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Archive for September, 2010

As an individual who worked on the Obama Campaign, it is tempting to give him a free pass or the benefit of the doubt for everything that he does. However, recent security moves by the Obama Administration should be very concerning to any citizen that cares deeply about issues of liberty and justice.

One of the most troubling moves is the ability of the federal government to kill any U.S. citizen abroad that they perceive as a security threat-without a trial. Perhaps, this administration will not use this power to a large extent; however, it is opening up the door for a hawkish president to extremely abuse this process. The U.S. is supposed to be built on the ideas of justice, trial by jury, and freedom- that does not all get thrown out the door because you are “perceived” as a security threat. It is placing a scary amount of power in the federal government’s hands.

Another troubling fact is the president “expanding” the Bush era’s use of wiretapping to include monitoring citizen’s activity on the internet. This should automatically raise alarms for any person concerned about too much government spying and oversight. Once again, will Obama greatly abuse this power? My opinion is probably not, but it is opening up a Pandora’s Box that can be easily abused by future administrations.

Obama has also not acted quickly enough on issues like the closing of Guantanamo Bay. This is greatly hurt his credibility to many in his base. I am not willing to throw Obama under the bus, but I do think it is vitally important that his progressive base that helped him get elected president, speaks out against these draconian policies. There was a reason that the nation wanted a change in 2008; however, Obama and the Democrats have seemed to carry on many of the hawkish, neo-con ideas of the previous administration and have seemed to be too frightened to make real lasting change. The result is that the base is demoralized and the Republicans are likely to come back into power. Perhaps, if Obama really ruled with the progressive ideals that he campaigned on, the Democrats wouldn’t be facing much of the uphill struggle they are. The base would come out in droves to support the Democrats. There are definitely large issues between the Republicans and Democrats; however, policies such as these make many people doubt how much difference there really is between the two parties. Even more importantly, it makes people doubt if anyone is really working for civil liberties and freedom anymore.

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Let me paint two individuals for you, both which you have certainly seen if you have been working for much time at all. One is your co-worker who just seems to always be difficult to get along with. Any time the boss or manager asks for anything to be done, there is groaning from their part. Everything seems like a huge chore. When they are in a bad mood, everyone else at the work place tries to avoid them. Any small conflict or argument turns into a massive problem when they are around. For the Office fans out there, this is Stanley.

The second individual is what has become known as the Yes Man. Whatever the boss wants, he is on it right away. He annoys everyone to death and seems to make life more difficult by never actually standing up for himself or his co-workers, because he is so quick to please. He never fights with anyone, but at the same time no one really respects him, because they can walk all over him. He is a push-over. For the Office fans, he is something like Andy. 

The question is how we learn to live out this fruit of the spirit of gentleness at our place of work or school, or even on a broader level, in our relationships, families, and friendships. There has been a tendency for “spiritual” people to be more of an Andy type, try to be nice to everyone, not ruffle too many feathers, and be the person that people walk all over. To an extent, there is actually credence to this. If we follow the example of Jesus, people took advantage of him, used him, and he decided to respond in love and forgiveness. However, on another level-we know that living like this is actually not living up to our potential nor is it the ideal that God has for us.

So, how do we become gentle people without being push overs at our jobs and work? I think there are a couple of basic principles we can follow:

1. Learning to Have Confidence in Yourself- We will never be gentle people, if we are always trying to prove our worth to others and ourselves. Though a lack of self-confidence may naturally seem like a trait of “gentleness,” it actually prevents us from becoming gentle-because our preoccupation is on ourselves rather than looking to the good of others.

2. Being Willing to Admit Our Mistakes- This obviously relates to the previous point. If we are willing to admit when we make mistakes and accept them, the relationships with our colleagues will be able to flourish further. However, this does not mean accepting blame for things we have not done or simply being the “fall” person.

3. Refusing to Place Ourselves Above Others (or Below)- When we mentally put ourselves on a higher pedestal than others, we can forget having gentleness in our lives. Whether you are the C.E.O. of a company or the first day hire, there is a natural tendency to place ourselves and others on a scale of worth and respect. We usually tend to treat those below us with less respect than deserved, and our relationship with those “above us” is characterized by a lack of self-confidence on our own part. If we want true success and gentleness in our workplace, we need to throw out our mental hierarchy which is doing nothing but holding us back. Instead, we need to learn to start treating others as respectable and worthy equals.

4. Not Needing to Always be Right- We all know the people that have to be right about everything, even on things that are not essential. This can be one of the greatest hindrances to gentleness in the workplace, a constant need to be right. This does not mean that do not express your opinions and views and even defend them, but you should not have the NEED to be right or win the argument. Your need to be right should not negatively affect your life or your relations with other in the workplace.

