Friday, December 28, 2007

Politics: Choosing a candidate to support

There hasn't been such a wide open nomination race in a long time.

I'm trying to decide who I want to support.

As for full disclosure, I'm a registered Republican. My politics are center, center-right with a little libertarian thrown in.

Mayor Rudy certainly has the inspirational quality from his 9/11 experience and the New York city turnaround. But the hint of scandal seems to dog him and it would be a drag for his candidacy if he is constantly having to to fend off scandal stories. Counter-point: Clinton got elected twice despite a swirl of scandals.

Huck from what I'm told is quite the rousing speaker and that is big part of his meteoric rise in Iowa with the social conservatives. But from what I hear, he is too much the neophyte when it comes to foreign affairs and he isn't so fiscally conservative. Of course Jimmy Carter, Bil Clinton and George W. Bush were also largely untested governors and they all became president!

That leaves me with three serious options left: Mitt, Fred and Johnny Mac.

Mitt Romney has clearly got things organized over at his campaign and his business background gives me some confidence in his ability to get things done.

Fred Thompson exudes that common sense plain talk attitude that works for me.

And John McCain has experience and that maverick streak that might be needed to really shake things up in 2008.

So who shall I pick of these three?

Am open to persuasion.

I'll be checking out their web pages to see what they say about themselves and their views.

UPDATE: One of my political and internet savvy friends sent me the following ....



So according to this widget, my best match for a candidate was Romney with Giuliani and Thompson tied for second!

UPDATE: Found another quiz ...

Check this out.

That one says Romney is my top choice edging out McCain and then Giuliani!

Sports: UCLA football coach search, the saga continues ...

Plaschke has a point:

Two days. That's how long it took Mississippi to find a new head football coach.

Fifteen days. That's how long it took Washington State.

Sixteen days. That's how long it took Northern Illinois.

Nineteen days. That's how long it took Duke.

Twenty-five days and counting. That is how long it is taking UCLA, the self-styled heavyweight dropping in class by the day.

If this goes on any longer, the Bruins will be reduced to dueling Temple for the services of a coach with a 5-19 career record.

Oh, wait, that has already happened.

And UCLA was knocked out.


The guys over at Bruins Nation are trying to hold their fire and they are honest enough to admit that the coaches on their list are long shots.

So DG should hire RN soon unless as the BN people speculate DG is working up a deal no one has caught the scent of yet.

We shall see!

UPDATE: Its official. UCLA has hired Rick Neuheisel.

Youth: One of the favorite lyrics from Wicked

Many of the students in the youth group I'm a part of can break out in song from Wicked at the drop of a hat.

One of their favorite parts ...

"So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a hand print on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend ... "

-- from "For Good" from the musical Wicked

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment?

Job 24...

As I read the second half of Job's current monologue (started in Job 23), he is going all over the place: on one hand, the wicked getting away with it, on the other, the vulnerable suffering, and yet on another hand, the wicked getting whacked by God.

The wicked getting away with it...

Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment?
Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?
There are those who move boundary stones;
they pasture flocks they have stolen.
They drive away the orphan's donkey
and take the widow's ox in pledge.
They thrust the needy from the path
and force all the poor of the land into hiding.

I'm guessing moving boundary stones would be a way to rob somebody of their land or extending the reach of one's own. And how evil is it to steal someone's flock? And to top that evil they take advantage of the orphan, the widow, the needy and the poor. It is bad enough to cheat and steal but to do so at the expense of the downtrodden is a double dose.

The vulnerable suffering...

Like wild donkeys in the desert,
the poor go about their labor of foraging food;
the wasteland provides food for their children.
They gather fodder in the fields
and glean in the vineyards of the wicked.
Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked;
they have nothing to cover themselves in the cold.
They are drenched by mountain rains
and hug the rocks for lack of shelter.
The fatherless child is snatched from the breast;
the infant of the poor is seized for a debt.
Lacking clothes, they go about naked;
they carry the sheaves, but still go hungry.
They crush olives among the terraces;
they tread the winepresses, yet suffer thirst.
The groans of the dying rise from the city,
and the souls of the wounded cry out for help.


image source: http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/nm/20071228/2007_12_27t125755_450x347_us_pakistan_bhutto.jpg

Injustice is commonly cited in the argument against God.

But what if God has asked us to be guardians of justice?

How much of the injustice in the world is the fault of the wicked and how much of it is the fault of the good who fail to act?

There is a saying: all that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

Nonetheless, Job presses his case against God...

But God charges no one with wrongdoing.
There are those who rebel against the light,
who do not know its ways
or stay in its paths.
When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up,
kills the poor and needy,
and in the night steals forth like a thief.
The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk;
he thinks, 'No eye will see me,'
and he keeps his face concealed.
In the dark, thieves break into houses,
but by day they shut themselves in;
they want nothing to do with the light.
For all of them, midnight is their morning;
they make friends with the terrors of darkness.

Job is upset... God, these people are getting way with being evil!

Yet, Job backtracks...

Yet they are foam on the surface of the water;
their portion of the land is cursed,
so that no one goes to the vineyards.
As heat and drought snatch away the melted snow,
so the grave snatches away those who have sinned.
The womb forgets them,
the worm feasts on them;
the wicked are no longer remembered
but are broken like a tree.

The wicked do pay a price! Which do you really believe Job? Job is all over the map! Don't we get that way sometimes? I know I do and Job has "given us permission" to bare the wrestling match of our souls before God.

They prey on the barren and childless woman,
and to the widow show no kindness.

Job returns to the wicked briefly but again slams back to God is going to get them...

But God drags away the mighty by his power;
though they become established, they have no assurance of life.
He may let them rest in a feeling of security,
but his eyes are on their ways.
For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone;
they are brought low and gathered up like all others;
they are cut off like heads of grain.
If this is not so, who can prove me false
and reduce my words to nothing?

Job ends chapter 24 where he began in chapter 23... with confidence in the ultimate justice of God.

Lord, today, evil reared its head in the killing of Bhutto and many others in Pakistan. It looks like the wicked are marching to victory in that country. You are the king of all kings and the nations are but a drop in a bucket compared to you. I do not know how to pray and what to ask for. Yet, I'm compelled to express my anguish before you. I pray that the wicked see the wickedness of their ways and surrender to the authorities. And if they do not see the evil of their chosen path, then I ask that you bring justice to the evil doers who would kill so wantonly so that they would not take more life. I place these requests before you and trust your justice and mercy and sovereignty. Amen.

Elsewhere: Not your typical stuffy seminary prof

Ben Witherington is a serious hard core Biblical scholar. And it is great to see he is funny as heck too ...

Just love it.

And this too!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: I am not silenced because of the darkness


image source: http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/2006/nov/images/addis-doubt-church-cartoon.jpg

Job 23

Then Job answered and said:
Today also my complaint is bitter;
my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.

Ever felt like this?

I can think of a few things I could (and do!) complain to God about.

Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.
There an upright man could argue with him,
and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.

Job believes that if he got an audience with God, he would be heard.

I have to confess I wonder if Job is over reaching here?

I think of Isaiah who got an audience with God in Isaiah 6. In verse 5, Isaiah says: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!

Yet, as one who lives on the other side of Jesus, I can call upon Hebrews 10:19: Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.

The great question for those who believe: how do I know that God is actually there?

None of Job's senses can detect God, yet ...

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.

Do I believe that God is working in my life and that my faith will come out as good as gold after going through tough times?

My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.

Makes me think of that phrase, "man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (Deut. 8:3, Matt. 4:4, Luke 4:4)

Job is oscillating between doubt and faith. He goes on to make great statements of faith in the sovereignty of God ...

But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
and many such things are in his mind.

This ineffable and unfathomable aspect of God leads to tremendous humility and even fear ...

Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;

Yet, God has in his wisdom preserved this wrestling match of faith and doubt for believers for all time because what Job went through, we do as well and Job says this in the face of his fears and doubts ...

yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
nor because thick darkness covers my face.

Lord, let me not be silent. There are doubts that I feel and complaints that I have and I bring them to you. Though human eyes reading this blog will not know and human ears of my friends may not understand, I know I can enter into your presence with a mixture of boldness, humility and fear. As I await wisdom, correction and vindication, give me the strength to walk in your ways and in obedience to your words. Lord, help friends of mine who have given up seeking you to seek you once again. Help friends who are in the midst of trial to be affirmed. Help friends who have never sought you to somehow realize that you are closer than they think and that Christmas is more than just stuff but about life with you. Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Life: Faith and Christmas

Have been sick the past few days and have been sleeping a lot.

Well, tonight, was channel surfing and came across CBS's 48 hours Mysteries.

On this Christmas night, they rebroadcast their 1 hour exploration of Christmas.

The program interviewed three scholars who were skeptical of the details of the nativity as recounted in the Gospels.

In the second half of the broadcast, Ben Witherington was interviewed along with on location filming of many Biblical locales. He gave some reasons why the Gospel accounts might be plausible.

Some interesting tidbits were his hypothesis that Luke interviewed Mary for the details of Jesus birth in Jerusalem and that Matthew did the same with other followers in Capernaum.

As for the slaughter of innocents which to our ears sounds so horrible, he explained would have been very consistent with Herod's paranoia. He also pointed out that Bethlehem of that time was only at most a few hundred people and thus the killing of children under two might have entailed the deaths of perhaps 6-10 children which unfortunately would have been a relatively small slaughter in that era and not noteworthy in historical records outside of the Gospels.

Skeptics have suggested that this detail was fabricated by the church to make Jesus into a Moses figure. To further the Moses connection, skeptics say Matthew invented the journey to Egypt.

Witherington's offered an explanation of why Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt: there was a large Jewish community in Egypt at that time in history. Thus, their fleeing there has some rationale as they would in fact be safe there.

All in all an educational hour of television.

Am glad that the CBS presentation gave both sides a chance to make their case.

In the end, are there still elements of faith in the Nativity story?

Absolutely.

But what was fascinating was that if you only had watched the first half of the show, you would think that the Nativity was a total fabrication.

But after watching the second half, one can see that the Gospel accounts as presented have some plausible basis.

At the end of the broadcast, the documentary reporter had to acknowledge, regardless of what one believes about the birth of Jesus, the world has never been the same.

Amen!

UPDATE: Since Witherington is a blogger, I wondered if he had any opinions on how fairly he was treated by the CBS crew. His thoughts on the experience were posted on his blog here. In brief, he enjoyed working with the crew and felt he got a fair shake.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Travel: Honolulu and Kauai September 2007

This post took a bit longer to get around to. But, at last, below are photos and travelogue of my most recent travels.

To see two YouTube videos about Kauai go here. One of the videos is mine. The other is put out by people on Kauai concerned about overdevelopment.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Arrived in Honolulu!



The last time I was in Honolulu was as a teenager many decades ago!



Sunday, September 16, 2007

My uncle took me to Pearl Harbor to see the Arizona Memorial. The lines were long so we didn't make the trip to the site.



Nonetheless, reading the various interpretive displays was very moving even though the attack occurred 66 years ago. I'm sure it really impacts some of the older visitors who have memories of the actual event or knew people who were there.

Our next stop was the Punchbowl Memorial Cemetery.



There are murals that recap the Battle for the Pacific during World War II. The number of battles is unimaginable.

The visiting side of the trip came to an end and I donned my "business" hat by attending the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research and participating in a poster session for the evening.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The ASBMR conference was held at the Honolulu Convention Center.



It was a good workout to make the trek between the Convention Center and the Princess Kaiulani hotel.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One of the mornings I decided to walk on the sands of Waikiki en route to the Convention Center.



Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Figuring I don't know when I'd be back to this part of the world again, I planned for a short island hop to Kauai!



The view from the airplane window!



On the ground!



My rental car was obtained through Priceline which was somewhat below the published rates since it was "shoulder" season between the summer travelers and the late fall/early winter escapees from elsewhere's cold weather.



I stayed at the Kauai Sands which was the lowest priced hotel on Yahoo! Travel.



Beautiful beach at the Kauai Sands but a tad windy!

The Kauai Sands is next to the Coconut Marketplace shopping center.



Kauai Tourism Tip: There is pretty heavy traffic between Kapaa and Lihue during morning and late afternoon rush hour. Also, if you are on the road after sunset, be aware it is very dark as there are very few street lights on the roads between towns! I discovered this because I figured, oh, take a little drive around the island before calling it a night. The sun went down and it was dark!

I wound up driving all the way up to Hanalei but it was completely dark so I didn't get to see the beautiful views I would two days later. I ended up having dinner at Bubba's Burgers in Hanalei.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Good morning Kapaa!

I rolled out of bed to watch the sunrise over the ocean!

There were other guests at the hotel with the same idea.



For the day, I headed toward the west side of the island to get to Waimea Canyon.



Even with the late morning haze, it is still quite a view though I would imagine would have been very spectacular in the golden sunrise/sunset hours.

The windy road eventually reaches Kalalau Lookout.



What a view!



Weather changes quickly on the islands! The rain swept in yielding the gorgeous rainbow!



If you have time, be sure to check out Hanapepe. There are some neat art galleries there which I got to check out a few that were open. The Cafe in the town is a top destination that is only open limited hours and requires reservations.

I then headed off to the Spouting Horn.



For dinner, I went to Brennecke's Beach Broiler.



Did you like the view from my dining table?

I had Opah and Ono for dinner. I liked the Ono better.

To work off some calories, I walked around Poipu beach to wait for the sunset!



Friday, September 21, 2007

I had made a reservation while I was in Los Angeles for a Na Pali Coast Catamaran tour through Captain Sundown. However, they contacted me with news on Thursday that the swell conditions were too rough to sail so I had to change my plans. I booked a kayak trip for Friday with Kayak Wailua.



We paddled up to Uluwehi Falls. It was quite a workout but lots of fun!

The falls wasn't very spectacular because the amount of rainfall had been low lately.



Nonetheless, had to take a picture in the water. It is cold as the water runs down from the top of Kauai!

I showered off back at the Kauai Sands and then hit the road to the Kapaa local products fair.







I had driven up to Hanalai on my first evening and had no idea how beautiful it was!

Here is one of the lookout points on the side of the road.



As a photographer, the golden hours are right around sunrise and sunset. What a view in Hanalei bay!



Waikiki back in Honolulu is like Rodeo Drive but with lots of big hotels. It is a district that probably never sleeps. But I've never been much of a night life person and truth be told there probably isn't a lot of nightlife in Kauai. I heard there are a few bars with music and such.

However, when I can, I like to get a feel for the local flavor. I saw in the local paper that Waimea was playing Kapaa in high school football at Kapaa which is the town right next to the Kauai Sands.

I was pretty tired from the kayak tour and the drive up to Hanalai but I figured what the heck, I'll go see the football game after a hearty meal. I went the Wailua Family Restaurant which was across the street from where I had met up for the kayak tour. I'd agree with the description of this place being like a Sizzler. Fancy dining it is not. But a decent amount of food at a reasonable price is good enough for me. I had a steak and Mahi Mahi platter. But most importantly, I got information about the football game! The man behind the counter said his daughter would be one of the cheerleaders at the game. The woman at the cash register drew a simple map to the stadium.



In the white jersey's were the visiting Waimea Menehune. In the green was the home team the Kapaa Warriors!

