Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Giants Won!

Eli Manning did not play that well. Shockey didn't do much. Burress had a TD but didn't do a whole lot. The defense, however. If anyone told me that the Giants defense, THIS YEAR would tie the single game record for the most sacks in a game, 12, I'd have thought they were crazy. The Eagles were missing some players, to be sure, but they didn't make any adjustments and the Giants ripped through them.

It was sweet.

Robyn Blumner's Latest Column

I am annoyed. I've been a life long Mets fan. Tom Glavine will one day go to the Hall of Fame. I hope that people remember how puny he came up for his team in their most important game of the season. Actually, the Mets did a total collapse and congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies who pounded the Mets this year and deserved to win the division. Thus endeth that rant. I wanted to share Robyn Blumner's words.

These are not my words but the words of Robyn Blumner. Her column today is outstanding.

Republicans and their big Greenspan gap

Published September 30, 2007


Talk about a kick in the teeth. It's one thing to have former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill or even former CIA chief George Tenet turn on you once they are out of office; it's quite another to have the Delphic oracle on all things economic, Alan Greenspan, do so.

Our president likes to point to the American economy as one of his successes. Despite turning a $5.6-trillion 10-year projected surplus into a $2.4-trillion 10-year projected loss, President Bush boasts that his aggressive tax cutting has led to economic growth and a lower deficit than anticipated. In other words, he's putting less on America's credit card than expected. Goodie.

But the former Fed chairman isn't playing along anymore. The man once trotted out by Bush as a supporter of his tax cut scheme is now rewriting that chapter - clarifying that he never intended to endorse the particulars of the Bush tax cuts when not coupled with a budget surplus.

Overall, Bush doesn't fare too well in Greenspan's new book and in a raft of recent interviews. Bush is faulted for his unwillingness to keep the reins on the purse strings and wield his veto pen if necessary. Greenspan says Bush's reticence allowed congressional Republicans to engage in "out-of-control spending."

Greenspan, a self-declared "lifelong libertarian Republican," waxes most effusively about Democrat Bill Clinton's economic acumen. He calls Clinton an "information hound (with) a consistent, disciplined focus on long-term economic growth." Greenspan writes that Clinton's 1993 economic plan was "an act of political courage."

Thanks to the golden Greenspan, the assertion that Republicans represent the party of fiscal constraint is now laid bare for the fallacy it is: as empty as a Rudy Giuliani marriage vow.

What is more to the nub of things is that Republicans don't spend less than Democrats, rather they spend money on different things, pre-emptive war for example, as opposed to giving students a better interest rate on college student loans - one of the Democrats' first legislative initiatives since taking over Congress.

Bush has already spent $450-billion to fund the war in Iraq and he is now asking Congress to raise that total to nearly $600-billion to sustain operations through 2008. Bush has squandered the nation's wealth to secure more oil, as Greenspan bluntly asserts. Contrast that to what might have happened during an Al Gore administration. More likely than not, it would not have attacked Saddam Hussein but would have invested in finding a way off the oil that sustained the tyrant.

Take your pick.

National security, of course, is another arena that Republicans claim supremacy over Democrats. But Bush's disastrous war suggests that any alleged prowess is overblown. Bush ignored CIA intelligence estimates circulated in January 2003, that said that a post-Saddam Iraq would fracture and devolve into "violent conflict," and that regime change in Iraq could boost sympathy for Muslim terrorism. Instead Bush went to war with too few troops to prevent those dire predictions.

A real commander in chief wouldn't have put his military in that impossible predicament, and wouldn't continue to impose the sacrifices of war exclusively on an exhausted volunteer fighting force.

If going to war is necessary, then a real leader institutes a draft and raises the revenue needed to do the job. But Bush, who thinks that government doesn't work and proves it at every turn, thought he could do a war in Iraq on the cheap. Now, nearly 4,000 American lives and innumerable newly hatched terrorists later, Bush intends to hand off his mess to the next decider.

