Culture: Who cares?

Prager's guest on the radio today is Arthur Brooks, a professor of public administration at Syracuse University, who has writtten the book Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism.

His research indicates the best indicator of charitable giving and other forms of compassion (for instance blood donation and volunteer hours) are:
1 - religious commitment, the more religious generally give more
2 - political perspective, those who believe it is the responsibility of government to redistribute income generally give less.

Sports: Emerald Bowl FSU vs. UCLA

FSU and UCLA are facing off in San Francisco.

At the half, UCLA leads 20-13.

UPDATE:
FSU has been moving the ball in the opening drive of the second half.
7:09 PM PST - UCLA's defense finally slows them down but surrender a field goal. UCLA 20 FSU 16.
7:18 PM PST - ARGH!!!!!! Blocked punt for an FSU TD, FSU 23 UCLA 20.
7:31 PM PST - UCLA is able to run the ball and get the lead back! UCLA 27 FSU 23.
7:39 PM PST - FSU and UCLA both go 3 and out. FSU has good field position receiving the punt. We need DE-FENSE!!!
7:49 PM PST - Game update... after 3 quarters, UCLA 27 FSU 23. UCLA has the ball as the teams change sides for the final quarter.
8:03 PM PST - UCLA didn't do anything and now FSU is on the march. UCLA's defense needs a big play ... a sack or an INT or else FSU is going to chew up tons of clock and take the lead. C'mon DE-FENSE!!!
8:09 PM PST - FSU went for it on 4th and long and get the TD. The big wide-out was too much for the UCLA CB. FSU 30 UCLA 27. Can the UCLA offense respond?
8:22 PM PST - UCLA goes 3 and out and FSU is threatening to score again. The defense needs a huge play.
8:26 PM PST - That might be all she wrote. FSU 37 UCLA 27. 6 minutes left. UCLA's offense hasn't done anything in 4 of the 5 possession this half.
8:31 PM PST - It's over. INT-TD for FSU. It is FSU 44 UCLA 27.

What can you say?

UCLA came to play but the difference between victory and defeat can be so small and that 4th quarter was when everything fell apart. The Fire Dorrell crowd will be burning up the sports talk shows and the internets.

Bruins fans are in mourning once again. The defense that came up big against USC couldn't stop FSU.

The brain trust at FSU recognized that if you can give the QB a little bit more time, the UCLA secondary is vulnerable. Oregon, Washington State and the Cal Bears exploited it. Shockingly, USC didn't.

The FSU QB isn't the greatest passer but he had enough time for his wide-outs to get open so he could deliver the ball to them.

Also, big plays all went against UCLA... the fumble that turned into an FSU TD on the next play, the blocked punt that turned into an FSU TD and the INT for TD gave FSU the third big play of the game. 21 points on BIG PLAYS. The margin of victory is erased if those big plays are erased.

Both Dorrell and Walker go from on the hot seat to heros to on the hot seat once again.

Devotional Thoughts: The Day of the Lord

Am taking a read through of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

Some people believe the rapture (gathering together of believers who are alive) is the first event in a series of events in "the day of the Lord."

They cite the idea of the rapture being like "a thief in the night" event which is sudden and stealthy. I haven't read the Left Behind series of books but that the concept of a sudden rapture is the first event that sets in motion a series of events told in action adventure novels.

Suffice to say, not all theologians agree with that particular line of thought. It is an intramural debate that has been going on for a very long time and I'll not be solving this issue in this blog post!

However, I'll describe the questions I have in my mind when I think about the possibilities. Regarding "the rapture," my questions are: is it really a "secret" event? And is it necessarily the first event in "the day of the Lord?"

My other top question is this: certainly at the time of Paul writing to the Thessalonians, Paul did not believe "the day of the Lord" had arrived yet. However, between that time and now, has "the day of the Lord" began?

The reason I pose this question is due to Acts 2:14-21. Peter cited Joel 2 in his sermon. The sequence of events is thus:
(1) I will pour out my Spirit
(2) Wonders in heaven, sign on earth, etc ...
(3) Sun darkened, moon appears bloody
(4) Great and glorious day of the Lord

The pouring out of the Spirit occurred at Pentecost.

If you run a search of "signs" and "wonders" in Bible Gateway you find a few hits in the New Testament suggesting that item #2 has occurred.

So has item #3 occurred?

Some say, yes. They take the idea of item #3 as a shorthand and symbolic way of saying an event that is so dramatic that it essentially signals "the end of the world as we know it." They would say that the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD qualifies as such a significant event.

I would suspect some might even go so far as to say that we are now living in item #4

Some would say item #3 has not yet occurred.

Regardless of whether #3 or #4 has happened, how are we supposed to live?

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

In our modern world, the distinction between day and night isn't so great. But in the old days, what you did in the day was very distinct from what you did at night. In the day, you worked the fields if you were in an agrarian community which most people were. But even if you didn't make your living working the farmland, you most likely worked in the light of day in various crafts.

Today, you can flip on a light switch and keep working. But in the old days, it probably wasn't realistic to fire up enough light to do much work at night. I suppose if your work involved a big fire like metal working you might be able to work at night. But the point is that we are children of the day and there were good works associated with the day and we are to refrain from the bad sins that were associated with the night.

Paul also brings in an military armor metaphor with a breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation.


image source:
http://www.niximperial.com/npics/2151.jpg

Faith, hope and love are the prime Christian virtues. The breastplate covers the torso which contains the vital organs and a helmet protects the head which is the most vital organ! Thus, these virtues in abundance protects the believer. Paul revisits this idea more expansively in Ephesians 6:10-18.

UPDATE: As I contemplate the imagery some more, I'm not sure if protection is the key idea. I think perhaps it is identity? When you look at the breastplate there are markings on it. Also, the helmet has a distinctive shape. Is it possible that in the Apostle Paul's mind, he sees the Christian as having a breastplate marked by faith and love and a helmet marked by hope? Thus, just as certain insignia might say, this is the 9th company of the 11th battalion of the Roman Guards, the markings of faith, hope and love marks someone as a Christian?


image source:
http://www.swordsandarmor.com/images/H13_Roman2.jpg

Lord, whether the day of the Lord is here or not, I don't know. But what I do know is that you want me to be a child of the day and of light doing the good deeds that manifest faith, hope and love. God forgive me for the many times I am not living up to this kind of life. Give me strength to put on the breastplate and helmet so I can do battle in this world with good deeds that point people to YOU. Amen.

Devotional Thoughts: The Rapture

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is one of the passages that theologians get the rapture (gathering of living believers) from. Here are articles on the subject from a Catholic, a Protestant and an Agnostic perspective. There are many other pages on the topic, just Google it.

So what does the passage actually say?

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The Apostle Paul appeared to want to address the concerns of the Thessalonians who were wondering what happens to those who had already died. Paul's bottom line message is: don't worry, we will all be reunited when Jesus comes back. Makes me think of John 14.

Much energy has been spent by some theologians on the question of when and how the Coming of Jesus will happen.

One of the pastors I heard preaching on the subject said, I'm a pan-millenialist. It will all pan out in the end.

UPDATE: [ed. note - I shouldn't assume everyone knows what Millennium theology is about. One aspect of the theology of the return of Christ is what is the nature of the millennium? The idea ranges from it being a literal 1000 year (millennial) kingdom to it being a symbolic kingdom]

Indeed, I think we need quite a bit of humility when it comes to this particular theological question. My own views on the subject are subject to change but at the moment, I'm sympathetic to the view that the rapture (gathering of living believers) will be concurrent with the return of Jesus and the resurrection of believers who had already died. That appears to me to be the simplest reading of this text.

So does this mean, Christians just gather into a holy huddle and wait for this to happen?

Some skeptics view Christians as arrogant as an exclusive club. May it not be so!

Instead, we are to interact with the world and show Christ to the world. As one of my friends once said to me, we, as Christians, need to be humble realizing we are sinners before a holy God. We are to be beggars telling other beggars where to find food.