In the first half, I was amidst some Kapaa fans. One lady with a video camera explained to me her son was one of the players and her daughter was one of the cheerleaders. She pointed out various other relatives in the stands. It truly is a family event.

In the second half, I was amidst some Waimea fans. A couple noticed I didn't seem like a local and asked me what my story was. I explained I was a mainlander on vacation after business. They seemed happy to see a tourist at the game. They pointed out various family members in the stands and told me their son was a running back on the Menehune. They explained to me that there are three high schools on the island. They also told me that the Menehune were the legendary miniature men of Hawaii.

In case you were curious: Menehune 21 Warriors 7.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My last day on Kauai ...

One of the signature sights was Wailua Falls.



Since I had a few more hours before the flight back to Honolulu, I drove down toward the south side.

I stopped at Old Koloa Town. There are some cute little shops on the old historic street.

I had to visit beautiful Poipu beach one last time.

The sleeping Monk Seal got a lot of attention!





Flew back to Honolulu and had a get together with various relatives.



Sunday, September 23, 2007

I had a few hours before my flight back to LAX. My uncle drove me to a few more sights on Oahu.

We went to Pali Lookout ...



Went to one of the surfing spots to see if anyone was out there ...



Saw a rower ...



Had lunch at the Ala Moana Shopping Center and saw some Hulu dancing ...



Aloha!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Culture: Wicked Lottery



Yup, I finally saw the musical sensation Wicked!

First, the practical LA Scene side of the story.

The Wicked Lottery offers up 26 front orchestra seats for $25 each. The names are collected from 2 1/2 hour to 2 hour before show time. You can request one or two tickets. You must be 17 or older with ID and pay in cash. It is quite the festive atmosphere as the guy calls out the names of the lucky winners.

After the lottery ends, and if you don't win and this evening, I did not, you can get in line to buy left over tickets to certain sections at a discount.

This is really smart marketing by the theatre company. I'd say there was well over 200 people there for the lottery and of that group probably 1/2 lined up to get at the discounted tickets. What a great way to get people to get out on a rainy Thursday night to insure a packed house!

As for the appeal of the musical, the clear favorite numbers were "Defying Gravity" and "For Good" which were the emotional moments of act I and act II respectively. "Defying Gravity" celebrates the discovery of one's abilities and the sense of possibility for one of the main characters and sends the audience off to intermission exuberantly. "For Good" provides the moving emotional closing of the circle of the two main characters.

The musical has won a devoted following among many members of my church youth group and now I understand why!

The characters are easy to identify with. The social "stereotypes" of the cast of characters in the story mirror the social pecking order of their lives in school and indeed our lives as adults too.

The musical numbers, "What Is This Feeling?" "Popular" and "I'm Not That Girl" would be instantly accessible to anyone who has gone through even a modest amount of teenage angst and haven't we all?

My final two thoughts before I call it a night would be that the musical is incredibly post-modern and it is a celebration of friendship.

It has all the rhetoric of the post-modern perspective toward history that puts truth up for grabs. Yet, its message in the end is that there is still a truth to the lives of people even if things aren't as they seem at first glance. Truth existing in personal context is another theme of post-modern thought.

An interesting topic for discussion the musical could fuel is whether it advocates moral relativism (another common feature of post-modern thought) when the musical asks: are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?

Lastly, the story works and moves the audience because it is about love and friendship. Life is messy. There are misunderstandings. There are circumstances: stuff happens. There are mixed motivations. And in the end, what brings joy is those moments when we can connect with another soul in the journey.

As entertainment, it is a really wonderful show with great staging, costumes and musical numbers. It leaves you in awe at the skill and creativity of all involved. And if you want to think about it, it also provides some good food for thought about world views and the human condition.

Contemporary art often blurs the line between "high art" and "pop culture" and "consumer products."

The same is true of the performing arts. It might be "pop culture" and "entertainment" but there is also a filter on the world being described consciously or not.

For those so inclined, discuss amongst yourselves and I wish I could listen in on those conversations.

Sports: UCLA football coach search

Hmmm ... so far the only official interviews with the Chancellor have been with Neuheisel (former U Wash and U Colorado coach) and Golden (current Temple coach).

Color me unimpressed.

Neuheisel has UCLA ties having played and assistant coached at UCLA. However, he left two previous programs under a cloud. As for Golden, he may be a fine young coach but that is the problem, he is young and Temple doesn't exactly leap off the page as prime proving grounds for a coach.

So there are two possibilities: the search committee isn't committed to finding a top notch proven coach or the top notch proven coaches they have approached have turned them down.

Thus, the AD has either got a rabbit in the hat somewhere or we look to be stuck with either a re-tread coach or taking a chance on a young guy like the Dorrell hire.

The guys over at Bruinsnation are justifiably upset at the current state of affairs.

I'm sure the USC fan readers of this blog are enjoying the Bruins predicament and are saying, wake up and smell the coffee, UCLA isn't a football school!

Politics: Powdered soup of the day

Blatant rip off of Dennis Miller's Soup of the Day ...

Instant political analysis by yours truly ...

Today, split pea in a pouch ...

The Romney scenario is the easiest. Win Iowa and New Hampshire and he rides the wave to the nomination according the business plan they set up at the beginning. But if Huckabee wins Iowa and McCain wins New Hampshire, Romney is done.

Huckabee needs an Iowa win to stay afloat because he will crater in New Hampshire. With the Iowa win, he lives on to fight another day on turf friendlier to him than New Hampshire. He is taking a lot of hits on his foreign policy inexperience. But apparently, his likability index is high which can make up for other concerns people may have.

McCain needs a New Hampshire win to stay afloat.

Giullani has to win *somewhere* before Super Tuesday. At the moment, his support is a mile wide and an inch deep and Romney, Huckabee and McCain are poaching away his support. He was counting on his national name recognition to do well in the "national primary" of Super Tuesday. But if he doesn't win anywhere before then confidence will fall and he will be done.

Thompson needs a surprise showing in Iowa or he is done. He has got to replicate the back of the pickup truck retail politics that got him into the Senate. He does that he stays in the running.

UPDATE: If these numbers are for real, Thompson is done. Thompson and McCain draw from the same independent, straight talk, maverick style voters. Looks like McCain is getting them back. He may be taking votes from the Romney supporters who can't stand Huckabee too.

UPDATE: The Strategic Vision poll has Thompson making the big gains not McCain. Who knows what will happen on a cold January Iowa night!

Meanwhile on the Democratic side. Clinton needs a knockdown win in Iowa and a knockout win in New Hampshire. Like Romney, she is depending on this strategy.

Edwards needs an Iowa win or he is done. He is the Huckabee on the Democratic side.

Obama is playing with house money. A good showing keeps him at the table for a Veep slot and a future say in the party. And if he breaks through with an upset in Iowa or New Hampshire, he could make history.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Non-profit of the month: December, 2007 - Salvation Army



There was the periodic rattling of carts as two young employees of Ralphs after rounding them up pushed them back to the store.

Airplanes came in for landings every minute or so at nearby LAX much like any other evening but with the holidays one wonders of the thousands of stories of people traveling this holiday season.

Cars trundled up and down the parking lot to find a space to visit the Ralphs or Blockbuster or Starbucks or any number of other stores in the shopping plaza.

There was the quiet tinkle of a bell.

Yup, it is Christmas in the city.

On this night I was the bell ringer manning the kettle in front of the Ralphs for two hours.

It was neat to see parents give their kids some change or a dollar bill to put into the kettle.

"Thanks for your contribution!"

I smiled inside myself contemplating the internal dialog of people who walked past the kettle, stopped, walked back and placed in a contribution. What might have prompted a change of heart? Perhaps a recognition that came from gratitude? Or maybe a memory of someone who got help from the Salvation Army or someone who didn't?