In this extremely competitive culture that often characterizes the workplace and unfortunately, sometimes the schools as well, gentleness is a characteristic that we need to try to demonstrate to those around us. It will not only ensure more success in your workplace and better overall relationships, it will in the end gives us more peace and happiness.

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This week, Israel decided that they were going to resume building their housing projects in the West Bank, even though it is going to seriously jeopardize the peace process. The sheer egocentric and narcissistic nature of the move is simply outstanding to me. After the world community granted Israel the right to be established again as a nation, they have started to take advantage of this position and have started to rule unjustly- therefore endangering the overall Middle East peace and the peace of the entire world.

For too long, many in the U.S., especially the evangelical community, have blindly supported the moves of the Israeli government and equated supporting Israel with following God and disagreeing with Israel with anti-Semitism. Both of these assumptions are completely false. Since when does any nation get to do whatever they want and still keep the “blessing of God” for their actions? We wouldn’t apply that standard to any other nation, nor should we apply it to Israel. Also, being against the actions of the current right-wing Israeli government does not equal anti-Semitism. In fact, many Jewish people and actual Israelis disagree with the moves of the current government and see it is dangerous for the Jewish people overall the overall peace of the world. Disagreeing with the current moves of the current right-wing Israeli government is actually the opposite of anti-Semitism, it is seeking the best for the Jewish people over all, instead of supporting a dangerous nationalistic movement.

The U.S. cannot be the friend who simply backs up Israel no matter what; they have to be the friend that tells Israel when they are going too far and not only endangering their own peace, but the security of the United States and the western world as well. I firmly believe Israel has the right to exist and they have to take care of their security. However, moves such as these new settlements being built on land where the Palestinians formerly lived is just another example of narcissism by the part of the Israeli government and a total disregard for the wishes and security of the other nations involved.

Hopefully, the Israeli people will realize that these types of right-wing nationalistic governments will not give them more security in the long run, but simply more violence, heartache, and chaos. Hopefully in the Western World we will learn the same lesson. Nationalism is a dark cancer that eats away at any chance of real security or peace. Seeking justice should be the number one concern-justice for the both Palestinians and Israelis. If this is done, a more peaceful world can come to be. During this difficult time, let us not support unjust actions by the Palestinians or Israelis-but instead seek justice and peace for both sides.

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What do you think of when you hear the terms gentleness? For many of us, it may not necessarily bring up the best images in our mind. We might automatically associate it with weakness, having no back bone, and being an overall push-over. Perhaps, we associate it with the way a mother takes care of her baby, but not a way that anyone can really operate in the dog eat dog world we live in.

As I was trying to grasp this next fruit of the Spirit, gentleness, I decided to go back to the Ancient Greek and see what it was really meant. Word connotations and meanings always change quickly (even within 20-30 years)- this is one reason it is so important that when studying an Ancient text that you go back and really study the original meaning rather than just accept your own connotation from the English translation. Gentleness comes from the Greek word Prautes-Aristotle described the word as, “the ability to bear reproaches and slights with moderation, and not to embark on revenge quickly, and not to be easily provoked to anger, but to be free from bitterness and contentiousness, having tranquility and stability in the spirit.”

This definition helps open our eyes a little more to the reality of gentleness and how it could apply to our lives. I think there are two things that we need to grasp about this idea. The first is that gentleness does not equal being walked all over and being weak. Gentleness means control over your emotions, anger, and need to always be right. It means having that stability and confidence in your own being so that the actions of others have little effect on your inner spirit. It does not mean a lack of self-confidence, but rather allowing your own self-confidence to lessen the need to “rule over” other people.

On the other hand, gentleness is a change from our normal way of doing things- in the attempts to understand what gentleness means, we have to be careful to not weaken its true meaning and difficulty to implement. Gentleness is not simply having some moderation and continuing on with your same exact attitude, way of living, and doing relationships. It requires a change in your way of viewing life- and even a change in your personality. Gentleness does have an aspect to it that is rejected by our culture which seems to emphasize the need to always prove that you are right, the need to always be first, and the need for revenge and immediate “justice”. While gentleness does not equal being a push-over, it is still something that is counter-intuitive the way that most of society operates.

As we dive into this fruit over the next two weeks or so, let’s pray that the Sprit opens our eyes to the reality of gentleness and allow ourselves to be changed and transformed so that this gift of gentleness can be seen throughout our lives.

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Quick quiz time- What do China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United States have in common? They are among the increasingly shrinking number of countries that still practice the archaic practice of capital punishment. As a U.S. citizen, it is shameful to hear the latest news out of Virginia where a woman who clearly has mentally deficiencies with an IQ measured as low as 70 was executed.

While the crimes she was accused of (hiring someone to kill her husband and step-son for an insurance policy) is certainly horrendous and deserving of justice, to execute a women who is clearly not fully competent is causing shame to the U.S. around the world. Let’s quit screaming about human rights around the world, when we are denying them in our own country. How hypocritical is it for us to lambast the women is going to be stoned to death in Iran when we practice of our own barbaric measures here in the U.S.