I would call this immoral. But morality and values is another Republican-claimed piece of rhetorical turf.

Personally I believe that morality has more to do with honesty, integrity and compassion than whether Heather has two mommies, but that is not the way it has been defined in today's political vernacular.

In those terms, sexual purity and marital fidelity is the pre-eminent value. So when Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig got caught ostensibly signaling for gay sex at a Minnesota airport, his colleagues called for his resignation faster than one can say Brokeback Bathroom. What I don't understand is why Sen. David Vitter, the married Louisiana Republican who was on a Washington madam's call list and admits past "sins," didn't suffer the same consequences. Could it be that Louisiana's governor is a Democrat and would appoint a Democrat to replace Vitter, while Idaho's governor is Republican? Is politics trumping morality?

Of the three policy areas that often motivate voters to cast their ballots for Republicans - fiscal discipline, national security and moral rectitude - the party's elected leaders have bollixed them all. Bush may be the most glaring of the GOP's liabilities (as The Donald declares), but Republicans in general have a Greenspan problem, and that's going to be a hard one to shake.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Consequences of an Unjust War

When when studies philosophical ethics, one of the topics raised is the issue of a Just War. These principles are centuries old and still held, by most philosophers to be valid.

They are, in a nutshell:

A just war can only be waged as a last resort.

A just war must be sanctioned by legitimate authorities.

A just war can only be waged to redress a wrong or wrongs suffered.

A just war can only be fought when there is a reasonable chance of success.

A just war must have, as a goal, restoring peace.

A just war must be waged proportionally to the injuries suffered.

A just war must be carried out in a way that it discriminates between combatants and non-combatants.

One of the criticisms of the current War in Iraq was that many questioned if the war, from the outset, was a just war. This particular war, at this time, does not seem to meet enough of the criteria.

First, was this a last resort? Hardly. We were not in danger of being invaded, we were not in danger from WMD's, and Iraq was hardly a major player in the Middle East any longer.

Secondly, was it sanctioned by legitimate authorities. Quite frankly, the United States ought to fight in declared wars and only the Congress has the authority to declare a war. However, Presidents have placed troops in situations and such so this was probably sanctioned by a legitimate authority. Besides, Congress did not put up any major opposition.

Thirdly, was this war waged to redress wrongs that we had suffered. Not in the least. Iraq was not a threat----UN weapons inspectors told us this. Iraq was not responsible or behind 9/11 (though it was often implied.) This war was not waged to redress wrongs we had suffered.

Fourthly, is there a reasonable chances of success? I am doubtful. Iraqis are fighting one another and us at the same time. We are being shot at by all sides of the combatants in a civil war. Historical precedent does not indicate that nations intervening in civil wars have much chances of success.

Fifthly, is the goal to bring about peace. One would think so. President Bush, however, speaks of victory but has yet to define victory. Until there is a definition of victory that includes peace, we are not in good territory here.

Sixthly, the war must be waged proportionally to injuries suffered. As we did not suffer injuries from the nation of Iraq, this is not met.

Lastly, the war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. This is difficult. When one fights an insurgency it is difficult to determine who is friend and who is foe. I do believe our military does attempt to make these distinctions.

The difficulty with this war boiled down to several issues:

First, we invaded a sovereign nation. This is not an approach which the United States has generally used. Most of our invasions in the past have been in either occupied nations where we were freeing another people, or against nations against whom we were previously at war, redressing ills.

Secondly, our reasons for invading Iraq were bogus at worst, questionable at best. Saddam Hussein was a wretched individual who gave pond scum a good name. He was a cruel tyrant. he was, however, not our problem. The policies of containment put in place by George Bush I, and Bill Clinton were working. Iraq was not a threat. UN weapons inspectors did a thorough inspection of the country and found nothing. We yelled at Iraq to 'come clean' and when they did not hand over the weapons that they did not have, we invaded. Additionally, allusions were made to 9/11 and Iraq had nothing to do with it.

