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Archive for June, 2010

This past week, the town where Joseph Stalin was born in the modern day country of Georgia, tore down the statue built in his honor. The people no longer wanted to celebrate a history of a man so violent and evil.

However, some people could ask, “Didn’t Stalin do some important and even great things?” Of course. In many ways, Stalin can be thanked for stopping Hitler and the Nazi regime. If the Soviet Union had not been involved in the war, it would have been a much tougher victory for the Allies. However, this doesn’t negate what the man stood for and what he did-killing literally millions of his own people and completely destroying the rights and freedoms of the citizens of the nation. The people of Georgia realized that what Stalin represented to most of the people far outweighed any positive impact he may have had in Russian or World History.

I think there is a comparable situation in the South in the United States with the honoring of the Confederacy. While I in no way would try to put the actions of the Confederacy on the level of evil as Stalin, the Confederacy still represents a dark and oppressive time in our history that should not be a source of celebration.

When I was a History teacher in South Carolina, I took my students down to a special “youth in government” conference at the state capitol. While looking at the monuments around the state house, I saw a seeming contradiction and irony. One of the monuments was dedicated to the struggle of African Americans. However, many more were monuments celebrating the Confederacy and the pro-segregationist leaders of the State. It struck me as odd that you could celebrate both? Honestly, I don’t think you can. The Confederacy still represents this oppression that we are trying to overcome. I am sure that seeing all the Confederate celebration and memorial was not seen as harmless and benign to the African-American students whose ancestors were held for centuries in the cruel practice of slavery.

Do we celebrate all of our history just because it is ours, regardless of the ethics and justice of the events? Many still do, but I think that it is foolish and sets a bad precedent and a confused message to the new generation coming up. We need to celebrate the good, but also learn from the wrong and injustice-not blindly celebrate it. Perhaps, states like South Carolina could learn from the people of Georgia and start putting away some of their monuments to people and events whose memory continue to cause division, anger, and a confused message.

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This past week, Al Gore was accused of forcing himself onto a masseuse on multiple occasions. The lady accusing him of this wanted 1 million dollars from the National Enquirer for the story. Of course, the National Enquirer printed the story without any thought to the trustworthiness of the source, though they refused to give the lady money.

This really makes me angry on numerous levels. First of all, if the lady really felt like she was being abused by Al Gore, why did she supposedly meet with him on various occasions? Why did she only come out now when it seemed an opportune time with Al Gore’s divorce?  Are there no red flags raised when she comes trying to sell her story for a million dollars?

The current state of wanting to “create” scandal is becoming a big problem in the nation. Lives and reputations are often destroyed for the sake of a story, which often has little base in reality. However, this problem does not stop with infamous publications like the National Enquirer; it is also an issue with established media outlets.

I think a good example of this is teachers accused of having sexual relations with one of their students. You see the front page headline or the top news story on the television, but the trial where they are found innocent or when it comes out that the accusations were completely false does not get much media coverage. However, at that point the teacher’s reputations is so damaged and his family so embarrassed that the damage cannot be reversed. Also, it damages the reputations of teachers and educators as a whole. This actually happened to a teacher from the school district I was from. One of the girls did not like him very much, because he wrote her up a referral. So, she made up a story that he had slept with her. His name was all over the media; his reputation destroyed, and then it came out that the girl had made the whole story up.

I guess the troubling question is if these people are abusing their freedom of speech. Wild accusations and our obsession with scandal and outrage can have a devastating effect on people’s lives. For one, I am very tired and sick of this type of scandal journalism- it debases us as readers and destroys the lives of the people we are reading about.

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This morning, the longest serving senator in the history of the United States passed away at the age of 92. Robert Byrd, who was from  West Virginia, was first elected to the Senate when Kennedy was president. He served in the House of Legislators before that. In his early years, Byrd would certainly have not been called a progressive. He was a former member of the KKK; in fact, one of the Grand Dragons from the KKK was the one who convinced him to first run for political office. During the 1960’s,  he joined other segregationist Senators, like Strom Thurmond from South Carolina, in an attempted block of the Civil Right’s legislation.

