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Archive for May, 2010

Today, there has been a report that 9 Turkish citizens were killed in a conflict with Israeli soldiers 80 miles off the coast of Gaza in international waters. The Turkish activists were supposedly traveling to Gaza to protest the blockade Israel has on the area. Turkey and Greece have removed their ambassador from Israel. European nations have come out and called for a full fledged investigation. Though everyone is trying to figure out what the situation was and exactly who (the Israeli army or the activists) is to blame, it does show one very important fact-Israel has to adjust their strategy in regards to fighting terrorism, the Palestinian people, and the Middle East peace process.

I am not naïve or blind to the reality and dangers Israel faces from other nations and terrorist groups. However, a disproportional and rash response will cause even more hatred and terrorism and will cause their allies to shrink back from support. There is also a human rights issues involved, when the Palestinian people are treated like second classes citizens in the nations-with some comparing it to a modern day apartheid.  Unfortunately, in the last election, the right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to power, which certainly makes a positive change even less likely.

I do believe that Israel has the right to exist and to defend itself, but when in a conflict only a few Israeli soldiers die and over a thousand Palestinian citizens die-it can be safe to say that the defense “tactics” are not proportional. Israel needs to realize that the situation in Israel not only affects their nation, but the entire world peace, especially between the Muslim world and the West. Also, the rest of the world community are the ones who helped them become established as a nation; they should not just make rogue moves now at the expense of the security of other nations.

In the scriptures, it says blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. I pray that people will rise up from both sides of this conflict and try to find a more peaceful solution. Violence simply produces more violence. Does anyone really believe that these tactics in the end will make Israel safer? For the sake of Middle East peace and a prosperous Israel in the future-I hope people realize that this downward spiral of violence will lead nowhere.

For more information on the story visit the website below.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/05/31/gaza.protest/index.html?hpt=T

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Paulo Cohelo states in his book the Fifth Mountain, “Perhaps mankind betrayed its destiny because God was not closer. He had placed in people’s hearts a dream of an era when everything was possible….The world had transformed itself, life had become more difficult, but the Lord never returned to change men’s dreams.”

There is something deep inside of us that cannot really be put into words. It is the feeling you sense when you witness an act of forgiveness, grace, and love so shocking and scandalous that you are left speechless. It is during those brief moments where you solely wish good on all humanity, good and bad, righteous and wicked, friend and enemy. It is the times you truly believe that nothing is beyond the love of God, that all men can experience forgiveness. It’s the times you really believe that humanity will be redeemed.

Perhaps, these times of deep, pure, and holy desire are simply the dream God put in our hearts, before the fall of man, before society conditioned us to believe and behave in other ways. Beyond sin, doubt, punishment, and pain, there exists a dream, desire, and passion which we can’t seem to put our finger on-but we have all experienced at one point in our lives. Perhaps, these times of clarity or ecstasy are simply a distant signal from the Divine of our true hope, future, and plan-a day when all is made right and humanity is one again with each other and with their maker.

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We have been studying 1930’s Germany in my History class. I have been explaining to my students how the anger and fear that the Germans experienced led them to make some horrible decisions-most notably, help put Adolf Hitler into power in the nation. Would Hitler have come to power if there wasn’t the fear of the tough economic situations and growing Soviet threat and the anger over the debt still being paid from World War I?.Most likely not. However, when people are controlled by fear and anger, they don’t make the rational, just, or moral decisions that they would be more likely to make in times of peace and clarity.

I think another example of this would be the latest Iraq War. Would the Iraq War been waged if it had been 2000 instead of 2003? I don’t believe so. However, we let the fear and anger from September 11th direct us into a misguided war. Most of the world community pointed out the error, but we were too controlled by other emotions to take it seriously. A current example could be the Tea Party movement, which has really grown out of much fear and anger over the changes in the country-specifically the election of Barack Obama. People are also fearful about losing job or are angry because of their rough economic situation, so they want to lash out at somebody. However, as we have seen time and time again when political decisions are made from these emotions-the results are never good, and extremism and fringe groups tend to grow.