Whether people gave or not, I did try to give them a smile and offer some holiday cheer with a hearty, "Have a good Christmas holiday!"

A few chatted briefly with me about nothing in particular as they placed some coins or bills in the kettle.

Some people had a grim look about them as they set upon their grocery shopping task. What was their day like? What were their lives like? I wondered what was on their minds and how they felt to hear someone say, "Have a great evening." Did they even hear it?

Some thanked me as I thanked them for making a donation.

I could see some choose a path to enter the Ralphs that kept them from making eye contact with me.

One mom told her kids a nursery rhyme:

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man's hat ...

She said the kettle is the old man's hat ... and her two kids each dropped in a few coins.

Definitely made it a point to give a smile for the kids and a big "Thanks!" for each one who dropped in coins!

One lady walked past me going in and going out and came back and placed a dime in the kettle saying, that was all I could find in my car.

"Thank you every little bit helps!"

Another lady, looking a bit worn down from life dropped in a few coins and said, I'm sorry I can't give more, I'm just a poor old lady.

I had to say, "God bless you for your effort!"

Please consider making a contribution when you see a red kettle.

Or go ahead and contact your nearest Salvation Army and volunteer to be a bell ringer.

If I haven't convinced you, check out the web page for Salvation Army and see if Kelly Clarkson can encourage you to help out in some way.

Culture: Goodness, truth and beauty

Continuing a riff on beauty from yesterday's post Culture: Hot or not? ...

Is there an instinct for beauty?

I suppose in the distant past when societies weren't so dominated by relativistic post-modern thinking the answer would be yes.

But today, the notion of absolute goodness seems quaint. People will say that goodness is sociologically determined and a cultural construct.

Likewise, today, truth is up for grabs when people say, true for you but not for me.

And of course, there is a time honored cliche which we all acknowledge some truth to: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

However, I suspect if we truly search our souls, we do have an instinct for each of these things.

I can't imagine anyone can look at a murderous rampage and declare there is no such thing as good and evil. On the positive side, anyone who has seen the life and works of Mother Teresa or other such "saintly" people would be hard pressed not to acknowledge there must be some reality called goodness.

As for truth, I appreciate the post-modern concerns of recognizing the limits of reason and the distorting effects of our perspective. But again, does that take ALL truth off the table and land them on the floor of relativism? I suspect some things might land on the ground of we aren't so sure but to say there is no such thing as truth? I think that is going a bit far.

Lastly, regarding beauty.

Can we go so far as to say that beauty as a concept doesn't exist?

I'm not a philosopher so I won't offer up a definition of beauty. But I definitely think beauty in regards to a woman's face and form is far wider than our media soaked culture would have us believe.

Also, I would suggest a casual walk through any contemporary art museum says the impulse for beauty has become confused at least among the artistic elites.

I'll leave aside the question of "is it art?" and the "I could have done that!" aspects of what inhabits our galleries. Rather, I will focus in on the "yuck factor" in a lot of what passes for art these days?

The "yuck factor" is an aesthetic impulse.

Don't get me wrong as I believe there are times when we need to confront the dark underbelly of life and face the evil that is in the world. Art can do that in bypassing our normal defenses. However, sometimes, I get the impression that some artists seem to revel in raising the "shock factor" of their work. Sometimes, we need a shock to move us out of complacency and to reach for a more noble side of ourselves. But sometimes, it seems the shock is just to shock and so the artist and the viewer winds up merely wallowing in that darkness.

Was watching one of the documentary features in the DVD Passion of the Christ about the Passion as depicted in art over the centuries. Clearly the core story is the same but the images have varied through the ages. So the form has changed over the centuries but the substance has a connection through time. One of the artist commented that that is the crisis of modern art today ... it has no story to tell.

If there is anything that is shocking it is the depiction of death on a cross. However, there is a story of love, hope and faith in that shocking scene.

I suppose you might say, if one "kills" notions of goodness, truth and beauty, what kind of story do you have to tell? What kind of art can you make?

I recently was at MOCA in LA and saw the Cosima von Bonin exhibit. Her works spans the whole gamut of this non-artists reactions to modern art from "is that art?" to "I could have done that!" to "Wow, that is pretty neat" to "Huh?"

Some of her works are big installations.

As I looked at them, I had to ask myself, "what is the story here?"

I had to conclude either she had nothing to say or her view of life was pretty bleak.

Is there an instinct for beauty?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Culture: Hot or not?

One of my friends moved to Southern California to get into the business a number of years ago. Well, after many years, he eventually threw in the towel. We occasionally talk about the two most interesting subjects in the world: theology and women.

So onto a non-theological discussion we have had.

He has remarked that living here means you meet a lot of LA Nines. What he meant was that as a typical guy, we do have the habit of rating women based on their appearance. Additionally, since TEN would be perfection, no such person exists, the best would be a nine. However, Los Angeles draws the best of the nines, hence, an "LA NINE."

While randomly reading the latest movie news, my eye was caught by Jenna Fischer one of the cast members of the huge hit the Office and co-star in the film soon to be released Walk Hard.

She had a quote, "I don't feel like I should have gotten it, but I did audition for the role of Sydney Bristow in Alias. I don't think I even got a callback. They said they liked my acting, but I wasn't hot enough."

Jenna Fischer, not hot enough? You've got to be kidding!

Well, I guess hot is a relative term, eh?

Its a tough biz.

I've met my share of aspiring actors living here in Los Angeles. They are talented. How can one remember so many lines to do a stage play? They can create a sense of the emotion of a moment with their voices and expressions. They are all good-looking people. But of course, they have to be discovered.

Let me get on my soapbox for a minute. We all have an aesthetic instinct. However, a lot of this culture's definition of beauty is an illusion.

I've posted this film on this web page before but it is worth a repeat



UPDATE: Here is another one of their films you might want to check out ...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Eliphaz sort of right but totally wrong

To recap Job:
Ch. 1-2, sets the stage
Ch. 3-14, 1st set of monologues where Job speaks, friends respond, Job responds and so on. All three friends speak
Ch. 15-21, 2nd set of monologues, all three of Job's friends speak and Job responds.
Ch. 22-26, 3rd set of monologues, only two of Job's friends speak and Job responds.
Ch. 27-31, Job speaks at length
Ch. 32-37, Elihu, a fourth friend speaks at length
Ch. 38-41, God and Job speak
Ch. 42, conclusion.

Picking things up at Job 22 ...

Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied:
"Can a human being be of benefit to God?
Can even the wise benefit him?
What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous?
What would he gain if your ways were blameless?

Eliphaz is simply wrong.

The god described by Eliphaz is (1) unmoved by his creatures doing right and (2) only interested in zapping those who go astray as described by Eliphaz later on.

We know from Job 1 God is aware of Job's righteousness and is pleased by it.

"Is it for your piety that he rebukes you
and brings charges against you?
Is not your wickedness great?
Are not your sins endless?
You demanded security from your relatives for no reason;
you stripped people of their clothing, leaving them naked.
You gave no water to the weary
and you withheld food from the hungry,
though you were a powerful man, owning land -
an honored man, living on it.
And you sent widows away empty-handed
and broke the strength of the fatherless.
That is why snares are all around you,
why sudden peril terrifies you,
why it is so dark you cannot see,
and why a flood of water covers you.

We have no indication that Job sinned and if that is correct than Eliphaz is slandering Job.

If I were Job at this point, I'd punch Eliphaz in the nose!

"Is not God in the heights of heaven?
And see how lofty are the highest stars!
Yet you say, 'What does God know?
Does he judge through such darkness?
Thick clouds veil him, so he does not see us
as he goes about in the vaulted heavens.'