However, time changes people. Later, Byrd apologized for his actions on Civil Rights and later supported other Civil Right’s legislation. He also came out and endorsed Barack Obama, one week after he was heavily defeated in West Virginia by Hilary Clinton, which was a very strong and symbolic statement about the issue of race and change. He has been a critical vote in much of this administration’s agenda-specifically, health care reform. He has also spoken out against the Iraq War, when most other senators were too afraid. He also made sure to champion the cause of the workers and the poor from his state.

I think Byrd should serve as in inspiration to us. People are possibly of change, even late in their lives. We like to pigeon-hole and label people in a certain way, and we assume they are going to stay that way forever. Nevertheless, we forget the stories of people going from racism to inclusion, hate to compassion, and greed to giving. KKK members can become progressive voices for change. Terrorists can become peace activists. Criminals can become humanitarians. Sinners can become saints. In the end, Byrd will not be remembered for the mistakes he made earlier in his career as much as the strong way he ended it. No matter what our age or our circumstances, it is never to late to start again and make changes for the better.

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In the words of Glenn Beck, “I don’t get the baseball thing, but the soccer thing, I hate it so much — probably because the rest of the world likes it so much, and they riot over it, and they continually try to jam it down our throat”

Now, everyone has their right to love certain sports or hate certain sports. Personally, I always liked playing soccer and baseball. For some reason I had no interest in golf and eventually lost my interest in basketball. Beck, like everyone else, has a right to like or not like certain sports. However, I think his statements point out a much darker and dangerous attitude that some people in the United States, especially the more nationalistic right-wing, often fall into-if the rest of the world likes something or thinks it is a good idea- it probably is not.

This type of general ambivalence or downright disdain for the opinion of the world community has been very harmful for the U.S. in recent years. I think one of the most obvious examples of this was the U.S. barging into the Iraq War, even though the majority of the world community was strongly against it. A few years later, the U.S. community woke up to the idea that perhaps a mistake was made.

Another example would be the last election. A world-wide poll was taken and every country in the world, except Georgia, Israel, and the Philippines, wanted Obama over McCain for President, in many countries by a very large margin. While certainly the world community doesn’t get to decide the president, their opinion should at least be considered by voters- perhaps they can understand the overwhelming pattern of world opinion which could signal the wiser decision. For some, the idea that the world community likes a leader makes them untrustworthy-this is an absurd and dangerous idea. Yet another example would be the nationalistic disdain for the United Nations. While the organization is certainly not perfect, it has served as a great tool for human rights expansion, peaceful resolutions, and humanitarian aid.

Beck is trying to be outrageous and making a lot of money doing it. However, he represents a dangerous disdain for the world community’s interests and ideas, which many people are buying into. Unless we are willing to learn and grow from understanding different cultures and points of view, we are going to make the same mistakes over and over again and fail to progress successfully into the 21st Century.

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“We have to listen to the child we once were, the child who still exists inside us. That child understands magic moments. We can stifle its cries, but we cannot silence its voice. ..If we are not reborn – if we cannot learn to look at life with the innocence and the enthusiasm of childhood – it makes no sense to go on living.” There are many ways to commit suicide. Those who try to kill their body offend God’s law. Those who try to kill their soul also offend God’s law, although their crime is less visible to the eyes of man…Let’s allow the child within us to take the reins of our existence a little. This child says that one day is different from another.”

This is from the book “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” by Paulo Coelho.

There have been many different takes and explanations on what Jesus meant when he said that unless we become like children we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is one of the most thought provoking of the explanations I’ve heard. Do we still dream and live in awe of the world we live in? Or has everything become so safe and planned out, that we forget to seek wonder in the world? Do we still stand in amazement of the nature around us, the signs of love, hope, and joy in humanity, and the fingerprints of God throughout his creation?

I remember when I was a child my imagination would run wild. I could spend days just imagining and trying to wrap my head around the fantasies of this world. Dreams seemed to be the rule, not the exception. It seems as time goes on we become realists. In some ways this is necessary, but in other ways this is destructive. The Kingdom of God is all about seeing the world and society through a new imagination and a new awe and wonder. Perhaps, we can’t fully enter that kingdom unless we let go of the pessimism, realism, and stability that comes with adulthood, and instead dream of how the world could be.

