really saying you need to have thicker skin.

“I’m sorry IF I hurt you,” and we’re really saying you need to be tougher.

“I’m sorry IF you needed that,” and we really saying I needed it more.

True apologies end with “I’m sorry.” We can add, “Because I offended you, or because I hurt you, or because it was uncalled for, but we can’t use the word ‘but’ or ‘if.’

And I’m sorry IF this bothers you BUT, it’s true.

The second thing is learning to forgive. One of the greatest causes of people to not be at peace with themselves is because they carry grudges, carry anger, and never really learn to forgive. Not forgiving others, carrying around permanent burdens, causes people to be totally overwhelmed by their grudges.

One of the great models of forgiveness is, believe it or not, God.

In Chapter 15 in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, there is an interesting and unusual scene. And a troubling scene. Things have not gone well for Jeremiah and he is angry and frustrated. In a moment of anger, in a moment of frustration, Jeremiah tells God:

Truly, for me you are a deceptive stream with uncertain waters!

The words are poetic and elegant and they have one consistent meaning. In the heat of anger and frustration at God, Jeremiah indicates that God has been lying to him; that God has been dishonest to him; that God is a liar.

Harsh words, most especially to speak to God.

And the moment just hangs there. God’s prophet calls Him a liar. The heat of anger has come and the most vile words Jeremiah could think of saying have come out of his mouth. The mood hangs.

And God responds, and you can almost hear it as a whisper: “If you come back, I will take you back.” Jeremiah has called God a liar and God, in those simple words, “If you come back, I will take you back,” forgives His prophet.

What I love about this passage is this. It’s so real. This is the kind of exchange that takes place in life all the time. It happens a lot in homes. Anger and frustration builds up and heated words are spoken. Often the words are less poetic than Jeremiah uses, but they are equally harsh. Resentment and anger build up. Yet, God models how to respond. Forgive. Forgiveness brings peace not only to those around us, but also to ourselves.

The last thing is this. Do not judge.

Let me tell you a really stupid story. What makes the story so incredibly foolish was the judgmental behavior of one person in the story, namely me.

Years ago Janet and I were out to eat in a restaurant in the town we where we lived in Pennsylvania. We went to a small restaurant we used to frequent a great deal and they had a small salad bar. I was following a man at the salad bar and, instead of taking some lettuce, tomatoes, and the usual stuff for a salad, he filled his entire bowl with onions and then pour French dressing on his 100% onion salad.

I do not, for a variety of reasons, eat raw onions and I watched this guy in horror. When I went to sit at the table I pretty much ignored Janet and watched this guy eat his bowl of raw onions and I sat there and fumed. Janet tried to engage me in conversation and I was short with her and I was short with the server who came by. I sat, watched the guy, and fumed because, to put it simply, I did not approve of his choice of salad.

In the great picture and scope of the universe, this meant nothing, but I was all worked up. I judged this guy’s salad. That’s it. And I fumed. I realized, after a while, how incredibly stupid I was. The guy’s salad might not have been to my approval, but so what?

We do this kind of thing all the time in life. We judge. Someone does something or makes choices that we do not approve of. So what?

Jesus spoke of judgment a great deal. It accomplishes nothing good; it just estranges people from one another and sows disharmony in the world. And it accomplishes nothing.

Peace? There’s an old hymn, Let There Be Peace on Earth, and it begins with the words, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Jesus offers us the gift of God’s peace; and God’s peace is not available until we make peace within ourselves. Learning to apologize, forgiving, and not judging others is a great place to start. And the best place to begin is the place we all begin and end each day. At home.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Random Rants

What Makes Me Sad....

What makes me sad is that culturally we have fallen into an intellectual abyss. Signs show up of this abyss in all different ways.

Lawrence Taylor was the greatest on field football player to ever play for the New York Giants. He was the greatest on field defensive player in the history of the NFL. His off field stupidity, ongoing issues with drugs and prostitutes is legendary. It has also been criminal. His celebrity has kept him out of prison. Raping a 16 year old girl, who had been beaten by a pimp, is the height of stupidity and is downright evil. Whatever defense his attorneys can dream up for him now is no good. There is NO defense for this. None. Zip. Jail awaits and it is a sentence he richly deserves.