Lord, this Christmas, may people see your love in what you did in sending Jesus. When you return is up to you. In the meantime, help us who believe to be lights in the world pointing to you with humble truthfulness and extravagant love. Amen.

Science: Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years

Heard an radio interview with authors Dennis T. Avery and S. Fred Singer who have written a book with the title Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years.

Their argument is that climate studies point to periodic warming trends every 1500 years. They believe the current global warming trend is one of these cycles and that human activity only contributes marginally to the increase. They theorize that the cyclical warmings might be tied to fluctuations in the heat output of the sun thus affecting Earth temperatures.

I wonder if somebody will make a documentary on their book?

As a molecular biologist, I have only followed the global warming issues occasionally.

Recipe: Attempt at antipasto



Have a departmental Christmas holiday potluck lunch today.

The single guy chef at work, eh?!

Can you see all the ingredients?

bell peppers, roasted
tomatoes, cut in half
cheeses, goat and Gruyere
olives, pitted kalamata cut in half
capers, from a Trader Joes jar
salami, slices
red onion, chopped
garlic, minced
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing
basil
black pepper
salt

World: Maps of War

A friend sent me a link to Maps of War.

Here is probably their most interesting map ...

Devotional Thoughts: How we ought to live - the quiet life

Let's take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

I suppose it is passages like this that have led to the "Protestant work ethic?"

One wonders if the Apostle Paul were around today, would he have some sympathy for the Libertarian political party?

Now, I don't think when Paul said we should mind our own business that we ignore what is happening around us. For instance, as we live our life, we may come across someone who has a need and at that point, Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan should leap to our minds and we should respond.

Also, we should note, Paul mentioned, win the respect of outsiders. Paul used the word outsiders on three other occasions. Therefore, as Christians we do live within a distinct minority community but we don't retreat from the society at large. We still interact with the rest of the world and it should be our goal to interact in a way that wins respect. Now, if in doing good deeds and loving people and telling about Jesus in a honorable way fails to garner respect then we have done our best and must leave the rest in the hands of God.

Lord, help me to live in a way that reveals you to those around me. Thank you that I have a job that provides for my needs. Help me to use some of that provision for others who have needs. Help me to be wise in how I treat people outside the family of faith. Please guide me today. Amen!

Culture: How does military service affect how we view someone?

Hugh Hewitt was discussing this question in this afternoon's radio show.

The first time I heard Hewitt bring up the topic was at the Friday night session at GodBlogCon 2006 at Biola.

From my perspective, I honor those who have served and do serve now.

If I have in front of me two fairly evenly matched candidates and one has military service and one doesn't, I would most likely support the one who has served. Of course if there is a candidate who served but I completely disagree on many policy positions, I will not vote for him/her but I would respect, honor and appreciate their service.

There is something honorable and noble for someone to choose to serve in the military.

I know there is a certain segment of the population who disdain the military. However, I suspect that group is a small minority.

When I attended the UCLA vs. USC football game recently, there were military personnel in attendance. I suppose they might have been guests of either the USC or UCLA athletic program or maybe of the Rose Bowl organizers. In any case, they were in full dress uniform and on the football field being led around by some official looking individual.

What struck me was the reaction they received when that official led them off the field and into the stands.

Here we are in the middle of an intense rivalry game with fans following every play on the field carefully and guess what?

I heard applause and cheers. I looked over to see what was going on. I saw the military personnel walking up the aisle and people who were standing turned to them and started to applaud. Immediately, I got up and joined in. Others who were seated throughout our section of the stadium began to notice and they turned from watching the game, got up and also applauded.

I can imagine in a Southern California group of fans, many may not even be supportive of the war in Iraq. However, when they saw these men in their full dress uniforms walking by, they honored them.

In my mind, I might not vote for someone simply because they served but it would be viewed as a positive aspect in my consideration of them.

There is something honorable and noble for someone to choose to serve in the military.

If you have served or are serving in defense of liberty and our nation as you click on this blog, Thank you for your service!

Sports: Clips from the 2006 UCLA vs. USC game

Since I was at the Rose Bowl and I didn't bring a little television set, I've been curious to see how the game looked from that point of view.

UCLA fans were in the wilderness for eight long years and so with the victory, many fans have posted little YouTube clips and have assembled highlight mini films. Most of the YouTube screen capture films are pretty low-resolution. Here is one hosted at someone's personal site that is medium-resolution and he has edited it with some dramatic music. HT: BruinsNation where there is a link to the lower resolution YouTube version.

There is also a very high resolution video that is 600 MB described at BruinsNation.

Suffice to say, I've enjoyed watching both of them several times!

Below is a picture of the item I have on my wall to help me remember the game! Does this make me a totally crazed fan?

Sports: Thanks for the memories, Eric Gagne!

I heard that Gagne signed with the Texas Rangers for one year. Its been a tough two years for him with all the surgeries and rehab. Here's hoping he will be able to have a healthy season!

Dodger Thoughts has a nice tribute to him. Excerpt:
When Eric Gagne comes into pitch at Dodger Stadium, "Welcome to the Jungle" is blasted out of the inadequate single set of speakers behind center field, and an onslaught of blue and white cartoon Gagne heads overruns the scoreboard, in a hallucinatory montage not unlike the visions of Lisa Simpson after drinking tainted water on the "It's a Duff World" ride at Duff Gardens.

The entrance is ridiculous, and would be an embarrassment - if it weren't so wonderful. It captures what worked so well in the Wild Thing scenes with Charlie Sheen from the movie, Major League. Those scenes mocked the hoopla over a relief pitcher's entrance into game while marking a crowd's unmistakably sincere desperation and appreciation for a hero they know will bring victory home.
As a Dodger fan who attended a handful of games a year for the last several years, I can attest to the craziness and excitement of the scene Jon Weisman described.

When we heard "Welcome to the Jungle" we were almost certain to hear "I Love LA" after the Gagne left the mound.

Je te vous souhaite le meilleur pendant ton votre sejour au Texas, monsieur Gagne!

ed. note - I don't know any French! I tried to figure this out from web surfing! So dear Francophone readers, did I get it right?

UPDATE: The French has been updated on the advice of a Francophone friend.

Non-profit of the month: December 2006 - Soldier's Angels

As we enter the Christmas season with family activities, gift giving, food and shopping, please remember that there are well over 100,000 men and women overseas in our military serving in some of the most dangerous places. For each solider on the field, there are loved ones back home.

For this month's non-profit of the month blog post, I present to you Soldier's Angels.

This group is providing a number of valuable ways to support our military personnel.

Here is their story straight from the web page:
The Soldiers' Angels was started by a self-described "ordinary mother" of an ordinary young man turned hero, Sgt. Brandon Varn. Brandon was deployed in Iraq and has since honorably completed his mission and has returned back to his proud and loving family.

In the summer of 2003, he wrote home expressing his concern that some soldiers did not receive any mail or support from home. Being a caring and loving mother, she decided not to allow a situation like that to continue. She contacted a few friends and extended family to ask if they would write to a soldier or two.

Within a few short months, The Soldiers'Angels went from a mother writing a few extra letters to an Internet Community with thousands of angels worldwide and growing stronger with the addition of new members daily. With more and more merchants donating services, money and items for packages, the Angels reorganized as a 501(c)3 non-profit so all donations would be tax deductible.

Soldiers' Angels currently supports thousands of American Service Members stationed wherever we raise our Country's Flag and the number is growing daily. We also work tirelessly supporting our Wounded Soldiers, with backpacks filled with needed items , personal visits, phone calls, etc. Additionally, we send our thanks via letters and email to the military of Great Britain, Poland and Australia who serve by our soldiers side in Iraq.

Soldiers' Angels are dedicated to ensuring that our military know they are loved and supported during and after their deployment into harms way.

A community of Angels have developed projects to provide aid and comfort to our military and their families. Join the many Soldiers' Angels to ensure that no soldier goes unloved.
This Christmas as you are in the midst of the busyness, please take time to support Soldier's Angels or any number of other organizations devoted to showing support for our men and women in the armed forces and those who love them.

To all of you in our armed forces and your family and friends: thank you for your service!

Sports: BCS math

The BCS numbers.