Thirdly, we do need to fight a war on terror. I believe that our invasion and fighting of the Taliban in Afghanistan was warranted and was just. I have no issue with fighting a war on terror; the problem is, Iraq is not the problem.

Fourthly, be honest. Syria and Iran were and still are the biggest terrorist threats. Our military forces are spread out in to theaters of operation and, frankly, we can't do much about Iran and Syria.

I find this whole war to be distressing and it is getting worse. The Senate is too busy trying to attack's questionable ad as a diversion from actually dealing with the war. Senate Republicans have successfully blocked any action and the Democrats have not demonstrated the fortitude to cut funding.

My great concern is for our troops. Our military people, in my experience, are very fine, very committed people. They are willing to fight and if necessary, die for their country. Our troops are spending tours of duty which are too long, using equipment that is not protecting them, and are often exhausted. There are few 'down places' away from the front. They are in the middle of a violent civil war and in constant danger. Increasingly National Guard troops are being used.
We are increasingly vulnerable to bad stuff happening to us. Our military forces are maxed out and we have little to no ability to respond any place else.

Most invaders do not generally do well in the long run. The theory of a just war may be old, and may seem quaint and irrelevant to some, but the just war theory was devised to assure that people and nations think before they jumped into the quagmire of war. This principle was ignored and the consequences have been dreadful.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Giants Won!

Nothing else to add. The Giants won. Wow. In an hour when I stop shaking...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The (Insert Word Here) Media

I wonder what the first word that comes to mind for most people when they read "The (insert) Media." I would not be surprised if the adjective of choice for many is the word liberal. We have heard the expression, over and over again, "The Liberal Media."

This phrase was first used by the Nixon Administration but honed to perfection by Ronald Reagan. Like most expressions, if used long enough, with great persistence, and some nice anecdotes, people begin to believe it is true.

There are newspapers that tend to swing to the left; but most of them have conservative columnists in them. There are newspapers that swing to the right, but many of them have more liberal columnists in them. There are also news organizations that deliberately come, repeatedly, from one direction.

The newspaper which was begun by the Unification Church, aka, "The Moonies," The Washington Times, is consistently biased to the right. Anyone who believes that Fox News is fair and balanced is eligible for a bridge deal in Brooklyn.

But the phrase, "The Liberal Media," still seems to reign as the king of media phrases.

One must be cautious on how one uses the word 'liberal' in these instances.

When one media organization chose to honor those who had been killed in Iraq by reading their names on the air, this was seen as a liberal venture. Acknowledging and honoring the memory of people who have died in a war is not liberal or conservative, it's human. If being human is 'liberal,' wow.

Conversely, when reports came out on policy changes in the Justice Department that made it have very different policies from the past, this was seen as 'liberal' when all they did was report the differences. What one does with facts can move in any direction, but facts are facts. Considering, however, that we enjoy living more in an anecdotal culture than a factual culture, this is not a surprise.

People who read Time or Newsweek and see them as part of the liberal media, frankly, don't know what they are talking about. Someday read The Nation or Mother Jones or The Utne Reader and you'll read real liberal media and you will realize that Time and Newsweek are not that.

The word I would really insert, however, is the word lazy.

The lead in to the war demonstrated complete laziness and capitulation by the Democrats who went along with everything and the media which never really did getting around to asking difficult questions.

The lead up to Katrina was another prime example. The President was on vacation and it was obvious that the Mayor of New Orleans was clueless and the Governors of Louisiana and Mississippi were clueless. A catastrophe was looming and the media didn't really seem to have much impetus to cry out. In fairness, they did become very effective on the ground in New Orleans and it was their reporting of the horrors within the city that finally prompted action.

The media, in my mind, does have a responsibility. They are the questioners of power. The very reason that the Founding Fathers of this nation demanded freedom of the press was that they knew that leaders who had no accountability would become tyrants and/or incompetent fools. When the media is too lazy to do their job, we are all the poorer for it.