Eliphaz returned to the idea that god is too powerful and distant to really care what is going on. I suppose Eliphaz is holding onto a "deist" kind of god where god simply doesn't interact with us with the possible exception of a final judgement when we all die.

The materialist would say there is no god at all. The pantheist would say god is in the creation.

A theist would believe there is a god and god actually cares what is happening and can interact with us.

Will you keep to the old path
that the wicked have trod?
They were carried off before their time,
their foundations washed away by a flood.
They said to God, 'Leave us alone!
What can the Almighty do to us?'
Yet it was he who filled their houses with good things,
so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked.
The righteous see their ruin and rejoice;
the innocent mock them, saying,
'Surely our foes are destroyed,
and fire devours their wealth.'
"Submit to God and be at peace with him;
in this way prosperity will come to you.

Interestingly, Eliphaz appears to backtrack on the remoteness of god by advising Job to go to god and own up to sin which he believes that Job committed but didn't admit to.

The following are fine sounding words and would be appropriate in other contexts. But in this one it is just more salt in an open wound ...

Accept instruction from his mouth
and lay up his words in your heart.
If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored:
If you remove wickedness far from your tent
and assign your nuggets to the dust,
your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines,
then the Almighty will be your gold,
the choicest silver for you.
Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty
and will lift up your face to God.
You will pray to him, and he will hear you,
and you will fulfill your vows.
What you decide on will be done,
and light will shine on your ways.
When people are brought low and you say, 'Lift them up!'
then he will save the downcast.
He will deliver even one who is not innocent,
who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands."

This last part is indeed fine sounding. As typical Christian people, we have probably said such words to others or have heard such sentiments in sermons.

But what we should say is by context.

You might say that Eliphaz was about 33% right in this passage. But in context he was 100% wrong.

Lord, I don't get to give advice often. But when i do have that opportunity, help me to be wise. Help me to spend more time listening than talking. Grant me discernment to know if there is sin how to address it and when there is not to comfort the suffering soul. As the Christmas season is here, people's emotions may be closer to the surface. Open my eyes to be perceptive to the needs of others. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Politics: John McCain sounding like his old self again

In the 2000 campaign, I attended one John McCain event in Los Angeles. I have to admit as a public speaker he was a little stilted. Nonetheless, his biography was compelling and he was doing the "straight talk" approach which was refreshing.

He is much older now and he has done his share of things to poke the Republican base. However, his steadfastness on Iraq has been a profile in courage.

In this article by Fred Barnes, it seems that McCain still has some fight left in him.

Politics: Fred Thompson sticks it to "the man"

The media controls a lot of what we know about the candidates. Though with the internets we can bypass the media somewhat.

Nonetheless, Thompson had a good moment when he stuck it to the media at the Iowa debate.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Politics: USA presidential elections by the numbers

If you know your US history and politics, you know that it is the electoral votes that matter.

However, the popular vote does tell you a bit about the sentiment of the nation.

If you look back, since 1980, how often do you think the elected president got 52.5 % or more of the popular votes?

Think about that: if the elected president got 52.5% of the popular vote that means 47.5% of the people who voted, voted for somebody else (either the major opponent or a collection of minor party candidates). Or put another way, 525 out of 1000 voted for the winner and 475 voted for the various opponents. Would you consider that a convincing win?

Well, if you check out the numbers, since 1980 ...

Only 2 presidential candidates won with more than 52.5% of the popular vote. That would be Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Since that time, the Republican candidate has only cracked the 50% line once, in 2004.

On the Democratic side the numbers are even more striking. When was the last time you think a Democratic candidate for president pulled in more than 52.5% of the popular vote?

You have to go all the way back to LBJ in 1964!

Since then, only 2 candidates have scratched at the 50% line, Carter in 1976 and Clinton in 1996.

The reality is that presidential politics is fought at the 50% line and has been for quite some time.

In a sense that is part of the beauty of the generally hated and misunderstood electoral college: if you win in enough places across the country, a narrow popular vote victory can be translated into a larger electoral college victory.

The founding fathers may have dreamed up the electoral college for practical reasons (transportation and communications were slow) or elitist reasons (the masses can't be trusted) but the unintended consequence has been that multi-party fragmentation has largely been avoided and narrow popular vote victories could be given a boost with larger electoral college victories.

But in the last two elections, it has been so close that that didn't happen.

We really are a nation divided politically.

It will be interesting to see how 2008 plays out.

Appendix:

If you look at the numbers:
Republican candidate percent popular vote
1980 - 50.7
1984 - 58.8
1988 - 53.4
1992 - 37.7
1996 - 42
2000 - 47.87
2004 - 52

Democratic candidate percent popular vote
1960 - 49.7
1964 - 61.1
1968 - 42.7
1972 - 37.5
1976 - 50.1
1980 - 41
1984 - 40.6
1988 - 45.6
1992 - 43.3
1996 - 50
2000 - 48.38
2004 - 48

Monday, December 10, 2007

Life: Pinch hit Bible study trainer

A number of years ago, I was very involved in the West Coast Chinese Christian Conference.

It is a conference that gathers various Chinese churches in California between Christmas and New Years with the intent of providing training, broadening of perspectives and challenge for college and early career age Christians.

One special feature of the Conference is that the theme is explored in a variety of ways. There are morning and evening speakers who preach on the theme. There are also small group (8-12) Bible studies as well.

I was a last minute "pinch hit" facilitator for the training session for the Bible study leaders in Southern California.

The Bible study coordinator had a family responsibility and wasn't able to do the training session. He asked someone to fill in. Unfortunately, the designated trainer had a heart attack! I'm happy to report he is doing well but as you might guess he opted to find a replacement. And that would be me, the third option!

Anyway, I was glad to help out. The Bible study coordinator had prepared a lot of good material already and when he email it to me, I knew I had a good basis for pulling together the training session on short notice.

About half the material is straight from the Bible study coordinator's files. I just did some re-arranging and I added some features to make the session interactive over the 4 hour training.

The West Coast Chinese Christian Conference provided me with some wonderful friends and great opportunities to learn about the life of faith and serve the Chinese Christian community here in California. I saw many examples of "good and faithful" servants. I was regularly challenged to examine the Scriptures. Also, probably the biggest lesson was learning about time management and prioritizing what one is doing and calling upon the Lord for help while in the midst of it all.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Culture: Los Angeles Opera-blogging

I've gotten a bit behind on my opera-blogging.

So dear gentle readers, you are getting a four-fer!

The most recent opera I saw was the crowd pleaser, La Boheme. It has all the features of opera a non-opera person like me would like: beautiful colorful costumes, nice sets, brisk pace, moments of humor, romance, likable characters and pleasant music.

It is the stereotype that there is death at the end of the opera and so I'm not giving anything away by saying one of the main character dies at the end. And so as I watched the characters get introduced and began to like them, I got that sad feeling inside just like watching any flavor of Romeo and Juliet. Inside I feel, falling in love is worth it even if in the end it is a hopeless love.

I'm told the LA Opera company opted to go with a young cast in line with the story of young love in 19th century Paris. I think the lead character Rodolfo was sung by Arturo Chacon Cruz. Good strong voice. Mimi looked like the lovely Maija Kovalevska and she sounded great in her sympathetic portrayal of Mimi.

UPDATE: Hear the two stars in the LAO podcast.

Hartmut Haenchen was conducting the performance I attended.

Because of the large number of performances, all the major roles were double cast.


image source: http://operainfo.org/broadcast/operaBio.cgi?person=500000000000641&language=1

UPDATE: It is possible that I could be mistaken about who sang the lead rolls. Rodolfo might have been Massimo Giordano and Mimi was played by Virginia Tola.