Hmmm ...

Clearly the "humans" got Florida into the BCS championship game. The computers pretty much split between Florida and Michigan. 3 computers had Michigan #2 and 3 had them #3. As for Florida, 1 computer had then #1, 2 had them #2 and 3 had them #3.

There are some discrepancies between the computer polls and human polls: the humans had USC at #7 while the computers had then at #4, the humans had Wisconsin #5/6 while the computers had them at #10 and Oklahoma was #8 in the human polls while the computers had then down at #16.

My guess is that the computers take into account strength of schedule in a more objective way than the humans do.

Believe it or not, UCLA is ranked! They are #25 in the BCS composite due to the computers saying they are #20.

For supporters of a playoff system, the numbers are difficult. Let's say you go for a 4-team playoff. Ohio State and Florida are in. But who would you put in for the #3 and #4 spots?

Michgan, LSU, USC and Louisville are listed at #3-6 in the BCS poll. However, people might complain that Michigan and LSU didn't win their conferences. And so on and so on ...

As I see it, we are stuck with the BCS. Everyone might claim to want a playoff but I don't think there would be any agreement on how to structure it.

Politics: ISG FAQ by Dean Barnett

Dean Barnett has FAQ about the recently released Iraq Study Group report. Sure seems like the ISG wasn't going to be all that useful from the start.

I'd recommend you read the whole thing. However, if you want the highlights, below are the items that jumped out at tme.

I had assumed (my bad) that the ISG was a Congressionally sponsored project. Alas it was not. Excerpt:
Something called the United States Institute for Peace formed the Iraq Study Group after being prodded to do so by "interested members of Congress."
On how these commission often work he said this:
4) If some private group formed the Commission, why was it given such wide deference by all political actors?

That’s really a puzzler. Normally you appoint one of these blue-ribbon commissions when everyone knows what the right thing to do is but no one has the political stones to step forward and do it. So both major parties form a bi-partisan commission to study the matter and reach the conclusions that everyone with half-a-brain has already reached. In the process, everyone gets political cover.
On why this project was more or less doomed from the start ...
Because there’s no consensus among thinking people about what needs to be done in Iraq. Even on the left and on the right, there are sharp intramural skirmishes on the matter. So the Study Group’s search for a consensus was pointless.
...........
These are estimable people who hungered for a re-entry into the political limelight. For chrissakes, they arranged a photo-shoot at Vanity Fair to coincide with the Report’s release. While they may not have received financial compensation for their efforts, they received for them what is an even higher form of payment - access back to the center stage of national events.
Barnett felt is was a missed opportunity ...
... the report could have been so much more. It could have dealt with the serious menace of Radical Islam - it didn’t. It could have honestly appraised Iranian ambitions - it didn’t. It could have identified the U.N.’s fundamental uselessness - it didn’t.
.........
The Study Group thought their mandate was the same as the typical bi-partisan blue ribbon commission which is to "find" a pre-agreed upon consensus. Here, they felt the pre-agreed upon consensus was, regarding the war in Iraq: "Make it end!!!"

But problematically, the Iraq war could end tomorrow but our problems with the Islamists in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc. would continue and worsen unless we forcefully addressed them. Given the prominence of the Study Group, it could have actually done a world of good and talked to people like Bernard Lewis and cautioned the country that regardless of what happens in Iraq - victory, defeat or stalemate - the struggle is just beginning.

World: ISG report, ISG = incomplete-silly-garbage

The ISG (Iraq study group) report was awaited with much anticipation. However, it is not going over well as people are seeing it for what it is: useless.

Excerpts:
"There's only one thing worse than an over-stressed Army and Marine Corps, and that's a defeated Army and Marine Corps," said McCain, a Vietnam veteran who will become the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee when the Democrats take control of both houses of Congress in January.

"I believe this is a recipe that will lead to our defeat sooner or later in Iraq," McCain added.
......
Their skepticism focused mainly on two of the recommendations: a diplomatic approach to Iran and Syria, and an acceleration of the U.S. military's work to train and advise Iraqi forces.
.......
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, both said they are skeptical about another of the commission's key recommendations: that the administration approach Iran in search of help in stabilizing Iraq, as part of a regional diplomatic initiative.

"I'm skeptical that it's realistic to think that Iran wants to help the United States succeed in Iraq," Lieberman said.
Dean Barnett doesn't think much of the reports. Except:
For a real indication of this report’s terminal lack of seriousness, check out the Group’s blithe ignorance regarding Iran’s malevolent intentions. “It is clear to the Iraq Study Group members that all of Iraq’s neighbors are anxious about the situation in Iraq,” opines the commission. “They favor a unified Iraq that is strong enough to maintain its territorial integrity, but not so powerful as to threaten its neighbors.”

Gosh, when did Iran become so altruistic and so unconcerned with its own interests? Last I heard, the mad Mullahs and their certifiable front-man were hell-bent on establishing a regional caliphate to be quickly followed by global domination. And yet now the Baker Commission informs us that Iran really has Iraq’s best interests at heart. Phew! What a relief.
.......
THE MOST FITTING WORD FOR THIS ENTIRE exercise is silly. Everything that Baker, Hamilton and company say rests on the assumption that our malefactors have legitimate grievances and good faith goals. In other words, not only can our enemies be trusted, their agendas are not to be questioned. (And Baker and his ilk have the audacity to style themselves realists.)
Hugh Hewitt is also down on the report. Excerpt:
Incredibly, the ISG did not consult with anyone from the democratic government of Lebanon, even as the ISG urges us to reach an understanding with Syria.

Of the 43 "former officials and experts" consulted -- including Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books, Thomas Friedman, Leslie Gelb, Sandy Berger, Anthony Lake, Ken Pollack, Thomas Ricks, and George Will -- the ISG did not find it necessary to talk with, say, Victor Davis Hanson, Lawrence Wright, Robert Kaplan, Mark Steyn, Michael Ledeen, Reuel Marc Gerecht, or Christopher Hitchens. The ISG did talk with Bill Kristol. I wonder how long that sit down lasted?

The report combines an almost limitless condescension towards the "Iraqi sovereign government," even going so far as to lay out a timetable for its exact legislative program for the next six months, with a cavalier indifference to the Syrian death squads operating in Lebanon, and the certain nature of the Iranian regime -- still, on this very day, hosting the anti-Holocaust conference.
There are no easy answers. It was always a risk that in taking down Hussein, the country would fragment like the former Yugoslavia did.

Devotional Thoughts: How we ought to live - love

Am looking at 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 today.

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

We often think of love as a feeling. For some people of my age, the iconic film on romantic love, love as a feeling, would be West Side Story. That feeling is probably best captured in Tonight:
Tonight, tonight,
Won't be just any night,
Tonight there will be no morning star.
Tonight, tonight, I'll see my love tonight.
And for us, stars will stop where they are.
Today
The minutes seem like hours,
The hours go so slowly,
And still the sky is light . . .
Oh moon, grow bright,
And make this endless day endless night!
However, when we think about love more carefully, we realize there is a lot more to love than emotion. After all, God commands us to love. One cannot command an emotion. Emotions simply are.

I confess to having some of the most selfish impulses that often leave me wondering if God is truly changing me.

But I suppose God is changing me because in addition to the selfish impulse is now the impulse that follows that says, you shouldn't be so selfish. At that point, I have to decide which impulse will I act on. In this way, love becomes an action and a choice and not mere warm fuzzy feelings.

May the Spirit of God bring to the fore more impulses that are less Rene centered and more God centered! And may the Holy Spirit strengthen my will to action when prompted. Amen.

Sports: UCLA vs. Florida State in the Emerald Bowl

I'm surprised to see that UCLA is a 5 point favorite over Florida State in the Emerald Bowl. FSU's losses with the exception of the Wake Forrest game had close scores. In total yards/game the two teams are evenly matched. FSU's defense in terms of yards/game is somewhat better than UCLA. For a full breakdown of the game, check out this analysis by ESPN.

I just hope the team can refocus on the job ahead after the emotional victory over USC.