A recent poll indicates that 14% of the country believes that Barack Obama was born abroad. To these folks I would like to offer you a great opportunity. There is a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn seeking a purchaser. You can own the bridge and charge tolls. It is a highly profitable venture for you. The real estate agent is B. Madoff....

I’m not sure why McDonalds won’t hire me as the leader of their ad campaign. My motto for them would be: McDonalds: I’d Rather Eat Dirt. (Sorry, a rant)

Speaking of such things: White Castle now has candles that provide the aroma of their famous sliders. I cannot imagine...

Wall Street plunged almost 1000 points for a short time on a bizarre ‘sell order’ for P & G, one of the most stable stocks. It may have been the result of a typo. AGH!!!!! The stock market is vulnerable to typing errors????? At this level?????

Michael “Heck of a Job Brownie” Brown announced that President Obama was thrilled about the oil leak off the coast of Louisiana. Of course, this is a week after President Obama decided to allow off-shore drilling... Of course, this is also a national disaster... I’m not sure what Michael Brown is doing these days, but I may suggest a course in “Logic” from a local community college.

JaMarcus Russell. Says it all.

Ray Lewis, NFL thug, has long associated with thugs, disapproves of Tim Tebow namely because people speak so well of Tebow. Tebow, who, whether you agree with him or not, is about as non-thug a human being there is on the planet and Lewis disapproves of him. This says a lot more about Ray Lewis than it does Tim Tebow.

England decided to become more ‘American’ in their Prime Minister election and held, for the very first time, televised debates. The end result is very American as well. A hopelessly hung government.

BP is putting a dome over the leaking oil well. Their hope is that this dome will stop the oily scum. I doubt this will work. The Capitol Dome hasn’t been very effective at suppressing oily scum from what I’ve seen.

The show “Man Versus Food” is amusing, but, frankly, grotesque. Why do we find it amusing to watch a man eat a 10 pound hamburger and see his face covered with grease, ketchup, and pickle chips.

And finally, when people watch “Real Housewives of New Jersey...” My Mom was a real housewife from New Jersey. My Grandmother was a real housewife from New Jersey. I grew up surrounded by wonderfully great women who were REAL real housewives from New Jersey and they had nothing in common with these fools on television.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Art of Apology

Ever apologize?

One of the best things on the planet is the apology. It makes you feel better and it makes the person you have apologized to feel better.

Apologies are heartfelt and sincere as long as they exclude one word: But.

When we say, "I'm sorry, but..." we are not apologizing. We are making a justification. We are explaining ourselves but not apologizing.

Sometimes people in public moments say unkind things. Whatever one thinks of Elisabeth Hasselbeck, she made some statements about Erin Andrews. We can debate on whether she was right or wrong, but her words went over the top and were hurtful to Erin Andrews. And she did it publicly.

Then Elisabeth Hasselbeck did something very classy. She apologized.

She set an example for her 5 year old daughter (who she speaks about) and set an example to others. Whether you like her or not, or agree with her or not, she showed great class and demonstrated the art of apologize well. I am impressed.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Discovering Love Again for the First Time (Sermon)

Discovering Love Again for the First Time
Text: John 13:31-35
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
May 2, 2010

Love. Love is probably one of the most used words in the Dictionary. It refers to everyone from people, to vacation spots, to food, and to favorite horses in the Derby.

Love is the topic of most movies, most novels, most songs, and most greeting cards. We read such things as:

Love is the irresistible desire to be desired irresistibly.
Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.
Love is the unity of two hearts beating together as one.
Love is not finding a perfect person, it is seeing an imperfect person perfectly.

And they’re all fine and nice. For greeting cards. But there always seems to be something missing, something more.

Jesus, toward the end of the Gospel of John, speaks a great deal to the apostles about what is going to happen next and what his hopes, dreams, and aspirations for them are. He summarizes everything he has to say quickly:

4I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

But here it is. If you’re like me, you like to know the definition.