In our own lives, this is even more essential. How many wise decisions have you made when you were in a mindset of fear and anger? Better put, how many poor decisions have you made during a time where your emotions had the best of you? It is difficult for us as humans to separate these negative emotions from our decision making; however, it is essential for us to have prosperous and happy lives. Until we learn to find that peace and calm within ourselves, our decisions will be heavily tainted and misguided.  When our emotions are out of order, than our minds and decision making skills tend to slip as well.

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I worked at Panera Bread for about 5 years in high school and college, so I was recently pleasantly surprised when I heard about Panera’s new plan to open up a non-profit restaurant where people pay what they can. The hope is that people will pay what they would consider their fair share. If they are higher-wage earners they might donate a little  bit more to offset the cost of the lower-wage earners who would not be able to pay as much. Since it is a non-profit restaurant, there would be no taxes paid, which would also set back some of the costs.

Whether the restaurant actually pans out or not, it gives a fresh perspective to the profit-driven society that has spiraled out of control in many ways. Maybe it will also offset the flawed idea that mankind solely operates on selfishness, and that our social and economic systems can only be successful if based on these ideas. It seems to me an experiment in people helping a restaurant stay open for the common good of the community. If the novel idea turns out to be successful, Panera plans to open up more similar restaurants in the future. I suppose the ultimate hope is that this type of thinking based on the common good and more social equality will spread far beyond the walls of a restaurant and will infiltrate our culture, politics, faith, and personal lives.  You can find more about this project at:

http://rawstory.com/rs/2010/0518/bakery-chain-panera-bread-opens-nonprofit-paywhatyouwant-shop/

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Rand Paul has been under fire this last week for comments he made in regard to the flawed nature of the Civil Rights legislation-because it forces businesses not to discriminate. While this is certainly regressive thinking and unfortunate, what is more dangerous are the economic libertarian views of Paul. It seems that since the election of Obama, Libertarianism has been on the rise in the United States. While some may see this as only reactionary (libertarianism seemed to be pretty low in the Bush years), it is starting to grow great support under groups like the Tea Party.

What I think these people don’t realize is that we already had a near Libertarian system in the past. This isn’t some new or novel idea. And guess what? Libertarianism was great for the top 2%, but not so great for the bottom 90%. When I think of Libertarianism, I think of the days of the Industrial Revolution-where the government didn’t get involved at all in regulation or the economy. The Rockefellers and Carnegies made it big, but the average worker had to work up to 80 hours a week and still barely kept his family afloat. Women and children were paid even lower wages. Of course, if they get sick-tough luck. There was no disability insurance or health subsidies. I think of the days of Herbert Hoover, when the Great Depression hit he did barely anything, because he thought it wasn’t the governments job to give support. Of course, he got the shantytowns (Hoovervilles) named after his honor, and lost the Presidency in one of the biggest landslides in history (1932).

There are some aspects of Libertarianism that could be good for the country-decriminalizing drug users, legalization of marijuana, less military spending, etc. However, the overall idea of little to no government in the economy is a recipe for a huge income disparity where a few have everything and the majority of people have nothing. It is a plan for the rich. Unfortunately, the middle class followers of Libertarianism would find themselves in an extremely tough situation if the reforms they are fighting for were actually passed.

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Have you ever met anyone who seems self-assured, but not in the positive and energy filled way, but in the egocentric and almost scary way? Have you met someone who was so sure that they were doing the right thing even when everybody else around them knew that it was mistake and there was absolutely no way to convince them otherwise?

We want to run away from and avoid doubt completely in our lives. We feel that if we doubt what we are doing, we are betraying ourselves or even betraying God’s plan for us. However, what if moderate doubt could actually be a sign of health and humility? What if an amount of healthy doubt is simply part of the human experience? What if doubt actually could bring us closer to our task and closer to the heart of God?  What would happen if we started viewing moderated doubt as less of an enemy and more of an ingredient which is important for our personal well being, our relationship with others, and our spiritual relationship?