After a shaky start in the 2005 Sun Bowl, UCLA roared back from a big deficit to win going away. However, UCLA in 2004 lost to Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl and in 2003 lost to Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Bowl in very lack luster performances.

Sports: What a fan is is what a fan does ...

What can I say?

The Bruins went from bums to being, maybe, just maybe, a legit rival again.

So I plunked down the deposit on season tickets for the 2007 UCLA Football season.

As a perk, they gave me two tickets to the Emerald Bowl.

Alas, I've already filed for my PTO at work and the Emerald Bowl doesn't fall on the right days. However, I instructed the athletic department to donate my two tickets to military personnel.

Devotional Thoughts: How we ought to live - sex drive

Taking a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 today.

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

How do we decide what is the right and wrong thing to do?

Those with a religious conviction will cite some source as guidance. Every religion has some text that embodies their beliefs. Obviously in the theistic religions where God is more interactive, the texts are more defined as in the case of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In the non-theistic belief systems (Hinduism and Buddhism) where God is less interactive or polytheistic or pantheistic there is a larger number of texts and even the texts that are regarded more highly do not appear to rise to the same level of authority as the theistic systems.

I was listening on the radio on the Dennis Prager show and his guest was a academic studying moral impulses. It was an interesting discussion about the traditional evolutionary psychology position that morality evolved from individuals who do good providing survival benefit for the community of at large. I'm not sure if the guest was completely behind that position because he made a distinction between the moral impulse versus the moral act. In other words, he wanted to test the "gut reaction" people had to a given scenario and not what they would actually do in the circumstance. His research group found the impulses are fairly universal regardless of religious background.

He did go on to acknowledge that how people act on the impulse can vary. He seemed to admit that it is possible that religious people might choose to act differently than non-religious people despite having the same impulse.

He also made the observation that sociopaths appear to have moral impulses but for whatever reason those impulses are completely disconnected from their actions.

Why this seemingly disconnected journey down this rabbit trail?

The next part of the passage:

It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Yes, it is about sex. There is no question that the sex drive is a part of the human experience.

During the UCLA vs. USC football game, the fans in front of me spotted a television personality and called out her name: LINDSAY SOTO!!!


Fox Sports News Reporter Lindsay Soto
image source http://www.ocregister.com/newsimages/sports/2005/06/0610soto.jpg

She flashed her megawatt smile and waved to her adoring fans!

I would guess that 99 out of 100 guys first reaction was: WOW, she's HOT!

After that initial reaction, reality sets in and other thoughts like these will enter a guys mind:
(1) while she's hot, I'm not and though she might be a nice person and give me the time of day if I asked her that would probably be as far as it would get
(2) perhaps she is married already or with someone so I really shouldn't get my hopes up
(3) I'm married and should not keep thinking about somebody other than my own hot smokin' wife
(4) and yes, there is probably 1 in a 100 guys who say, nah, she's not hot and has no struggle with lustful thoughts for the lovely sideline reporter in this example.

All this to say, the guest on Prager's show might be onto something separating moral impulses from moral actions.

Certainly, in the sexual impulse realm there is a separation. The Biblical guidelines on sexual morality are quite clear. Thus, in practical terms, the hot blooded single male has impulses but his moral requirement is celibate singleness. For the hot blooded married male the impulses to stray are constrained by the moral requirement to monogamous marriage. And yes, for the hot blooded Christian male who has homosexual impulses, he is constrained just the same as the heterosexual male.

The single Christian heterosexual male has the possibility that he might meet and marry the woman who becomes the love of his life and those impulses will have fulfillment in holy matrimony. The married man who stays faithful in loving his wife is rewarded with a companion until death do they part. The homosexual male who is committed to Christian morality has impulses that cannot be fulfilled. That is a huge burden and should he fail in resisting, he is no more and no less in need of correction and restoration as the single man who sleeps around or the married man who commits adultery.

In the animal world, I heard that elephant seals practice one male to multiple females. The alpha male beats up any other males that try to encroach on his harem. At one time, that was a common practice in human societies as well.

Thus, does impulse = moral? It would seem not.

Lord, help me to live a holy life. Help me to guard my thoughts. Lord, thank you that you have created women to be beautiful. Thank you that you have brought good women into my life to bless and challenge me to grow as a man of faith. Help me to honor, care for and love them in a way that is appropriate to the relationship I have with each one thus bringing honor to you. Amen.

Life: Nothing But Nets Follow Up

A little while ago, I posted on the Nothing But Nets campaign to collect money to buy mosquito nets to send to Africa.

Rick Reilly wrote a follow up to the column he first wrote back in April.

The idea is simple: $10 allows a net to be bought and sent to Africa to save a life or two. These bed nets allow someone to sleep inside it at night and keeps the mosquitos that spread malaria away.

Here is an excerpt from Reilly's first article:
I've never asked for anything before, right? Well, sorry, I'm asking now.

We need nets. Not hoop nets, soccer nets or lacrosse nets. Not New Jersey Nets or dot-nets or clarinets. Mosquito nets.

See, nearly 3,000 kids die every day in Africa from malaria. And according to the World Health Organization, transmission of the disease would be reduced by 60% with the use of mosquito nets and prompt treatment for the infected.

Three thousand kids! That's a 9/11 every day!
..........
We gotta get these nets. They're coated with an insecticide and cost between $4 and $6. You need about $10, all told, to get them shipped and installed. Some nets can cover a family of four. And they last four years. If we can cut the spread of disease, 10 bucks means a kid might get to live. Make it $20 and more kids are saved.
Here is an excerpt from his recent follow up column:
It was the alltime no-brainer. Skip lunch; save a life. Buy the Top-Flites instead of the Titleists; save a life. Don't bet on the Redskins; save a life. Nothing to research. No government to topple. No warlords to fight.

Bless your little hearts, all 17,000-plus of you who chipped in more than $1.2 million -- enough to buy 150,000 nets, which the United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organization started hanging all over Nigeria, where kids younger than five are getting murdered by mosquitoes that come out only at night.

I know, because I saw the nets. Just got back. Feel a little bad about going without you. After all, it was your money. So let's pretend it was you who made the trip, not me.
............
And they'd play a soccer game in your honor that featured nine-year-olds who played like 14-year-olds in the U.S., on fields full of weeds and trash, with goals made of tree branches. In three games the closest thing you saw to a boy with shoes was a set of brothers who wore one sock each.

And they'd hand you the mike, and you'd try to say how blown away you were and how you wished you could raise 100 times more in donations, because already one hospital in Nigeria is saying that since the nets went up, outpatient cases of malaria have dropped from 80 a month to 50. But they'd all put their hands to their ears and go, "What?"

When you bribed the drummers into taking a union break, you finally met the people you'll never forget: the mothers. Turns out they're nothing but nuts about the nets. In fact, so many mothers want the nets that to get one, the World Health Organization requires them to bring their kids in for a measles vaccination. How often do you get two for one on diseases?

You met a mother who walked half a day to get a net. You met a woman who sleeps with her four kids under her net, maybe because she knows that three out of every 10 child deaths in Nigeria are from malaria.


Sports: UCLA 13 USC 9

Woo hoo!!!

To think a few days ago, I almost sold the tickets!

Game ball to Dwayne Walker, the UCLA defensive coordinator for coming up with the plan and motivating the defense to a bend but don't break performance. If you saw a 9 on the scoreboard, you would have assumed it was UCLA. However, today, the defense allowed only 7 points (the other 2 was from a safety) and shut out USC in the second half. There were many key 3rd down and 4th down stops by the Bruins!

Game ball to Pat Cowan for using his feet to defeat USC. Cowan gained 55 yards scrambling and with rollouts bought himself time to make some completions. He showed the heart of a fierce competitor on a 3 and 15 scramble that netted only 7 yards but he took a monster hit that the fans in our section heard and gasped. Cowan bounced right up and trotted off the field.

Game ball to Eric McNeal who got his hand on the pass to deflect it and kept after it to gain the interception. It was 3rd down and 4 when he made the interception. If he had only batted it down, USC would have one more shot to get the first down and would have had one more minute left to score while in the red zone.