Sometimes people say, “I had a really good time,” and I’ll wonder, how they define a really good times.

Or people say some place is a great restaurant and I want to know why and how they define a great restaurant.

Or, preaching sermons. “That was a great sermon!” I like people to define what they mean by a great sermon.

So Jesus tells them to love one another. It makes me want to ask one question. How does Jesus define love?

Jesus’ definition of love has one overwhelming requirement. Sacrifice.

Jesus states this bluntly in Chapter 15 when he says: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Of one mother’s profound sacrificial love, the preacher Michael Milton from Chattanooga, Tennessee shared very profoundly.

A young mother had to give up her daughter to be raised by the mother’s sister. The child’s mother had been burned horribly in a fire and despite many, many operations, never really recovered and was placed in a nursing home.

The little girl grew up but never met her mother. She lived in another part of the country, but her aunt showed her pictures of her mother and spoke often of the girl’s mother.

When the girl had grown up and was a young woman she made the journey across the country to visit the nursing home where her mother lived. She was taken to her mother’s room, with her heart beating with excitement and anticipation. When she walked into the room and saw her mother, she screamed. Her mother was dreadfully and horribly disfigured and nothing at all like the pictures of the beautiful woman the girl had seen as a child. The young woman went screaming from the room and was sobbing uncontrollably.

A nurse followed the girl and sat her down. Then the nurse told the young woman the story of how she, as an infant, was trapped in her bedroom by a fire that was sweeping rapidly through her home. But her mother had risked her own live and had run through the flames and the smoke to rescue the baby. She did, indeed rescue the baby, but was horribly burned, disfigured that she would never be able to function in society again. The nurse said, “The wounds are wounds of love for you.”

The mother had sacrificed it all for her child.

We use the word sacrifice all the time. Ever ask yourself the question, “What would I die for?” Friends, family, country, God? All good questions.

I have been watching The Pacific on HBO. It’s about the Marines fighting the Japanese in World War II. It is very realistic, based on real people, and shows us what it was really like. I hate it. It is almost unwatchable to see what really happened; it was dreadful. But I keep watching it because there were young men who were willing to die for their country and sacrificed so much to do what they did.

Jesus defines love as sacrifice.

In the early Christian Church people confronted sacrifice on a daily basis. It was illegal to be a Christian. If you were caught worshiping God, professing faith in Jesus Christ, you were put to death, often brutally.

Every day people flock to the city of Rome and tour the Coliseum. It was a massive stadium and the winners of the games lived and the losers of the games died. So many of those who lost were placed, unarmed in the center of the Coliseum, and slaughtered while people cheered on the animals or the humans who were putting them to death.

We come to Worship every Sunday and see the cross in the Sanctuary and I wear one around my neck. In the early Christian Church so many people lost their lives, they sacrificed their lives for Christ.

In 2010, within Christianity, we are not in danger by coming to Worship on Sunday morning. Which is good. But we’ve also lost the concept of sacrifice.

One of the barometers of congregational health is by the percentage of a church’s membership in church on Sunday morning. If a church averages at least 40% of its members, it’s health and good. That is four out of ten people. Which means if the majority of people miss Worship most Sundays, the church is healthy. Sacrifice is not important.

The Biblical joy of giving is tithing, which means people give 10% of their income to charity, often the church being the largest recipient. Most churches are ecstatic if people give 3% of their income to charity and/or the church. Sacrifice is not important.

The last time the United States was fighting a war in two fronts, like we are now in the War on Terror, was World War II. Men were drafted into service. Items were rationed at home to support the war effort. Taxes went up and war bonds were sold to fund the war. Everyone spoke of sacrifice.

We are now fighting a war on two fronts. We are not encouraged to sacrifice. Taxes have been cut, there are no war bonds, there is no draft, and we are encouraged to consume items. In fact, the government gives rebates on certain items for us to purchase.