I don't believe that it's true because, frankly, much of the media is more lazy than it is liberal or conservative.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sports Musings

OJ Simpson was a fantastic football player. I went to college in upstate New York during his prime with the Buffalo Bills and he was a truly outstanding running back. Being an outstanding player, however, does not make one an outstanding person. As I watch this case transpire in Las Vegas it is obvious that they want to put him in jail. I guess that's what happens when you get away with murder...

Sports kinships are amazing. Other than the 1986 World Series which cut the hearts out of Red Sox fans and made Bill Buckner a folk hero for Mets fans, the Mets fans and the Red Sox fans have always had a kinship. They have always had a mutual hatred for the Yankees----the evil empire of baseball. Now the Red Sox and the Mets are both in a major autumnal swoon with their entire seasons and post season opportunities greatly at risk and the evil empire is doing well. There is no justice in the world of sports.

Donovan McNabb has claimed that black quarterbacks receive more scrutiny than white quarterbacks. Donovan. You were on the receiving end of racial slurs from Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh all but wears his white robe and hood on the radio so he doesn't count. You are being booed in Philadelphia because your team is 0-2 and you have been very inaccurate with your passes. Nothing more, nothing less. There is hope, however. You do play the Giants twice and with their secondary you'll be able to have two career days.

You know it's a bad season and time when you make a move such as this in your Fantasy League. I picked up the Bengal's defense last week because they were playing the Browns. The Browns couldn't carry water in the first game of the season, never mind win. The Browns were, after week 1, the worst offense in the league. I was going to win big. Of course the Browns scored over 50 points and my defense not only didn't win me points, it LOST me 7. Ouch. That's what happens when you overthink things. Alas, the Bengals defense has been cut. It could be worse for them. They could have the Giants' defense.

The Saints are looking like the Ain'ts again. They need to play the Giants to have a big game.

Ladamien Tomlinson said that the Chargers are a lot better than the Patriots. He said this before the game. The Chargers then went out and got killed. Tomlinson is averaging 1.9 years per carry. A little false bravado is going on here. Or a lot of false bravado. In football it's one thing to boast; but you have to actually do it on the field. Tomlinson hasn't thus far this season. Of course, to get healthy and have a big game, all he needs to do is to run against the Giants' defense.

I think that the Giants have their hot dog vendors wearing uniforms and they are the people actually on the field. These clowns couldn't possibly be an official NFL defense.

And finally. I wonder if Tom Coughlin has found a good real estate agent or if he plans on retiring in the Garden State.

The View: I'm Speechless

It's really too bad that they lost Meredith Viera because she was exactly what that show needed.

Rosie O'Donnell was a disaster.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck looked good in a bikini on Survivor so they hired her figuring that they needed at least one person who looked good in a bikini.

They hired a big name, Whoopi Goldberg, who can push the envelope but is also seriously funny and has a softer edge than Rosie.

Now they hired Sherri Shepherd and Whoopi Goldberg asked her a question about the earth. They had a discussion on evolution, etc., and Ms. Shepherd does not believe in evolution of any sort. It almost makes you wonder how she got through high school science, but, okay. But then Whoopi asked her the whopper. Did she believe that the earth was flat?

And Sherri Shepherd didn't know. She never gave it a thought.

Ms. South Carolina was not dumb; she had brain freeze. Sherri Shepherd, however. Wow.

I'm speechless.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wow, When Barry Manilow...

Wow. When Barry Manilow won't appear on TV with you, you have really done it.

Barry Manilow was scheduled to appear and to sing on The View. He had one request, however. He would not appear on the show unless they promised him that Elisabeth Hasselbeck wasn't there. He feels that she has extreme views and is dangerous.

I've always been nice about Elizabeth Hasselbeck. Her husband, Tim, used to be a back up quarterback on the Giants. Being a Giants' fan I can't be too critical of the spouses and families of Giants' players. But he got cut.