Game ball to Justin Medlock who got 7 points: 6 by field goal and 1 by PAT.

Game ball to Aaron Perez who punted. Not all of them were very good but good enough. On the last punt, he got 63 yards!

Other key items:

Penalties! USC with 9 for 56 yards compared to 3 by UCLA costing 21 yards. Some of the USC penalties were drive killers.

Rushing yards: USC got only 55 compared to UCLA's 121. Without Reggie Bush, the USC ground game didn't have a big play threat which allowed UCLA's defense to watch the wide-outs and pressure the quarterback.

Just like 24 years ago, I was on the north side end zone where the final moments of the drama unfolded. 24 years ago, USC got the ball at the far end of the field and marched down toward our seats. They got the TD but was sacked on the 2-point conversion preserving the 20-19 UCLA victory. Today, USC got the ball at their 20 with nearly 6 minutes left and marched down the field assuming they were going to win.

From Yahoo! Sports:

1st-10, USC29 5:52 J. Booty sacked by B. Davis
2nd-14, USC25 5:10 J. Booty incomplete pass to the right
3rd-14, USC25 4:42 J. Booty passed to S. Smith to the left for 13 yard gain
4th-1, USC38 4:31 J. Booty rushed up the middle for 1 yard gain
1st-10, USC39 4:05 J. Booty incomplete pass to the left
2nd-10, USC39 3:59 J. Booty passed to C. Gable down the middle for 7 yard gain
3rd-3, USC46 3:25 J. Booty passed to F. Davis to the right for 5 yard gain
1st-10, UCLA49 3:10 J. Booty passed to S. Smith down the middle for 7 yard gain
2nd-3, UCLA42 2:50 C. Gable rushed up the middle for no gain
3rd-3, UCLA42 2:01 J. Booty passed to S. Smith to the right for 17 yard gain
1st-10, UCLA25 1:50 J. Booty passed to C. McFoy to the left for 6 yard gain
2nd-4, UCLA18 1:50 J. Booty incomplete pass down the middle

3rd-4, UCLA18 1:15 E. McNeal intercepted J. Booty for no gain

We were on our feet the last 5 minutes screaming like crazy hoping against hope that the defense would keep them out of the end zone to seal the victory.

All fans were up hollering and jumping up and down, USC fans urging their team forward for the last minute victory and UCLA fans urging their team for a dramatic defensive stand. When the interception happened, it was like slow motion as I saw the UCLA fans continuing to jump up and down and screaming and hollering and the USC fans looking down silent in disbelief immobile.

UCLA 13 USC 9.

Unbelievable.

Sports: D-day U$C vs. UCLA

I'm going to the game. A few days ago, my devotion to the Bruins was wavering but after talking to a Cal Bear alum friend who said she went to every home game in a 1-10 season, I knew I had to hang my head in shame for even thinking of selling my tickets and not going to the game.

Check out this item to get a feeling for the intensity of this rivalry. The blogger quotes from the LA Times, a fellow blogger and makes a few terse remarks. Okay, it is way over the top but you get the picture of what this rivalry is about.

Here is the excerpt from the LA Times:
How best to put this?

You are not a real UCLA fan unless the thought of knocking USC out of the national title game today makes you giggle out loud in an empty room.

This nexus of neurons got you through a half-day of work Friday before you feigned a scratchy throat, went home, turned out the lights and tried to channel Tommy Prothro.

Like breathing, this is a basic, involuntary, primal, rivalry instinct.

Your season stinks, you're trying to justify the tanks of gas it'll take to get you to the Emerald Bowl, you hurt in your solar plexus and relief will come only when you see rivulets of mascara dripping down the faces of anguished Trojans cheerleaders at the end of today's joy-filled UCLA conquest.
He quotes from another blogger ...
Coach, YOU OWE THIS TO YOUR TEAM. You are leading a group of kids who have NEVER felt the pride of beating their cross-town rival. These young men have worked, sweated, endured injuries, and will gladly leave everything on the field tomorrow if YOU can find it within yourself to inspire them. Can you?

When warriors have prevailed against overwhelming odds, they didn't accomplish their miracles by being cold, calculating, and reserved. They did it by summoning every part of their souls to defeat the enemy.
Go Bruins!

Religion: YSMarko.com

Another blogger I've been visiting came about because of my recent attendance of the Youth Specialties National Youth Worker's Convention. The president of the organization is Mark Oestreicher and he blogs here.

He links to this item on why one blogger is no longer going to youth group. Something for all of us who are involved with youth to think about.

Excerpt:
Youth are more willing to 'dive deeper' than one might think. As Dr. Faith Kirkham-Hawkins (Emory professor of Youth and Religion, as well as YTI's Director) put it in a seminar she led at a N. GA Conference event, "Teenagers are showing up to youth group, and they're coming in droves. But, they're still dying inside." How good of a job are we doing at bringing them Life?
Mark relates something Tony Campolo said recently: We do not take God into places where He doesn’t exist; we join God where God is already at work. God works in mysterious ways which we often don't see. I think what we have to do is be a lot more open to saying "it might be a God thing" in a lot more circumstances than we normally would and dive in!

Culture: "Lifestyle Choices"

Another blog I've been checking into lately is Mere Comments which is a word play on Mere Christianity the famous book by C.S. Lewis where Lewis provides a thoughtful, common sense and, at times, pointed explanation of Christian theology and morality.

Here is a recent post over at Mere Comments of the pointed but common sense variety about the folly of "lifestyle choices." Excerpt:
Now there's a deadly phrase, a stupid one, actually, "lifestyle choices," to cover up the fact that not all the choices are equal, and some are dangerous. The family, and children, are fragile in certain ways and we can't ignore those ways without bad things happening.

So here's where "stupid" comes in. If we respect the delicate balance of eco-systems as we say we do (or should), why should that exclude human beings? ....

A farmer has a few "farmer-style choices": he can plant corn, wheat, soybeans, raise cows, pigs, or chickens. But other choices will undo him: he can't sow seed in November just because he wants to, and he has to sow it at a certain depth. He can't use the soybean field for tractor pulls at the same time. There is an art to his husbandry and doing the wrong things will harm his animals. They will not thrive. Anyone watching him destroy his farm and crow about his "choices" will just say, "Stupid farmer."
Indeed.

@ the movies: The Nativity Story


Mary, Joseph and their faithful donkey taking a break on their long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census. 100 miles is nothing for us today but 2000 years ago that meant a trip by foot!

The Nativity Story opens in theaters on Friday, December 1, 2006.

I had the opportunity to see the film in a pre-release screening as a guest of Grace Hill Media. I recommend it highly.

For those who believe, the film will be a devotional experience amidst the busyness of the Christmas season reminding us what Christmas is truly about. For those who are skeptics, I hope they will still nonetheless the film and grasp the earthiness of the Christian story: God came to earth in the form of a baby to parents and people with dirty feet and rough hands.


Mary and Joseph growing closer while on the journey to Bethlehem.

The Bible account of the Nativity is very brief. The part the film covers can be found in Matthew and Luke.

The film has to engage in some speculation as to what the story was beyond what we have in the Gospel records.

For instance, what was the relationship between Mary and Joseph like?



How would Mary react to hearing: "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

How would Joseph react to Mary telling him this?

I was very moved to watch how Michael Rich (screenwriter) and Catherine Hardwicke (director) unfold and develop the relationship between Mary and Joseph with humor and sensitivity.

The second thing that impressed me was the effort the film makers took to create an authentic look and feel to make the culture and history of the era come alive.

Particularly potent was the oppressiveness of the Roman Empire. Seeing the film helps me to understand why in the Gospel records, the followers of Jesus had such a hard time with him being the suffering Savior and not the revolutionary who would overthrow the Romans they so desperately wanted.



Finally, I loved the the usage of the Magi as comic relief. The film makers worked in all the relevant material from the Bible regarding the Magi and some of the speculation regarding what the astronomical phenomena they saw that drew them to Bethlehem. But they cleverly went beyond that and put in some humor through their bantering with each other.