The cost of the war? We’ve put it on VISA. It’s someone else’s problem for another day. Sacrifice is not important. At least to us, here and now.

Oh, and before anyone says I’m sounding political, I’m really not. There is no politician of any political party, in 2010 who will ever utter that horrible word ‘sacrifice,’ unto the American people. So many of our political leaders are so willing to profess their faith in Jesus Christ, but not one person will ever speak of sacrifice.

And sacrifice is the center of Jesus’ definition of love.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

If we want to truly speak of love in the name of Jesus Christ, we need to ask ourselves questions:

Who or what are we willing to die for?

Who or what are we willing to sacrifice our time for?

Who or what are we willing to make financial sacrifices for?

If we want to love, we need to learn to sacrifice because “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Not a Joke

On Facebook this week there was a group that people were becoming fans of. It was ‘a prayer,’ that really mocked what a prayer actually is. It goes like this:


As of Saturday morning, April 24th, at 9:54AM the group has 1,093,107 fans.

I visited the group’s page and there are, as would be expected, numerous comments. Some call the ‘prayer’ appalling and want it removed. It is tasteless.

Some say, “Well where were you when people mocked George W. Bush???”

Some say, “It’s just a joke.”

I have several observations.

My first is this and this is one of those things that drives me crazy. They spelled Patrick Swayze’s and Farrah Fawcett’s names wrong. I mean, please, if you’re going to use people’s names, learn to spell them.

My second point is this. People did mock George W. Bush. People mock every President. There is fun mocking and there is tasteless mocking. Did people mock George W. Bush tastelessly? Of course. Were they right in doing so? Of course not! Does the fact that people were tasteless in mocking George W. Bush give people a right to mock Barack Obama tastelessly? Of course not. To defend this by saying that people were unfair and even mean to Bush is not really an argument based on any credibility. Wrong is wrong. Period.

Is it a joke?

I, for one, don’t like using a prayer as a joke. This one is pretty tasteless and cruel. It implies that the prayer wants Barack Obama dead. In the history of the United States, the death of a President, in office, has always been seen as a tragedy. It took many years for the nation to overcome the death of John F. Kennedy. His assassination touched off a turbulence in the 1960's that took decades from which to recover. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln had a devastating impact on rebuilding the nation after the Civil War.

Lest people forget, the last President to be shot while in office was Ronald Reagan. While he was in surgery, and recovering, the events that surrounded that day, and the consequences, were discussed a great deal and the consequences of his potential death from an assassin’s bullet would have impacted the nation greatly.

Whether we agree with a person’s politics or not, praying for the death of a President is destructive to the nation. Presidents can only serve two terms and if we do not like a President, they have this thing called an election that takes place every four years. Presidents can be re-elected or voted out. We do this routinely. If you don’t like someone, don’t vote for them.

Many people on the fan page of this ‘prayer’ are using it as a point of debate about the policies of Obama. Again, if you don’t like his policies, no problem. Just don’t pray for his death. Vote him out or vote for people from the other party to block his policies. Do not pray for his death.

Seeking the death of another is the highest form of rage. In listening to the Timothy McVeigh tapes, it is painfully obvious that he thought himself, and his violence, to be justified because of his hatred for the government. Killing was an expression of his rage.

Praying for someone’s death should never be in a prayer, and least of all, never be a joke.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Consequence of Hatred is Death

In listening to portions of the Timothy McVeigh tapes there is one thing that is very chilling. I believe he was sane.

Insanity is often seen as the inability to differentiate between right and wrong, good and bad, with no basis in rationality. McVeigh knew exactly what he was doing.

I found it chilling that he had no real guilt over what he had done.

I found it chilling that his only regret was that there was more ‘collateral damage’ than what he was anticipating. The military, at war, speaks of minimizing collateral damage during battles and air strikes. Within the military there is no desire to massacre civilian populations and so there is restraint----and decisions are weighed carefully.

McVeigh found it amusing, very amusing, that he was on the most evil people of the millennium list, just behind Vlad theImpaler who had, in McVeigh’s mind, a cool name, but McVeigh had no idea who he was. (And how evil Vlad was!)

