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Archive for January, 2011

As I have been reading about the Egyptian protests, I have been greatly intrigued like many around the world about the fight against the authoritarian president. On one hand, it seems like a cause for justice. With huge poverty and unemployment and a government which does not seem to listen to the pleas of their people, perhaps some type of a revolution is needed.

However, it does bring up reminders of the 1979 revolution in Iran. Iran had an oppressive, authoritarian leader called the Shah. Many were unsatisfied with his rule and wanted a new form of government. There were to main groups that resisted the Shah-one was a more secular revolutionary group whose main focus was economic reforms and a chance to create a more egalitarian society. The other group was the extremist religious group that eventually won out in the country. They essentially traded one form of tyranny for another, and perhaps a much worse form of tyranny-religious tyranny.

There is a similar situation currently in Egypt. If this revolution can focus mainly on political and economic injustices and see this as a chance for these reforms- I think this revolution could be great for the people of Egypt. However, on the other hand, if extremist religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood use this angst from the people as a tool to establish a more religious state- this revolution against tyranny could change into that even worse form of religious oppression.

I am watching the events of Egypt with a cautious optimism. Let’s pray that the country and the people will find freedom and a way out of poverty without falling into the hand of religious radicalism and a theocratic state. Perhaps, from time to time, a type of revolution is needed. However, where that revolution leads makes all the difference in the world.

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I have started a music appreciation elective in my school. We have been going over different bands and songs. I have chosen some songs that I think speak a real message to the students- either through personal change or to give a real social awareness. The first song we did was the famous song-Zombie by the Cranberries.

For those of you not aware about the song, it was written in the early 90s as a response to the violence and hatred between the Irish and British in Northern Ireland. It is essentially about the death of the innocent in the name of some cause. If you watch the video, it can actually be quite disturbing. Essentially, the young children are shown mimicking being crucified (not a true crucifixion- it is not overly graphic). Some might see this as offensive or even sacrilegious; however, I see it as a very strong and powerful point. In the name of politics and religion, supposedly the “Christian” faith, children and the innocent were being killed. In the name of the cross, people were crucifying others. It is a kind of deeply disturbing but very real irony.

The question that is posed to us today is what innocent are we killing in the name of a cause? It is not probably be our own hands, but perhaps indirectly through our governments, corporations, etc. When Jesus was crucified on the cross, his death gave a way for humanity to be redeemed. It also gave a powerful picture of innocence being taken unjustly. It was also a symbol of what those of the Christian faith should stand against- the suffering of the innocent and who they should stand for- those being oppressed, abused, and even killed by the powerful, greedy, and hate filled.

In the word of the Cranberries:

Another head hangs lowly,
Child is slowly taken.
And the violence caused such silence,
Who are we mistaken?

But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family.
In your head, in your head they are fighting,
With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are crying…

Whether it was children being killed in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, hundred of thousands of innocent civilians being killed in our wars, children being exploited by multi-national corporations around the globe, people being persecuted and even killed because of their ethnicity or religious belief- there are lot of people that are being crucified today- innocent people being beaten, tortured, and even killed. As Jesus was crucified and killed for us; as innocence was brutally and horrifically killed. Let us take on the cause to stand for those innocent are being crucified by our current systems and society. Let us not continue on with the rest of the crowd and continue to shout “Crucify” or simply watch and do nothing out of fear or weakness.

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We spend the majority of our lives trying to run and avoid the reality of death. We don’t like to talk about it; we certainly don’t want to accept it. Certainly, we want to prolong it as long as possible, which in a way is our God given instinct. However, is our avoidance of the reality of our death actually costing us joy?

Ecclesiastes talks about how, “Death is the destiny of everyone, and the living should take this to heart.” This scares us; we know it is the truth, but we don’t like dwelling on it. However, what would happen if we actually saw each day as possibly our last and lived each day with that realization. How much happier would we be? How much would the small problems in our lives seem to really be insignificant? If we really were aware of the fact that death could come to those we love at any moment, without warning, how would our relationships change? What would be important to us?  Some people get this reality forced on them very quickly- whether it is through a diagnosis of a terminal illness, a sudden tragic accident that completely changes their world, or the loss of someone they hold dear. However, it seems that soon we go back to our daily routines, trying to avoid that reality. What would happen if we woke up every morning and said, “This could be my last day,” and actually lived in that reality. What that we usually take for granted would we learn to truly appreciate.

One of my favorite ministers put it this way, “Death starts becoming a problem to us when we start feeling entitled to this existence, but when we start seeing this existence than nothing other than a pure gift, suddenly everyday becomes incredible powerful, infused with meaning, and the opportunity for joy and peace is found regardless of the circumstances. Death is the destiny of everyone, the living should take this to heart (Ecclesiastes) ….This is not a call to despair; this is a call to appreciate, enjoy, and celebrate every moment you have in this life.

Ultimately, this is what Jesus came to teach us- he wanted us to have life and have it more abundantly. However, this abundant life is not possible unless we accept the reality of death. This is eternal life, which is not just for the future, but available in the here and now and is offered to us as a gift- if we would just step into it. This abundant life that had no recognition of time is offered to us right now by the Savior. My prayer is that you would choose to face death so that you may really experience life and that you would run into the arms of the Savior who gives us this eternal life-starting at this very moment and expanding into the future without end.

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Bradley Manning is the infamous soldier who gave top secret information to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. While what Manning did was certainly illegal, the way that he has been treated since his arrest has been an embarrassment to the supposed values of the United States.