Take the time out to go into a movie house to see this film. You'll be glad you did.

Images were obtained from the Yahoo! Movies Production Photos Page for The Nativity Story

UPDATE: The KPCC movie review radio show gave the film mixed reviews. One of the reviewers felt the film was a somewhat conventional telling of the story. He mentioned that the film was probably more ethnically real in that many of the actors cast for the film are of the right skin color for that region of the world. He also praised the production design that gave the film an authentic and gritty feel consistent with that time in history. The other reviewer liked the script and story details beyond the Biblical text but felt the director's visual style was poor and sense of pacing was not up to par. It was quite fascinating to hear that reviewer say, though I'm not a religious person I find the whole idea of what the Nativity means to be such a powerful concept. Both felt the 3 Magi's performances and use of humor to be a breath of fresh air.

Sports: UCLA vs. U$C Football Game this Saturday

The local sport talk radio is all about how big will USC's victory be and whether Karl Dorrell will get fired if the Bruins get blown out again.

***

I don't know if I heard it right but I think there was a radio commercial by H.D. Buttercup that said if UCLA wins the game, you can buy furniture for FREE at their store!

UPDATE: I heard the ad on the radio again so maybe it is for real... I think they said if you buy furniture up to $2000 worth and UCLA then wins on Saturday, you can get your money back.

UPDATE: The bet was if you buy $2000 or more and then if UCLA wins, you get a refund. This LA Times item says they are indeed tallying up the cost of the promotional as people came to the store on Sunday morning to get their refunds!

***

Pat Cowan will start at QB for UCLA in the big game on Saturday.

***

UCLA has received and accepted a bid to a third tier bowl, the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.

The Emerald Bowl PR machine went into best face forward spin mode to make the game sound more dramatic than the two ~0.500 team bowl it actually is. Excerpt:
UCLA becomes the first Pacific-10 Conference team to play in the Emerald Bowl.

Florida State has never before played a game in Northern California. The Seminoles' last West Coast appearance was a 14-7 victory over USC in 1997. This season marks the 25th consecutive year Florida State has been invited to a bowl game.

The two teams have never met.
........
We're thrilled to bring Bobby Bowden, the winningest coach in college football history.... The Bruins bring great tradition and the nation's second-largest media market. To be able to match UCLA against Florida State in the first year of our ACC vs. Pac-10 match-up is a dream come true for our game.
It goes on and on like that trying to pump up the game. Gotta give credit to their public relations writer!

***

This is a family friendly blog so I am a little hesitant to provide this link but for those who want to understand a little bit of the intensity of the USC vs. UCLA rivalry, you can check out this R-rated (for foul language) video blog post.

***

The rivalry extends to other sports and Lexus has capitalized on it for marketing purposes by awarding the Gauntlet Trophy to the school that fares better in a variety of sports.

Culture: Why Marry?

I'm enjoying the occasional visit over to Boundless: the line.

Here is a recent item that caught my eye.

As a single guy, I do wonder if my views of marriage are excessively idealistic and thus may have made attainment of marriage an idol and essentially impossible?

Here are some excerpts from the blog post by Denise Morris:
As I look at my own life and also the attitudes of my single friends, I have to agree with these sociologists. I think we have overly-idealized what marriage is and should be. We expect the person we marry to be perfect, we desire a romantic story to describe how we met, and we hold out forever in search of "the one." The idea of personal choice has been idolized in Western society, and I think it has definitely affected the way we think about marriage. It causes us to delay getting married until we think we'll be supremely happy with that choice.
..........
Now, I am not saying that you should run out and marry the next person you meet. I do think there's a lot of wisdom, discernment and prayer involved in choosing a spouse. You don't want to marry any jerk who comes along. However, I do think we should approach marriage in a way that causes us to ponder how this relationship will glorify God instead of how it will be most pleasing to me.
I have been trying to gain a more realistic view of marriage and a little while ago, I was thumbing through my hardly used copy of the Presbyterian Church USA Book of Confessions and came across the entry on marriage within the Westminster Confession of Faith. Excerpt:
I. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time.

II. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife; for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness.
You must remember the Westminster Confession was written in 1646 so the wording sounds a bit strange.

Point #1 is pretty clear: One man with one woman at any one time.

Point #2 is could use a bit of updating into 21st Century language! How about this:

Marriage was intended for the benefit of both husband and wife; for the propagation of children and raising them within the family of faith; and for the moral protection and growth of all involved.


One wonders if the decline of marriage within America and even within American religious communities could be traceable to the decline in "creedal" and "old fashioned" understanding of marriage and the acceptance of the self-fulfilment ethos of this age?

Devotional Thoughts: The kinder and gentler Paul

1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 is nice slice of life moment.

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.

I would bet some people have the view of Saint Paul as this hard-nosed General Patton like character. There were definitely moments when he was INTENSE to the Nth degree. But reading this passage, we see the kinder and gentler Apostle Paul. It seems downright sappy!

Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

There might not be anything more delightful than to see other people grow. Not being a parent I don't have that experience in its fullness. However, in life, I've lived long enough to see my nephew and neice grow from tiny squirming bundles to adults in the making. I've participated in church life long enough to see students grow up to become the teachers. It is a good feeling to simply see it. It is a terrific feeling to know that you had a tiny part in the process.

Paul and his companions prayed for this church ...

Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

As an unexpected youth volunteer, I have to remind myself that part of my "work" with the youth besides going to events and preparing Bible lessons is to pray. I claim no knowledge about how prayer actually works but it does and God tells us to do it. So, what am I (are we) waiting for?

What did they pray for?

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.

Opportunity to spend time with them. In the old days travel was slow and hard. Today, travel is relatively easy, at least in the USA and other developed nations, but we simply get busy with stuff. This kind of prayer is probably even more needful today.

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

More love. Right relationships. Loving those within the circle of the church also those outside we have contact with. We all have "neighbors" we are to love.

There are the physical ones next door, the vocational ones at work, the biological ones in our immediate and extended families, the volitional ones in friends, the incidental ones in acquaintances and other people we meet in day-to-day life and indeed, even "virtual" ones via the internet.

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

More holiness. Right living. Doing the right thing even if it is hard. Doing the right thing even if nobody is looking.

Lord Jesus, thank you for this window into the heart of Paul. Indeed, he was a passionate advocate of theology and detailed explainer of the significance and meaning of what Jesus did. However, he also cared about those he ministered to. God, help me to have that kind of passion for the truth and for loving others. Amen.

Sports: UCLA vs. USC - to sell or not to sell that is the question ...

I bought two tickets for UCLA-USC football game earlier in the year when prospects were still good for the Bruins. Alas, now, it is hard to find a UCLA alum football fan who wants to go to see what amounts to be a ritual sacrifice: USC to earn the favor of the BCS gods will kill the Bruins.

My guess is that "style" points will not be needed but since this is a rivalry game, nothing less than total demolition of the opposition is demanded by the faithful. I threw out a 56-0 score as a possibility in one of my prior posts over at my other blog where I have been posting since D-7 and will continue to do a least a daily post about the famed but now moribund rivalry.

Anyway, the question before me: do I sell the tickets?

They are selling above face value. It is highly likely that USC fans are buying up tickets UCLA fans are unloading.

I have not attended a UCLA vs. USC contest live in 24 years. Would I desire to see a blowout?

Or would I achieve some sense of liberterian satisfaction making money on my tickets selling them to a USC fan?

I mean they would be happy to sit in the UCLA section in their red sweaters and make noise as there team steamrolls down the field.

I'd make some money out of it.

I'd be spared attending a game with little to cheer for.

As a good libertarian, that is about as good as it gets: making some money out of a bad situation.

But as a UCLA alum, would that be a denial of faith? A failure of devotion?

What if a miracle occurs and the Bruins pull off the greatest upset in the history of NCAA football and I wouldn't be there?

Or would I feel satisfied with my money in the bank and USC fans sitting in the UCLA section watching the horror of their team fumbling away a shot at the National Title?

Indeed, the existential question remains: to sell or not to sell...

What do you think Dear Rambling Readers?