And is ‘oh, children and people die all the time in accidents,’ kind of rationalization for not feeling all that badly about killing so many innocents.

When McVeigh was executed, I happened to be teaching a college course on Ethics and we discussed capital punishment in depth. I am, as most people who know me, opposed to capital punishment; but McVeigh was the poster child for capital punishment. It is difficult to come to any reasonable conclusion that the world would be better if he was still alive in it. Perhaps if a longer life would have given him a sense of guilt or remorse, but I’m doubting this. Sadly.

Timothy McVeigh was a man who grew to hate and that hate drove him to evil. St. Paul wrote that the consequences of sin is death and I strongly believe that the consequence of unrelenting hatred is also death. When hatred, no matter what drives is, is left to do nothing other than grow, then it ends up being completely destructive. And kills.

Timothy McVeigh was a man who became evil and did evil in the name of hate. Let us hope and pray we never encounter another one like him.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Damascus

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Damascus
Text: Acts 9:1-8
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
April 18, 2010

Have you ever noticed how often we use the word funny and how often it ends up meaning very different things?

For example, sometimes we use the word funny to mean humorous. A funny person is a person who enjoys laughing and making other people laugh. I love funny things and even attempt, on occasion, to be funny. Humor is important to me.

But we use the word funny in other ways.

If a person gets up in the morning and says, “My stomach feels funny,” they are not saying that their stomach is now starting a new career in stand up. It means that they are not feeling well.

If we say that we’d feel funny about doing something it means that we’d feel awkward about something which we are undertaking.

And if we say something funny happened on our way to someplace, well, it can either be that we had an entertaining event or something completely unexpected took place.

And then there was Saul. A funny thing happened on the way to Damascus and it wasn’t amusing.

Saul, the one we’ve come to know as St. Paul, was persecuting Christians. He was building up a case and was on his way to Damascus when a funny thing happened. Luke tells us that a light appeared and a voice came down from Heaven and asked Saul why he was persecuting me. And Saul wants to know who ‘me’ is. And Saul encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus. And Saul turns from being a persecutor of Christians to the person who is most important in the history of Christianity of anyone other than Jesus.

For many, this story is vexing and offers so many ways to approach it.

Let’s focus on Paul for a moment.

When we think of St. Paul we think of the great Christian. When the people Paul was first interacting with thought of him, they thought of him as this horrible person who was persecuting everyone in the early church. And they were correct. This is who he was.

And so there was the question. Why did God use this bad man for such a noble purpose? Or maybe better asked is wondering why God doesn’t use better people than Paul.

But there was more to Paul than this and one thing we often miss about St. Paul. He changed. He changed big time, and change is difficult.

Paul was not the average guy. He was incredibly accomplished. He was fluent in writing Greek and used many images from the philosopher Plato which means that he was highly educated by Greek philosophers-----this was reserved for only the best and the brightest, so he was one of the best and the brightest.

But in Acts of the Apostles Luke tells us that St. Paul was educated by the famous Rabbi Gamaliel who was the well known and highly renowned teacher of the best and brightest Rabbinical students.

Paul was brilliant. Seriously brilliant. When we speak of the great minds in history, Albert Einstein, Thomas Aquinas, Galileo, and Isaac Newton, we need to include St. Paul. He was in that category.

And he changed.

For a person of Paul’s brilliance and accomplishment and achievement, change would have been difficult. Very difficult.

It is easy to say that it would have been easier for him than most. After all, God spoke to him, God knocked him off the horse, and God made him blind. This would have been enough. But that’s not all together true.

Reread Exodus some day. God makes war on the land of Egypt. Ten plagues fall upon the people. Ten. The water turns to blood. Pestilence. Boils. Death of the firstborn. Horrible, horrible plagues. God was not getting the people’s attention in Egypt. God was picking them up by their feet, spinning them around, and launching them high in the air.