Manning has been kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day since July 2010 when he released the information about the war in Afghanistan- which among other things gave a more truthful estimate about the amount of civilian casualties in Afghanistan unlike the “official” numbers that the Defense Department gives. Amnesty International has recently has come out and denounced the treatment of Bradley Manning. Manning is being treated like a highly violent dangerous criminal, when really the U.S. is just embarrassed about the truthful information Manning released about U.S. actions.

I have to admit that I am a little torn on the issue. What Manning did was certainly crime, you can’t have anyone release any top secret information when they feel have some cause to do so. That would be chaos. However, on the other hand, I am glad that the U.S. public has a more truthful picture of what their government is doing overseas. If there would have been more whistleblowers, perhaps we never would have gone into an unjustified war like Iraq. Also the claim that Wikileaks is causing the death of all these innocent lives is simply a political ploy to try and blacken the name of Wikileaks and turn them into murderers. While Wikileaks and the whistle blowing of Bradley Manning certainly made some people angry, it also exposed the truth, which in the end could actually save more lives and prevent the U.S. from engaging in further unjustified actions.

In the end, whether you see Manning as a villain or a hero is irrelevant. The United States is supposed to stand against torture. Keeping someone in solitary confinement for over 6 months just to make a point or to punish them for embarrassing you is absurd and it is certainly shedding a bad light on the U.S. government worldwide. Perhaps, the U.S. should account for some of the mistruths they presented rather than torturing the individual that released the information.

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In my U.S. History classes, we are currently studying about the Irish Americans and the hysteria and discrimination that occurred during their early days in the United States in the 1800’s. From the pictures that try and compare Irish to monkeys to the unfair stereotypes that all Irish were drunks, the immigration rhetoric was certainly heated. In fact, a whole political party (the Know Nothing Party) was established with the main goal of limiting immigration. Many businesses openly discriminated against Irish employees and customers.

We look back on this hysteria as foolish. The Irish Americans became great contributors to U.S. society and actually are an essential part of the fabric of the United States. We realize that all fear that came with the new groups of immigrants was not only unjustified, but from a distance actually quite comical. Today, we see the fear of the Irish immigration as something that was blown out of proportion and the discrimination of the Irish people as something horrific.

I wonder what future generations will say about our current immigration rhetoric. Will they look upon it as silly and irrational? Most likely. Will they see the deeply racist elements of the much of the immigration debate which many currently try to deny? Certainly. They will see a country that allowed a whole “under class” to develop, because they never allowed individuals the chance to become full fledge members of the society, even those individuals who came into the country as small children under no choice of their own. They will see a complete disregard for human rights and social justice.

We always hear that we should look to the past in order to not make the same mistakes in the future. Immigration is a great example of this. Those who try to push fear about illegal immigration and revel in xenophobic rhetoric need to realize that this is not some new or unique issue. There is always resistance to change, but that resistance is usually seen to be foolish and unwarranted. Most importantly, our current refusal to deal with the unjust immigration system will be looked upon with a mixture of pity and disbelief by future generations.

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One of the main slogans of the Republican Party in this last election was to cut the deficit; I definitely share that same concern. The national debt is out of control, and if something is not done to stop it- the U.S. economy could fall. However, it seems since coming to office the Republicans have been the one’s fighting to ensure that there will continue to be a greater deficit.

The first example was last month’s debate on tax cuts for the wealthy. The Republican Congress ensured that all people keep their tax cuts, even the millionaires and billionaires. Of course, this means a huge loss of revenue for the country, not to mention the enormous inequality it is helping to expand. This past month, Obama came out with a plan to cut military spending by 78 billion. Many Republicans automatically opposed the cuts, even though it is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the massive military spending of the United States. Finally, the Republicans are determined to overhaul health care reform; something that economists have warned will lead to even more of a deficit.

Did the party who ran on cutting the deficit really believe in that pledge? Well, possibly-but it is seems to be far less important to them than all of their other ideological issues. The debt is a huge issue, and both the left and the right are going to have to give a little. It is not either tax hikes or cuts in spending; it will have to be both in order to ensure that the huge deficit is not passed on to next generations. Next time you hear congressman and Tea Party organizations railing on about the national debt; realize that the people who talk the most about the national debt are the ones that are often the ones ensuring that is will grow even more

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While the nation mourns the tragedy in Arizona which happened last week, we must not forget another deathly tragedy that is happening due to Medicare budget cuts in Arizona-patients dying after being denied access to organ transplants. Two individuals have already died due to these cuts which were signed into law by Jan Brewer, the same governor who signed in the draconian immigration law in Arizona. It seemed that the lives of the patients on Medicare were not worth the approximate 14,000 each it would have cost to give them access to organ transplants.

 How does this happen in the richest nation on earth? Plain and simply-greed and a complete lack of concern for the needy or unfortunate in society. The health care system in the United States is so bankrupt that is hard to know where to even begin. Of course, small changes that have been made are being challenged by the new Republican Congress. I think it is so important that we mourn the tragic deaths of the people killed in this terrible shooting, but we must also remember the injustices in our system that allow people to die when they could easily be treated. Their lives are also important and should be mourned and really be fought to prevent.

 Great tragedies always cause us to really consider making changes to our system and the way our society works. However, we should never forget the often hidden, unnecessary tragedies which are a result of a system which still too often puts the almighty dollar ahead of human life, compassion, and justice. Perhaps our nation should turn its focus from some fabricated “death panels” created by Sarah Palin and other right wing leaders to win political points and focus on the real death panels in Arizona which are causing sick and needy people their very lives.

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