In Paulo Cohelo’s book, The Fifth Mountain- a story based on the prophet Elijah, he takes into the inner life and struggle of one of the greatest prophets in the scriptures. At one point Elijah tells the angel of the lord who came to him, I have doubted myself, I am no longer worthy of my task, and the angel responds,

“Every man hath the right to doubt his task, and to forsake it from time to time; but what he must not do is forget it. Whoever doubteth not himself is unworthy –for in his unquestioning belief in his ability, he commiteth the sin of pride. Blessed are they who go through moments of indecision.(page 53)”:

When doubt enters your life, do not let the fear of it overtake you. Realize, that every individual who has accomplished anything great in History has doubted themselves, their faith, and their calling. However, one day doubt will be cleared and clarity will truly come.

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Perhaps, you are like me and the mere thought of this makes you shudder. However, we need to wake up to this reality and danger. In the past couple of months, one man went to the pentagon with a gun because of his hate for the government; another man flew his plane into the federal building. Ministers have been calling on the death of their political opponents. Right-wing extremist groups are on the extreme rise, and the tone against Obama is getting stronger and stronger….including some talk that he is the Anti-Christ. Before you dismiss is this as some radical non-significant minority…consider a recent national poll, where 24% of Republicans think that Obama may be the anti-Christ. We also have recently learned about the members of the “Christian” militia based out of Michigan who were arrested for plans of violence against the government.

If you truly believed that Obama was the ultimate “evil” of history and the actual incarnation of Satan himself, wouldn’t you try to kill him? I would. I mean, what motivation would you not have to do this?  I am not saying that any pastor or minister is actively saying to kill Obama, but all it takes is one crazy person in the crowd who takes the fear, hatred, and paranoia to heart and does something about it. As a Christian, it scares me beyond belief.

There are many ways that faith can be destroyed in a nation. However, the fastest way that you could guarantee people to flee from the faith and the message become irrelevant is to have extremism and violence arise from the faith. We cannot think that it could not happen to the Christian faith. It has happened in the past, and as we know..history has a way of repeating itself. My suggestion for Christian leaders would be to do the following:

1. Preach the message of the non-violence resistance of Jesus

This is an underlying problem in our society; we have justified violence for so long. In our history books, we seem to justify every war that has ever been launched. Even in modern day wars, we always find a justice for violence. With this built in justification for violence, instead of the path of non-violence resistance, we are setting up justifications for assassinations, terrorism, etc. Whether there are issues you disagree with on the right or left, conservative or liberal, the only way they can be confronted as Christians is through the path of peaceful resistance and protest.

2. Stop Extremism and Conspiracy in Its Tracks

Christian leaders, conservative and liberal, should stand up to the extremism and blatant falsehoods that are presented by both religious and secular voices, whether it is Glenn Beck somehow comparing Obama to the next Hitler or Stalin or the local pastor who gives great consideration that Obama is the actual anti-Christ. This kind of stupidity and extremism only leads to problems and for Christians, shame to the Christian faith. On a more somber note, it could truly lead to violence.

3. Practice Love and Prayer for All Leaders

Whether it was liberals who hated Bush or conservatives who hate Obama, the church has to stand up and be the voice of love and the group who chooses to pray and bless their leaders whether they agree with them or not. To do any less is to deny the whole essence of the Christian faith. Speak out all you can on the issues, but show love, grace, and compassion to all of God’s children.

I am too young to remember the assassinations of JFK or Dr. King. I do remember seeing footage from the Oklahoma City Bombing. We are naive to believe the same forces are not still alive today, and that they couldn’t be carried out by someone who is professing to do so in the name of God, and even unthinkably, in the name of the Prince of Peace. As a Christian community, let’s stop the extremism from growing before the faith is held up to public shame.

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