Help me decide what to do. I still have time to post my tickets on StubHub!

ed. note - I'm only 1/4 serious when I wrote this! I hope people realize I'm being melodramatic to be entertaining as part of the hype in the run up to the game. 8-)

Culture: What Divides Americans?

Why do we feel that America is getting more polarized?

We all have that vague or not so vague sense that that is true.

What is at the core of this?

(1) Faith in God - one part of America believes that God (of the Judeo-Christian variety) places moral obligations upon us while another part of America believes that religious belief is, at best, non-sense and, at worst, the source of all sorts of evil in the world.

(2) America's role in the world - one part of America believes that the United States is the new Roman Empire and the source of all sorts of evil in the world while another part still gets misty eyed when they sing The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America and believes Americans though far from perfect do a lot of good in the world.

I heard this analysis this morning on Prager's radio show.

World: Iraq 3+ years later

I went back to the archives and found this item I posted giving my analysis of the impending war in Iraq. ed. note - I had to recompile the post to generate a permalink as it was such an old post. I made some minor edits but no changes in substance.

As a blogger, my past thoughts are "on record" and I felt it was time to re-visit this topic given what is happening in Iraq these days.

Back then I said ...
If Bush wants to get re-elected in 2004, he should drop the war with Iraq and throw all his energy and political clout on turning the economy around. The polls tell him that Americans are concerned about the economy first and foremost. The only way the war will benefit Bush is if it is swift (probable), the WMDs get found (probable), post-war Iraq is rebuilt into a peaceful nation (doubtful before Nov. 2004) and the American people haven’t forgotten by election day (ask Bush41). Feeling lucky GW?
If the Democrats had fielded a better candidate than John Kerry, it is quite possible that Bush would have been defeated in 2004. The war was taking its toll on Bush's support but Kerry was such a weak candidate that Bush squeezed out a very narrow victory.

The initial phase of the war was swift.

The stockpiles WMDs were not found. Instead, we found old left over chemical weapons and indications that Iraq desired to reconstitute the program and had the knowledge and some of the equipment to do so. The experience proved that intelligence estimates are never a sure thing.

The rebuilding of Iraq has clearly proved to be much more difficult than the initial invasion. It is pretty hard to build a country when two (Shia and Sunni) of the three main groups in the nation would rather kill each other than work together for the good of the whole.

In my post 3+ years ago, I made the case that the war was not about oil and gave four reasons. I stand by those four reasons. I want to reiterate reason number four:
(4) If the war is just about oil then why bother with the hassle of dealing with the UN? The world hates us anyway, why waste time working with the UN? Just go in there and start the bombing tomorrow?
I know that sounds crude but isn't it the truth though? Who would stop us? Would the Russians throw nukes at New York city to stop us? If we really wanted the oil, we could just take it.

Even now, if we really want only the oil, we could end the civil war and take the oil. It is really quite simple: send in the B-52s and level towns in the Anbar province and Sadr City in Baghdad and any other locations with forces fueling the civil unrest.

If America truly lived down to the stereotype of being the 21st Century Roman Empire then that is what we would do.

I also said the following back then...
He could have left Iraq alone and concentrated on other matters that could score him more political points. Instead, he believes Hussein poses a danger and has staked his presidency and his standing for history by pursuing an UNPOPULAR war.
In all likelihood, Bush will leave office in 2009 much like LBJ did: with a war being the main chapter of his presidency. Whether one agreed with Bush or not, he made a choice about what he believed to be right. Right now the verdict would be negative but the episode is not complete. At the moment, there doesn't appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel and Iraq seems on a fast track to self-destruction. It almost seems like it isn't about the Americans anymore. It seems more about Sunni-Shia hatred that Hussein bottled up with a totalitarian iron fist much like Tito did in the former Yugoslavia.

Newsweek columnist Zakaria expressed his views in a recent article. Excerpt:
The Shiite ruling coalition and the Sunni insurgency both believe that if only the United States were to get out of the way, they could defeat their enemies outright.
........
While these are not conditions that suggest a political deal is likely, there is nothing to be lost in trying. When President Bush meets with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan this week, he should make clear that Iraq's leaders need to come to an agreement that meets both sides' key demands on such issues as autonomy, oil revenues and amnesty. But he needs to deliver an ultimatum: either the government begins implementing such a deal by January or American troops will begin a drawdown, leaving the core tasks of security to Iraqi forces.
In short, Zakaria is saying, either work it out or we pull out and let you kill each other.

My final thoughts back then were these:
From listening to the UNMOVIC reports, it is probably unlikely that Hussein has nuclear bombs and probably won’t have them anytime soon. It is a pretty complicated technology to master. However, if we allow them to keep working on it, they will eventually get a nuclear capability.

They have a history of using chemicals in battle and competency to make biologicals. The US should provide as much intelligence as possible to UNMOVIC to "find" them and thus ratchet further the pressure on Hussein. Next, the US should set a deadline. Right now, French, Russia, China and others can say, let’s give the inspectors more time and be very hostile to the US in their public statements. But once a proposal is out on the floor with a date certain, they will have to think harder if they want to veto. And in back channel communications, the USA and UK should make it abundantly clear that if Iraq doesn’t come clean, then military action will be taken with (preferable) or without UN support.
Regaring nuclear technology, indeed Iraq was a long way off. The Gulf war set that back hugely.

As for chemical and biologicals, apparently Iraq would have reconstituted the programs once fraying UN sanctions were ended.

I posted my initial analysis on February, 2003. US military forces continued to flow into the region. There would be some last minute activity in the UN but it was becoming clear that no Security Council resolution would be passed as a veto was sure to be exercised by either France, Russia or China. For a rundown of all the events leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom check this item over at GlobalSecurity.org.

Dr. Mark Conversino gave his view of the Iraqi invasion in his analysis of Operation Desert Fox:
Yet when DESERT FOX ended a mere 70 hours after it began, Saddam remained firmly in power - minus some of his infrastructure - and the Iraqi dictator could claim to his people and to the world that once again, he had withstood an onslaught from the most powerful form of America’s and the West’s armed might - airpower. The status of Iraq’s WMD programs would remain a mystery and these programs were now beyond the scrutiny of the UN. Moreover, DESERT FOX lacked clear political goals, an omission for which no amount of firepower could compensate. Despite the militarily effective, if brief, application of airpower, Saddam Hussein not only survived, he succeeded in ending UN inspections and retained both the intent and capability to restart his WMD programs once sanctions either collapsed or were lifted. Only the fall of Baghdad in 2003 to coalition forces ended once and for all the threat from Saddam’s murderous regime and his quest for weapons of mass destruction.
Military operations against Iraq began at around 9:30 PM EST on March 19, 2003.

Culture: National Park Visits Declining

Saw an interesting item over at the LA Times reporting a 20% decline in visits over the last 10 years.

Why is this happening?

Here are some excerpts:
Agency officials admit that national parks are doing a poor job attracting two large constituencies - young people and minorities - causing concerns about the parks' continued appeal to a changing population.

A study commissioned by the park service and released in 2003 found that only 13% of the African Americans interviewed had visited a park in the previous two years.

For more than a year, the appropriations committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has been asking the park service to explain how it intends to attract more minorities to parks.
................
Meanwhile, the parks' most loyal visitors over the last several decades are vacationing elsewhere. Baby boomers are changing the way they play. Some of the more adventurous have embraced mountain biking and similar sports that are not allowed in many national parks. But as they age, most boomers are less interested in pitching tents and sleeping on the ground.

"I do believe that there is a significant trend, 'Done before dinner,' " said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Assn. "Baby Boomers want hard adventure by day and soft adventure by night. They want to paddle and rock-climb and also their Cabernet and almond-crusted salmon with asparagus. And a nice bed."

Many young families, too, are spurning the parks. According to Emilyn Sheffield, a social scientist at Cal State Chico on loan to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, children have more say in family vacation destinations than ever before and, if they must be outdoors, they prefer theme parks.