Are we any better than Iran? On one level-of course. The barbaric nature of the laws and the system of justice in a country like Iran cannot be minimalized and their treatment of women is simply horrific. However, I think on another level, we need to look at our own human right’s violations, before we state our moral superiority and pat ourselves on the back when looking at countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. Perhaps, we need to learn that in order to be taken legitimately as a nation, our own human right’s practices need to be brought into the 21st Century. It is time for the U.S. to re-examine this issue of capital punishments and quit electing leaders that will continue to uphold executions such as this one.

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This past weekend, Raquel, her cousin, and I went to the beach. While I was on the beach, looking at the waves come in and the rainforest in the background- I had a moment of real clarity. What I was seeing before my eyes was only something I could have imagined or dreamed of when I was a child growing up in a small town in Illinois. What I was looking at was something out of my visualizations of Swiss Family Robinson. I never would have imagined I would be living in a country like this.

I suppose even three years ago, I had no thought of living in Costa Rica. I really had no idea about the country- other than that it was supposedly a place where people went on vacation. Now, I have been living in Costa Rica for over 2 years, I am married to a wonderful girl I met in Costa Rica, and there is no other place in the world where I feel more at home.

I also remember when I was in school; I never dreamed of being a teacher. I am sure if people would have told me that I would teach someday, I would have simply laughed. Even when I started teaching, I made it clear that I never wanted to teach junior high (which is what I am now doing-and actually enjoy it a lot). I never really enjoyed writing either when I was in high school or the beginning of college. I would not have imagined I would be writing a blog about 5 times a week; writing was something that had to be forced on me.

We try to predict what our futures are going to look like. We try to make all our plans and strategies, but somewhere deep inside us we know that all our plans mean nothing. Where life takes us is usually completely different than what we had in mind. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you should never make plans or have goals; however, it means not holding to them too tightly. We all are going to face changes in our life, some of them accepted gladly and some forced upon us against our will. Perhaps, the key to happiness in life is learning to accept this- nothing in this life is permanent, our lives are always changing. As we make our plans and goals, let us realize that at times life will take us on a totally different path; however, if we learn to accept and embrace that path we will experience life in a new, fresh, and exciting way.

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Recently, the newest Republican senatorial candidate from Delaware, Christine O’Donnell, has received criticism for a video that she was in with Bill Maher about a decade ago, where she stated that it still would not be justified to lie even if it was to someone like Hitler in order to save lives. Her thoughts are that it is always wrong to lie, and there always has to be another option.

I remember a similar discussion when I was in 9th grade at the conservative private school I attended. The real issue is that this type of reasoning represents a view on morality and ethics which is still in an immature stage of development. In Psychology, we learn from Lawrence Kohlberg “Stages of Moral Development”one of the lower stages of moral development is simply following a rule because it is a rule, without wresting with the meaning and purpose of the law or rule or what would be best for everyone. In the New Testament it is referred to as following the letter of the law. As we move up the levels of moral reasoning, we learn that our moral decisions should go far beyond a strict interpretation of a law or rule to the reasoning behind the law, what would be best for everyone in the situation, and what would be best for humanity as a whole. The New Testament refers to this as the Spirit of the Law.

I am afraid that sometimes the Christian push for “absolute moral values” has actually led Christians into a more simplistic and immature way of viewing morality. However, this actually takes away from the whole message of Christianity- where the Spirit of the Law influences our decisions rather than the letter.

This is hard for some people to accept, and there is certainly danger in having people “make up their own morality”. However, it is even more limiting when we can’t think outside of the box and realize that the ultimate values of love and justice should win out. Living by the Spirit of the Law is not necessarily the easy way out where you don’t have follow strict rules; in fact, if truly applied it is much harder. I think a perfect example of this could be Martin Luther King Jr.

He could have said that it was wrong to break any laws, because the government was put in place by God so it should be respected. He could have also said that starting demonstrations was wrong because it was going to cause conflict and unrest. He could have said that defying the orders of the elected officials was setting a bad example for his children. However, he saw something much more important, something much deeper than a simplistic view on morality. He saw the cause of justice and the need to protest against unjust laws. His willingness to live by the Spirit of the Law, cost him his life, but at the same time it helped bring justice to a nation filled with discrimination and oppression.

We have a choice today, we can stay at the “not lying to Hitler” stage of moral development, or we can move on to the stage of moral development where the rules are simply there to guide us in order to really pursue the cause of love and justice. In reality, the second option is much more difficult, because it causes us to really have to wrestle with ethical issues, and in the end, it causes us to give ourselves for others- which is the ultimate test of goodness and morality.

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