In the end, the Kingdom of Heaven and the message of Jesus is not experienced by a theology, rules, or a rigid belief system. It is experienced by entering the wonder of life, redemption, grace, and hope. It is about letting go of all our preconceived notions and expectations of life and living in the miracle of each day, the beauty hidden in every conversation, and the new understanding available in each new encounter. If we let our dreams and imagination die, we do really die inside. Perhaps, God wants his Spirit to come and renew our imaginations and help create a world that our adult pessimism and realism say is impossible. After all, Jesus said he is making all things new.

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One of the great authors of our time, José Saramago, passed away this past week. He was famous for numerous books-some of them include “Blindness” and “Seeing”. He was a master at leaving a very profound social message in the midst of a compelling story. Though I would disagree with him on his religious views, his wide range of insights have touched me in a very personal way.

Blindness has grown to be one of my favorite books of all time. It is essentially the story of a society where blindness is contagious, so the whole country is soon struck down. Chaos soon follows, and there is anarchy in the land. The book is very dark, but in a strange way, also very hopeful. It shows the very evil side of humanity, but also the good and pure. It chooses not to say whether man is good or evil, because that would be too simplistic. Instead, it reveals the complexity of the human condition and our possibility and potential for good or evil. If you haven’t read the book, I would highly suggest it. There was a movie that came out in 2008, but it does not come close to the deep and rich social meaning of the book.

Authors from this older generation can teach us so much. I still think this why many of my favorite authors are from these times-John Steinbeck, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, etc. They show us social commentary and revealing thoughts that we have tended to skip over as we have passed into this new era. My hope is that a new generation of authors will rise up with this some social consciousness and help us understand ourselves and our world better. I’ll leave you with one of the great quotes from Saramago,

“Some people spend their entire lives reading but never get beyond reading the words on the page, they don’t understand that the words are merely stepping stones placed across a fast-flowing river, and the reason they’re there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it’s the other side that matters.”

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Do you remember a time in your life when you simply felt shame? You were caught red-handed, and there was no one to blame but yourself. Perhaps, you were covering up a lie and it finally came out into the light for all to see. I think we all have experienced to one extent or another in our lives; however, some scandals or failures become more infamous than others.

When people are caught in a scandalous situation, we usually only focus on the downfall and in turn, that is how the individual is remembered for the rest of their lives. John Edwards is probably going to be remembered with his latest scandalous affair. Even today when you think of Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky usually quickly comes to mind. When it is people who are deeply pushing moral values and are very judgmental the effect is even less forgiving and antagonistic. We can see this recently in a number of different “moral values” congressman and governors. We have also seen this with different members of the clergy. One of the most infamous was Ted Haggard. He came out strongly against the homosexual agenda and was one of the main members of the Evangelical religious right. However, it soon came out that he had been having an affair on his wife with a male prostitute and had purchased crystal meth (though he claims never to have used it).

He has recently come out of the shadows following the scandal. However, he seems to be a much more humbled man and much slower towards condemnation. He recently predicted the following.,

“I believe we are also nearing the end of the ‘Religious Right’ representing Evangelicalism.”“My prayer is that over the next 10 years, there will be a Love Reformation and the Gospel will retake the Bible-believing church.”

The new Ted Haggard seems to be more open and gracious than the older one. Sometimes falling is the only way we change into more peaceful, loving, and gracious people. It is unfortunate that it often takes this kind of humiliation and peace to find transformation, but our pride is often very hard to break.

In our own lives, I think there are a couple of important truths we can take away from this. First of all, we need to be very careful of our prideful attitudes and condemning others. Our pride can reach a level where only a large fall will bring us back into a non-judgmental and humble state. The second thing we can realize is that even in our darkest and sinful moments, life and change can spring up. When we fall and cause ourselves humiliation, we need to purposely see it as an opportunity to change ourselves. Only then, will there have been anything of value that came from our poor decisions.

I wish Ted Haggard the best. I hope that through the scandal and humility he faced he can teach the western church a very important lesson. Hopefully, he can teach us all a lesson on the issue of scandal, humility, change, and restoration. In the end, perhaps something positive has come out of his darkest moments. In our darkest moments, let’s look to the Savior and realize that there is still redemption, salvation, change, and grace available to us.

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