Of the three Puccinni operas I have seen, I enjoyed this the most. Romeo and Juliet has stood the test of time as a love story and I think there is a similar appeal to the fans of La Boheme. Of the other Puccini works, I like Turandot because of the story and the spectacular staging. I have to say Madama Butterfly left me cold. Its beautiful music, its tragic and in the end, too tragic to me. Call me a wuss it but was too dang depressing.

A few months back, I saw Fidelio. My interest in seeing Fidelio was born while visiting Vienna in 1999. While visiting my friend Claudia, we saw the rather dreadful film Eyes Wide Shut. Anyway, in the film, there is a reference to the opera Fidelio. While chatting about the film after the film, Claudia put her CD of Fidelio in the player and told me the story. I've wanted to see Beethoven's only opera ever since. Well, 8 years later, I finally saw it!

The usage of rear screen projection to show the dungeon was creative. It reminded me somewhat of being inside a Borg cube!

The Lenore overture during one of the scenery changes is just wonderful music and worth the price of admission already. Apparently, there were actually four overtures in the evolution of the opera.

In any case, the story of Fidelio is a rarity in opera: a happy ending where love triumphs without death of either of the lovers. Additionally, freedom and justice is restored and all of these are celebrated in a rousing end. It so much reminded me of the joyous end to Beethoven's Ninth symphony!

Opera War Horses liked LAO's version of it too.

A number of months before that I saw, Tannhauser.

The LAO decided to get "controversial" by including R rated stuff to open up Act I. For a full accounting of this production, check this post at Opera War Horses.

Personally, I think the ploy was intended to shock and must have been from the school of any publicity is good publicity. Fast forward past that part, you get to the story of Tannhauser the everyman: sinner in need of forgiveness, tempted by the immediacy of pleasurable lust and drawn to redemption by sacrificial love.

If Puccini's magic is his signature romantic arias then Wagner's forte is big epic music full of emotion.

And a number of months before that (in 2006 during the 250th birthday of Mozart), I saw Marriage of Figaro. That was lighthearted fun Mozart music at its best.

It is toe-tapping stuff and you walk out of the opera house feeling pretty good.

Past opera-blogging:
Aida
Madama Butterfly and Turandot

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Inspiration of the Scriptures and the Christian Journey

Was talking with a "mentor" the other day.

Can't say I ever formally asked someone to be a mentor except in the academic context.

There simply have been individuals further along in their Christian journey whom I enjoy and benefit from sharing with.

I was asked what I learned about the Christian life from studying the Gospels at my first Fuller Theological Seminary class.

I couldn't really put it into words so I fumbled around saying something about how God has entrusted his message to us. I mentioned that we could have gotten our Scriptures by dictation but God didn't do it that way. Instead, God apparently worked through mortal frail humanity in a mix of oral tradition and written sources. I felt that was truly amazing.

My mentor replied, indeed, God works in our lives the same way. With Scriptures, his intentions are accomplished but through the agency of human means. God is in control but we get to participate. Same in our Christian journey.

A recent Scripture I was reading (not in the Gospels) leaped to mind this morning:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9

Lord, some days don't feel very chosen, royal or holy. Thank you for your mercies which are new every morning. Thank you that your love for me is every present even when I don't realize it. Thanks for reminding me that you are in control and I get to participate. Help me to live and work and speak so that your excellencies are proclaimed. Amen.

Theology: Thoughts on the Kingdom of God, Part III

How the future of the kingdom unfolds has been a source of theological debate. A detailed description of the various perspectives is beyond the scope of this essay and can be found in the books like, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views.[xxiii] However, a brief summary of some of the issues confronting Biblical scholars reveals the reasons for interpretive uncertainties.

One view is called dispensational premillennialism where the kingdom is a literal restoration of a national Israel upon the second coming of Christ.[xxiv] Historic premillennialism retains a millennial kingdom of some form after the second coming of Christ but diminishes the literal role of a national Israel in God's plans.[xxv] A third view, postmillennialism, supposes that God working through the church would usher in an age of peace, prosperity and goodness followed by the second coming of Christ.[xxvi] Amillennialism interprets the kingdom as Christ and the church age followed by his second coming.[xxvii]

Leaving aside the confusing schemas that theologians have developed regarding the future realization of the kingdom, we can examine Jesus’ teaching on the future aspects of the kingdom in Matthew 24-25 with less extensive parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21.

The interpretive challenge can be traced to the questions posed by the disciples: when will this (destruction of the temple) happen and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? (Mt. 24:3). Jesus’ discourse was in responses to these questions, but which of the three questions was he answering? Are the three questions really the same question? And if not, what is the relationship between these questions?

In Matthew 24:4-14, Jesus offered some indications of the challenges that laid ahead for his followers including persecution and the dangers of false prophets which Jesus had briefly touched on in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:10-12, 7:15). Whether these events applied to a specific time frame only or would be characteristic of all time depends on one’s interpretive framework. But what is clear is opposition and that the gospel of the kingdom is meant to go beyond the nation of Israel into the whole world (Mt. 24:14).

Depending on one’s eschatological perspective, some or all of Matthew 24:15-35 was fulfilled by the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70. [xxviii] Jesus followed that cryptic section with clear warnings for his followers to be ready because his return is certain but its timing is not (Mt. 24:36-44). Jesus illustrated the uncertainty of the timing with two stories: the wicked servant who was caught because the master returned sooner than he expected (Mt. 24:45-51) and the five bridesmaids who were unprepared because the groom arrived later than anticipated (Mt. 25:1-13).[xxix]

Though how and when the kingdom will come to full realization is unclear, Jesus made clear that upon his return judgment would take place. Jesus gave two stories to explain what will be the criteria that harkened back to what he had taught in the Sermon on the Mount earlier.

The first was the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30). The TNIV translation helpfully converted the Greek term talents into “bags of gold” and the text note that said it was about 20 years worth of wages. Achtemeier, et al offered a similar monetary value of 6000 days wages[xxx] and Keener suggested a talent was 10,000 days wages.[xxxi] In any case, the sum of money entrusted to the servants was substantial. The first two servants put the money to use and received the commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” However, the third servant buried the money. When called to account, the servant claimed a relationship by saying, “Master,” but quickly revealed his true colors by denigrating the character of the master (Mt. 25:24-25). The third servant was reminiscent of Matthew 7:21-23, where some called out, “Lord, Lord,” but did not do the will of the Father and were likewise dismissed.

The second story was the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Mt. 25:31-46). The king welcomed into the kingdom those on the right because they fed, gave drink, provided clothes and visited in prison the least. Their good deeds to the least were as if they had done it for the king. The ones on the left were dismissed because they did not feed, gave drink, provide clothes or visit in prison the king. They were shocked wondering when the king needed those things implying they would do those deeds for the king. The king said, because you did not do it for the least, you did not do it for me. This story echoed of the teaching in Matthew 6:1, were Jesus warned against doing “acts of righteousness” in order to be seen by others. The “goats” would have done the good deeds for the king in order to be seen by the king. But the fact they did not do so for the least revealed their hardened hearts as people who do good deeds only for recognition and not as a result of true obedience and thus they were not people of the kingdom.

Reference citations:

[xxiii] Robert G. Clouse, ed. The Meaning of the Millenium: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977).
[xxiv] Herman A. Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillenialism,” The Meaning of the Millenium: Four Views, p. 78.
[xxv] George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillenialism,” The Meaning of the Millenium: Four Views, pp. 26-27.
[xxvi] Lorraine Boetner, “Postmillenialism,” The Meaning of the Millenium: Four Views, p. 117.
[xxvii] Anthony A. Hoekema, “Amillenialism,” The Meaning of the Millenium: Four Views, pp. 155-156.
[xxviii] Craig S. Keener, pp. 112-115.
[xxix] Craig S. Keener, pp. 115-117.
[xxx] Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green and Marianne Meye Thompson, p. 110.
[xxxi] Craig S. Keener, p. 117.