Yet, the Pharaoh still sent his troops after the Israelites. After so much, after TEN incredibly destructive plagues from a God he obviously could not defeat, he still kept up the fight. It was hard headed and hard hearted beyond all recourse. Yet, the Pharaoh keep it up.

But Paul changed.

Change is sometimes difficult because it may challenge our deepest principles. Saul was Jewish. He believed that Judaism was the one true religion, the one true faith. He did not believe the Christians were right; he believed they were wrong strongly enough that he was putting them to death.

Yet he changed.

In 1803 the President of the United States was Thomas Jefferson and he had a problem.

Before him was the offer of a huge parcel of land; the land we now call the Louisiana Purchase. Historians called this Jefferson’s finest moment, but Jefferson was vexed.

Jefferson did not really believe in a strong, central, national government. He was a huge advocate for state’s rights and believed that the Federal Government should be small and weak. But...

It was going to require a huge effort by the Federal Government to make this purchase. It would require taxation to pay for it and it would require Jefferson to move in a manner contrary to every political principle he had. His choice was simple: stick with his political principles and not purchase the land; or go against long held beliefs and make the purchase and transform the young nation.

He changed his mind. It was not because he was unprincipled, but because Jefferson determined there was something greater at stake that his principles.

For Paul it was a great deal like this except for one big thing. His principles were wrong. Everything he believed, his core set of beliefs, he came to understand, was wrong.

Truth is not something that always accommodates our own ideas. Truth is what it is. The fact that we have a set of beliefs or opinions or ideas contrary to the truth does not make our ideas better because we hold onto them. We are challenged, at times, to put everything we have at the core of our being at risk to be open to God.

We honor Paul because he did.

There is something else at work here.

At the stoning of Stephen, Luke seemed to note that something jarred inside Paul. That jarring was the beginning of respect for another.

We cannot grow, we cannot ever change, we cannot really experience instant or ongoing conversion unless we can learn to respect people who might have different perspectives than we do.

Sometimes I think we are a nation and a people in the midst of a great crisis. It isn’t economic or political or international as much as it is something amongst the people itself. We have, as a society, lost the ability to respect one another.

We see this all the time. We are probably all guilty of it.

I know I am guilty of it. You all know me. I am quick-witted, often make quick, sharp comments. I love sarcasm. Sadly, I can be sarcastic at the expense of others. I’d like to say that I’ve never been guilty of this, but I have been. I look forward to the day when I outgrow this!

But our society seems to be on the verge of a national nervous breakdown. People are so tense about the fact that people cut into each other quickly.

In the recent health reform issues in Washington D. C., I think many people watched in distress as something happened. There really was no debate. There really was no debate. I can say that 1001 times. There were contrasting monologues of posturing and speeches, and no debate. It was not about right or wrong, good or bad, it was about winning or losing. Or winning by making the other guy lose. When it was all over, there were no innocent parties.

But that was just a grand and glorious display of the nation. People are willing to cut into each other with vim, vigor, and glee, regardless of how much they hurt each other. Respecting one another has become lost.

I am reminded, however, that this is not the way God calls us to be. In 1 Peter it is written:

Let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace." 1 Peter 4:8-10

And that respect and intense for others is so key to conversion.

Perfection is often defined as the inability to improve.

You cannot make a perfect circle more perfect.

You cannot improve a perfect square.

You can write a perfect sentence. “John sees Mary.” If John sees Mary, it’s a perfect sentence.

Two plus two equals four. You cannot improve the answer.

We always have to ask ourselves: Am I perfect? I always know the answer to the question when it pertains to me. I suspect the answer is the same for everyone.

And unless we are perfect we are challenged to grow and to grow requires change, and to change requires learning from others and learning from others means first and foremost, to respect others. And the opinion of others.

We have a societal crisis because we cannot grow because we cannot respect one another.

St. Paul was an amazing man. Despite his great education and knowledge, he was humble enough to change. Despite his own person beliefs, even anger at others, he was able to respect and that respect enabled him to grow.

A funny thing happened on the way to Damascus. And Christianity was transformed by the greatness of the man knocked off his horse that day.