But, even if children vote to visit a park, Sheffield said, many families spend no more than three hours traveling to vacation destinations, meaning that parks far from urban areas are getting a pass. In contrast, urban parks, including the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and San Francisco's Golden Gate National Recreation Area, are among the most heavily used parks in the country.
......
Cultural insensitivity might be less of an issue if there were more minorities employed in parks. J.T. Reynolds, the superintendent of Death Valley National Park and an African American, said recruiting more diversity in the ranger ranks has been a long-standing but largely failed effort by the park service. Eighty percent of full-time park employees are white, despite minority recruitment efforts.
........
James Gramann, a social scientist at Texas A&M University and visiting chief social scientist for the park service, cautioned, "We can't be driven simply by changes in public tastes, because we also have responsibilities to resources that we are mandated to protect."

Critics contend that if park service officials become slaves to recreational fashion, national parks would roar with the sound of jet skis, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, and cellphone towers would rise among redwoods and touch-screen computers would dot wilderness trails.

"When you put technical contrivances in, it replaces nature, and what sets the parks apart is their authenticity," said Bill Tweed, former chief resource ranger at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

"The next generation will challenge the national parks. They might ask, 'Why do we need parks when we can simulate them?' In a rush to make parks relevant, we will end up destroying what makes them unique."

Life: How people react to Christianity?

As a Christian who happens also to be a molecular biologist, I get very different responses from people upon finding out that I'm a Christian.

I think there have been four types of responses.

(1) I'm a Christian too! That's cool that you are in the sciences and a person of faith. This kind of respondant might then go on to say, sometimes people think faith means leaving your brain in neutral so it is nice to know that doesn't have to be the case. Christianity is thus a "true religion" to this person.

(2) That's cool you are a Christian. I think all roads lead to god and its good you believe in something. This person holds to "religious pluralism."

(3) That's cool you are a Christian but I think religions are just fairy tales but if those fairy tales make people do good and be happy than I'm all for it. This skeptic thinks of Christianity as a "useful fiction."

(4) How can you be a Christian? Religions are just lies and the source of all sorts of evil in the world and throughout history. This individual believes faith in general is a "dangerous evil."

How does one behave "Christianly" in response to these responses?

Something to think about, eh?

Devotional Thoughts: Keeping in touch

Checking out 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5.

The Bible is quite down to earth. The Old Testament is a collection of what happened to the people of Israel in their ups and downs of following God. The New Testament are the Gospels (records of Jesus teaching and deeds), Acts (activities of the early church), Letters (Paul and other early church leaders giving advice to churches and individuals) and Revelation (a vivid description of the battle between good and evil).

The passage I'm looking at today is a window into the lives of Paul and his concern for the group of followers. There is no high flying theology here (there is theology nonetheless) but what comes across is the daily grind of what it means to follow Jesus.

But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you - even I, Paul, time and again - but Satan hindered us.

Rene's really loose paraphrase: WE miss you guys and gals! We've wanted to see you but things just keep getting in the way of those plans!

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.

Rene's really loose paraphrase: Do you know what makes us really happy? The fact that one of these days we will be having a grand reunion with Jesus when the Kingdom arrives in fullness. We are really delighted to know you all!

Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.

Rene's really loose paraphrase: I couldn't stand it anymore, so I sent my trusted aide Timothy to check on you and to strengthen your faith amidst the tough times which are an inevitable part of following Jesus.

For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.

Rene's really loose paraphrase: When I was teaching you, I had told you all that we would be under pressure by those who oppose following Jesus and that is what is happening now. You all seemed so worried about this and so since I've been away from you, I've been concerned about you. 2000 years from now, I could pick up the phone and call you but for now, all I can do is send Timothy to encourage you and to hear from him how you all are doing when he gets back to me. I'd feel awful if your faith was shaken and our work with you came to nothing.

Lord Jesus, I pray for people who I know who are wrestling with their faith. Some may be anxious about particular circumstances. Some have felt disillusioned with the church. Some struggle with aspects of the faith that are hard to understand and accept. Lord, bless each one. To the extent, I can be an encouragement, help me to lift them up with prayers, words, deeds and constancy of love. Tomorrow, am sharing with our church's junior high group and I need you to bless my feeble efforts. Allow me, an imperfect and broken vessel to be the means our young people receive the refreshing water of the word so that their faith would be nourished. Amen.

World: Mess in Lebanon

Was listening to Dennis Prager's radio show and telephone guest was Michael Young, opinion editor of the Daily Star, an English language newspaper published in Beirut.

Prager asked him a whole bunch of questions to get a handle on the situation over there.

The main ideas I got was that Lebanon's government is divided into pro- and anti-Syria factions. The Prime Minister is anti-Syria, the President is pro-Syria and there are 24 cabinent ministers with most being anti-Syria.

However, a government will be in constitutional collapse if 9 cabinet ministers depart from the government either by resignation (the entire pro-Syrian wing has resigned) and there have been assasinations of several anti-Syrian ministers.

Prager asked, why can't new ministers be named to replace those resigned and assassinated?

The reporter said, they must gain the approval of the pro-Syrian President!

As it stands, if two more ministers resign or are assassinated, the government will be constitutionally non-viable.

Young fears that the USA will give into the Syrians in exchange for help in Iraq which would leave Lebanon once again totally dominated by the Syrians.

I hope somehow the USA can help both the Iraqis and Lebanese get their countries back from radicals.

Life: How not to misplace your car in the parking lot

Heard on the radio a tip for Thanksgiving shoppers: use your camera phone to take a picture of where your car is parked!

Life: Happy Thanksgiving Where Ever You Are!

Psalm 147:1-11

Praise the LORD!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant,and a song of praise is fitting.
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
The LORD lifts up the humble;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre!
He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry.
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Sports: UCLA Wins Maui Invitational

UCLA defeats Georgia Tech to win the Maui Invitational.

UCLA looks pretty balanced with good guard play from Affalo and Collison and solid front line work by Mbah a Moute and Mata. Shipp still seems a bit tentative probably due to the fact that injury kept him out almost the whole season last year. The team is able to play 10 deep.

Only trouble spot tonight was poor free throw shooting.

The season looks promising! Go Bruins!

Culture: Evangelistic Atheists

Over at Boundless: the line there is a post about the call by atheists to show that belief in God should be challenged. Excerpt:
Dr. Al Mohler explains that Dawkins isn't attempting to convince believers that they should no longer believe in God. "To the contrary," he says, "Dawkins is attempting a very different cultural and political move. He wants to make respect for belief in God socially unacceptable."
Those of us in the biological sciences have know this for years. The argument essentially comes down to: science = good and true, religion = bad (or a harmless fairy tale) and false.

Sam Harris is the other evangelist for atheism that has garnered a lot of attention.

There was once a time when apologetics (defense of Christian faith) type of organizations believed they could try to convince those outside of Christianity to consider faith. I think their mission now is going to be more defensive in trying to help Christians who are tottering on their faith to hold firm against the onslaught of opposition from an increasingly secular society.

As a molecular biologist, I think most of us in the sciences, when push comes to shove, recognize that science doesn't have all the answers. Science is a wonderful tool to figure certain things out; however, most of us know there are things we believe to be true that are beyond the reach of science. Love is one example. Notions of good and evil are another. Even the conversation of whether or not there is a god cuts both ways: god is a crutch we invented for some survival benefit or our hunger for a god (of some shape or form) suggests that there is actually a god just as hunger for food tells us there is something called food.

But in the final analysis, aside from recognizing the limits of science, there is the question of the transformation that religion when done right can accomplish.

I've been reading Yancey's latest book on Prayer and he had this quote that I marked and dog-earred the page (p. 125):
Wherever Christian missionaries have traveled they have left behind a trail of hospitals, clinics, orphanages, and schools. To preach God without the kingdom is no better than to preach the kingdom without God.
As a Christian, my prayer is that I would combine both clear thinking with good character.

UPDATE: This topic of scientists objecting to religion is clearly in the air. Here is a post over at Mere Comments in regard to a NYT item on a conference on science and religion.

Heading into the October international break

LA Galaxy have dropped two in a row and in both cases their defense was the culprit. As a result, they go into the MLS playoffs in fifth pla...