Bibliography

Achtemeier, Paul J. ed. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1985.

Achtemeier, Paul J., Joel B. Green and Marianne Meye Thompson, Introducing the New Testament Its Literature and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2001.

Barker, Kenneth, ed. The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985.

Carson, D. A. The Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978.

Clouse, Robert G, ed. The Meaning of the Millenium: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible Book by Book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

Green, Joel B. and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Guthrie, D. and J. A. Motyer, eds. The New Bible Commentary Revised. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1970.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary - New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Lin, Timothy. The Kingdom of God and Discipleship. http://www.bsmi.org/download/lin/KingdomAndDiscipleship.pdf, 2003.

Wright, N. T. The Challenge of Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Part I
Part II
Part III

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Politics: Tribes within the GOP

As a political observer, I think within the GOP there are three major tribes: national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives and social conservatives.

If a candidate can get all three tribes into his (or her someday) tent, the nomination is within easy reach.

As it stands right now, I think Mayor Rudy is pulling in the national security conservatives.

The surprising rise of Mike Huckabee I would have to guess is the social conservatives gathering around him after standing on the sidelines for much of the past few months.

The social conservatives thought maybe Fred Thompson might be their guy but so far, from what I hear, he just hasn't lived up to the hype. Mitt Romney had positioned himself as a social conservative but I suspect there has been some doubt about his actual convictions on those matters because of his past statements while running for office in Massachusetts.

I have no idea where the fiscal conservatives will go within the GOP. I would guess all the candidates within the GOP are more or less acceptable to them. I suppose the hard core fiscal conservatives that edge over to libertarian are going with Ron Paul as a protest vote.

Mayor Rudy can weather a big loss in Iowa. He probably needs to be at least sort of in the running in New Hampshire. However, I think he needs a win somewhere before Super Tuesday. You can't be the front runner without winning SOMEWHERE early on.

Mitt Romney probably can weather a narrow loss in Iowa but it will result in a lot of his campaign is doomed reports. He needs to have a win in New Hampshire or he is done.

Huckabee needs a win in Iowa to surf the wave he is riding on now. The question is now that the spotlight will be on him much hotter, will he be able to stand the kitchen!

We shall see.

Meanwhile, I'm not clear what the tribes are within the Democratic party.

At the moment, there is one segment that is anti-war to the exclusion to any other issue.

Another segment favors more government programs: national health care and any other number of federal efforts to fix problems.

Are there still any national security democrats around? Or did they all get run out of the party like Joe Liberman?

Theology: Thoughts on the Kingdom of God, Part II

Lin called Matthew 5-7, the Constitution of the Kingdom.[xi] Thus, the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-12) served as a preamble describing the character aspirations of kingdom people much like the United States Constitution’s preamble described the aspirations of a budding nation. However, the character traits highlighted by Jesus do not touch on nationalistic attitudes or martial qualities. Rather, they were contrary to the protect oneself and rise to the top impulses of our human nature. As the people of the kingdom of God living in such a way, the result could be persecution (Mt. 5:10-12). However, positively, we become salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13) and light of the world (Mt. 5:14) with the potential impact that others will be gathered in to acknowledge the Father in heaven.[xii]

Jesus launched into an exposition (Mt. 5:17-48) on how to truly practice the Law in day-to-day life. In six “you have heard that it was said … but I tell you” passages, Jesus raised the bar on the rabbinic interpretations of the day by not only looking at the outward behavior but also the inward attitudes and values.[xiii] Jesus was the authoritative interpreter of the Law and called forth the people of God into true obedience.[xiv]

The next part of the Sermon on the Mount explored Jewish religious practices of Jesus’ times.[xv] Jesus addressed three manifestations of religious faith: “when you give to the needy” (Mt. 6:1-4), “when you pray” (Mt. 6:5-15) and “when you fast” (Mt. 6:16-18). In each case, Jesus stressed that these spiritual disciplines have worth when they are done in obedience to God and not for the praise of our fellow man.

Jesus then gave three negative injunctions: “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Mt. 6:19-24), “do not worry” (Mt. 6:25-34) and “do not judge” (Mt. 7:1-6).

In the first part, the call was for Jesus’ followers to examine what they truly value. The issues were explicit in regards to possessions (Mt. 6:19-21) and money (Mt. 6:24). However, the middle portion about “the eye is the lamp of the body” (Mt. 6:22) was less obvious. Carson offered this explanation:
If light is taken in its usual connotations of revelation and purity, then the individual with a single eye toward kingdom values is the person characterized by maximum understanding of divinely revealed truth and by unabashedly pure behavior.[xvi]
Upon hearing this teaching of Jesus, the listeners might have thought, but what about the basic necessities of life like food, drink and clothing (Mt. 6:25)? Such anxieties would be a much greater part of first century life compared to typical Americans living in the 21st century. Nevertheless, the second part of this section called for the disciples not to worry. This did not provide permission for irresponsibility. Rather, even on these things, they were to have trust in God (Mt. 6:26, 30, 32-33).[xvii]

The third part of this section offered a reality check upon the human condition. As kingdom people striving to live out Jesus’ high standards of a righteous life, there can be a temptation toward judgmental self-righteousness. Jesus forcefully knocked down such possibilities with the colorful image of one trying to take a speck of sawdust out of someone else’s eyes while having a plank in one’s own (Mt. 7:3-5). Yet, Jesus cautions against the opposite temptation of being undiscriminating with an equally colorful image of casting pearls before pigs (Mt. 7:6).[xviii]

The listeners of Jesus sermon (and us today) may have felt overwhelmed at the calling of living in the kingdom. To this point, Jesus explained the character of kingdom people in the Beatitudes, the standard of obedience to the Law, true religious observance, the imperative of valuing the kingdom above all else, the security of trusting God for the necessities of life and the need to resist self-righteousness. How could one do this? Thus, Jesus called his followers to persistent trust in the goodness of God[xix] by exhorting his potential followers to ask, seek and knock with confidence knowing that “your Father in heaven gives good gifts to those who ask him” (Mt. 7:7-11).

Jesus began to wind down the sermon by summarizing with the famous Golden Rule (Mt. 7:12), “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Interestingly, the negative form of this teaching can be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, rabbinic Judaism, Greek and Roman ethical teachings,[xx] and the apocryphal book of Tobit (Tobit 4:15).[xxi] Jesus raised the bar by stating it positively.

Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount by putting forth to the listeners the choice in stark terms with four contrasts.[xxii] Jesus used the metaphor of a narrow gate leading to life versus the wide road leading to destruction (Mt. 7:13-14). The next image was that of a good tree bearing good fruit versus a bad tree bearing bad fruit (Mt. 7:15-20). Thirdly, one group of individuals claimed Jesus as Lord and even did spectacular deeds yet Jesus disavowed them. The implication was that another group claimed Jesus as Lord and was recognized by Jesus as people who did the will of the Father (Mt. 7:21-23). Jesus concluded with the architectural contrast of building a house on the rock versus the sand (Mt. 7:24-27).

In summary, the Sermon on the Mount, the Constitution of the Kingdom, established the way of life of the people of God that grows out a relationship marked by genuine obedience and persistent trust in the goodness of God.

... to be continued

Reference citations:

[xi] Timothy Lin, p. 38.
[xii] D. A. Carson, pp. 29-32.
[xiii] R. E. Nixon, “Matthew,” The New Bible Commentary Revised, pp. 822-824.
[xiv] Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green and Marianne Meye Thompson, pp. 101-102.
[xv] R. E. Nixon, “Matthew,” The New Bible Commentary Revised, pp. 824-825.
[xvi] D. A. Carson, p. 80.
[xvii] D. A. Carson, pp. 81-86.
[xviii] D. A. Carson, pp. 97-107.
[xix] D. A. Carson, pp. 107-111.
[xx] Ralph Earle, “Matthew 7:12,” The NIV Study Bible, p. 1452.
[xxi] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary - New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 65.
[xxii] D. A. Carson, pp. 123-135.

Part I
Part II
Part III

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sports: Bruin basketball, first impressions

Have only seen a little bit of them on TV and have heard parts of several games on radio. They were beating up on lower level teams so they seemed better than actually are.

The real tests were against Michigan State and Texas and in both cases they fell behind and had to play catch up.

This year's team is last years team but a year older, without Aaron Afflalo and adding Kevin Love.

They are still having trouble running the offense against the zone.

Kevin Love is obviously a plus but he does look umm... a bit heavy? I wonder if he has the stamina for full time banging down low and running up and down the court?

With so many early injuries, the team isn't quite in synch yet and not up to full conditioning so things will go up from here hopefully.

Go Bruins!

Theology: Thoughts on the Kingdom of God, Part I

An immediate thought is that the kingdom of God is the rulership of God. However, a first-century Jew might think: has God forgotten us and is God still in charge? Thus, when the Gospels speak of the kingdom of God, a more specific idea than the unfathomable sovereignty of God must be in play.[i] As such, when Jesus proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17, Mk. 1:15), the more specific idea of God’s reigning in the lives of those gathered by Jesus was being emphasized.[ii],[iii],[iv]

Besides the present tense aspect of the obedience of Jesus’ followers (repentance being the first step), there was a future dimension revealed in the prayer Jesus taught his followers in the petition, “Your kingdom come” (Mt. 6:10, Lk. 11:2). Thus, a tension existed between the way things are and the way things will be; the kingdom of God is both here and yet to be. At the first church I was a part of, the pastor explained that the kingdom of God exists in two stages: the kingdom of preparation and the kingdom of realization. He taught that the current church age is a time of preparation of the people of God and that upon Jesus second coming, the kingdom will be fully realized.[v]

Of the four gospels, Matthew most frequently used kingdom language (50), with Luke second (39), Mark third (14) and John a distant fourth (5).[vi] In fairness to John, it is possible that the concepts of the kingdom were embodied in his usage of the term “eternal life.”[vii],[viii]

In addition to most frequently using kingdom language, Matthew's gospel was structured around five discourses.[ix] Thus, a systematic presentation of Jesus' teachings on the kingdom might be most easily found in Matthew.[x] Using this reasoning, for this paper, I will briefly discuss how Matthew 5-7 shed light on the present tense aspect of the kingdom, Matthew 24-25 the future dimensions and relationships between the two passages.

... to be continued

Reference citations:

[i] D. A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), pp. 11-12.
[ii] D. A. Carson, pp. 12-15.
[iii] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p. 277.
[iv] N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 43
[v] Timothy Lin, The Kingdom of God and Discipleship (http://www.bsmi.org/download/lin/KingdomAndDiscipleship.pdf, 2003), p. 12.
[vi] C. C. Caragounis, “Kingdom of God/Heaven,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 426.
[vii] Richard H. Hiers, “Kingdom of God,” Harper’s Bible Dictionary, p. 528.
[viii] C. C. Caragounis, “Kingdom of God/Heaven,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 429.
[ix] Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green and Marianne Meye Thompson, Introducing the New Testament Its Literature and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2001), p. 94.
[x] C. C. Caragounis, “Kingdom of God/Heaven,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, pp. 427-428.

Part I
Part II
Part III

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sports: BCS mess!

My predictions before this weekend now modified:

Rose:
USC (pac10)
Hawaii (at large, wac) At this moment Hawaii is down 21-0!
UPDATE: Oh my, Hawaii rallied to win 35-28! Alas, I think the Rose Bowl selection committee will go for the Dawgs to set up the Cowherd National Championship game. I'm guessing Georgia fans will bring in as many dollars as Hawaii fans.
Georgia (at large, SEC)
UPDATE: The Rose Bowl committee might stick with the Big10 in which case they go get Illinois. Also, "stealing" Georgia might violate the conference affiliations agreements so the Rose might not be allowed to take Georgia away from the Sugar.
ACTUAL MATCH: USC vs. Illinois

Fiesta:
Oklahoma (big12)
Boston College (at large, ACC)
Arizona State (at large, Pac10)
UPDATE: Will the Fiesta feel it is too much "nepotism" to take an Arizona school? Who will they go get then? Boston College?
ACTUAL MATCH: Oklahoma vs. West Virginia

Sugar:
LSU (sec)
Mizzou (at large, Big12)
Boston College (at large, ACC)
Hawaii (WAC) two spread offenses go at it!
UPDATE: They have SEC tie-ins which might require them to take an SEC team, then its Georgia.
ACTUAL MATCH: Georgia vs. Hawaii

Orange:
Va Tech (acc)
Georgia (at large, SEC)
West Virginia (big east)
ACTUAL MATCH: Va Tech vs. Kansas

BCS Championship:
Ohio State (big10)
West Virginia (big east)
LSU (sec)

Truth be told, I'd have to agree with Cowherd of ESPN... USC vs. Georgia would be the "real" national championship game right now.

Sports: UCLA vs. USC, game day

Can UCLA win?

If the special teams steals a TD and gives UCLA good field position and puts USC in bad field position.

If the defense comes up with an unbelievable game like last year.

If the offense can keep the QB from getting hit. Why did UCLA have their 2 QBs injured this season? The OL didn't protect them.

If all three happen then maybe UCLA is still in the game late in the fourth quarter with a miracle shot at pulling off the upset.

Otherwise, the game could be over like other years by half-time or sooner.

Go Bruins!

UPDATE: USC 24 UCLA 7. What can you say? No surprises today. Congrats to USC for their 6th Pac10 title.

Non-profit of the month: December, 2007 - Chrysalis

When people talk about social welfare programs, whether they are run by the government or by non-profits, one definitely must talk about job training.

Indeed, there are people who aren't able bodied and they need help.

But what about those who are able bodied but for various reasons struggle to find and keep work?

One of my friends volunteers with Chrysalis.

They provide nuts and bolts help:
What if you are poor and don't have good clothes to wear for work and interview?
What if you are an employer who wants to take a chance and give someone who needs a second chance a job, where do you find someone who has taken some steps toward recovery?
What kind of support does a person transitioning from homeless have?
These kinds of concerns and many more are addressed by this non-profit.

Non-profit of the month: November, 2007 - Camp CAMP

It is already December!

Its been a hectic month and I missed my monthly posting on non-profit of the month where I highlight good causes big and small that I come across that I will support either with a one-time gift or regularly.

For this post, it is long overdue that I mention Children's Association for Maximum Potential.

When you hear from family and friends that they are expecting, it is great news! And most of the time, the child arrives in the usual way without any difficulties.

But the reality of life is that some kids come into the world with special needs.

And thanks be to God that there are parents who have that extra measure of love to care for them and for groups like Camp CAMP to help those kids and those parents.

Check out their story here and see if you want to support them. I'm sure in your local area there are organizations just like them so be sure to check them out too. I don't live in Texas but I have a friend who does who has had a long association with this worthy effort.

UPDATE: Wow, some people actually do read this blog! I got this kind email note from one of the staffers at CAMP:
Hi Rene- I just wanted to thank you for your kind words and glowing endorsement of CAMP! I did want to let you know that we gladly accept individuals with special needs from all over the world, not just from Texas. I truly appreciate your support of our organization and hope you'll come out for a tour the next time you're in the area. Thank again. Happy Holidays and Best Wishes.