Actually, Elisabeth Hasselbeck has probably run her course on the show. Here's my heard it hear first. She'll be gone within the next year.

Confronting the Economy from the Center

In political philosophy there are two 'guiding lights' that demonstrate the extremes of two positions.

Karl Marx, a 19th century German political philosopher is the person who laid down the foundation of Socialism and Communism. His belief in Communism was that the community prevailed over all things and a pure Communist or Socialism system would eliminate class problems. His major concern was that society was divided by class and he believed that the rich oppressed the poor. A society without classes, he surmised, would be a Utopian society. The problem was, they did and his theories came into fruition first in Russia when the nation was devastated by war and weary of the Czars.

Marxism had several inherent difficulties. Marx believed that the lower classes could and should do whatever they needed to do to overcome the higher classes. Violence came from this and that violence was, in a word, awful.

Secondly, as happened so much in the Soviet Union and many of the Communist nations was that there was little to no incentive to be better than you were. With little incentive to excel people didn't.

Conversely the most fervent believe in a purely capitalist system was Ayn Rand. She was a 20th century political philosopher and author who had a dream of a Utopian society. Her society, unlike Marx's, had little government and was driven by class structure. It was the moral responsibility of the rich to get richer and poverty was a sign of moral weakness. She believed that altruism was immoral. She is often the heroine of many people who call themselves conservatives. Rush Limbaugh is very much a Randian. He claims to be a conservative----he isn't. Most classic conservative people do believe in altruism, they just don't believe it comes from the government.

There are several things that I find interesting.

First, neither Rand nor Marx believed in God. They were both the consummate humanists. To them, human beings were the highest species. We see Marx's view of violence and Rand's lack of altruism and we realize that both violate core teachings of Jesus.

Secondly, they both seem to be extreme and society needs to cry out for balance. The concept of the 'greater good' is a societal and ethical issue that is important. The concept of individual ambition and responsibility is also important.

In confronting a difficult economy it would be nice if national leaders would recognize that many of their ultimate principles come from these two, incredibly flawed world views. There are answers....but they will usually always be found in the center.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Random Musings

Demetrius Jones, Notre Dame's backup quarterback----the one who started game one, did not even show up for the team bus. He was replaced by a freshman Jimmy (Deer in the Headlights) Clausen who so dazzled everyone with his performance against Penn State. It does remind me that the name Charlie Weis and the word 'genius' haven't been used in the same sentence for a while. It's funny that the assistant coaches of Bill (I Wasn't Cheating, I Just Have a Different Interpretation of the Rules) Belichick, haven't done that well.

The Mets can't beat the Phillies and the Red Sox can't beat the Yankees. Huh. It makes me think that the Red Sox need to recruit Bill (I Wasn't Cheating, I Just Have a Different Interpretation of the Rules) Belichick to help read Yankee signs.

President Bush's plan was a real surprise. We're going to 'stay the course' in Iraq. I know that we are making progress. From his progress reports, I think that we are soon going to be entering Norway.

It has come out that the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security have such bad accounting practices that they cannot pass any basic auditing reports. It almost makes me speechless. As far as leadership, however, we will stay the course.

Wow. OJ Simpson is in the news again. Speechless again.

If the New York Giants were to send spies into a stadium to steal signs, they would wear bright red and blue shirts with the word SPY emblazoned on them. The New York Giants have a long term history of ineptitude on such things. In 1963 they were the first NFL team to take a crack at cheerleaders. The cheerleaders ran out on the field and held up cards that read: Og Ginats Og! They made sure when the built Giants Stadium to make the sidelines too small to have cheerleaders lest anyone else come up with any more bright ideas.

I almost want to feel sorry for Michigan and Notre Dame.

I can't. I lived in Ohio for 11 years. I can't feel bad for Michigan.

Notre Dame is the college football equivalent of the Yankees in baseball, and Duke in college basketball, and the Cowboys in the NFL. One of those teams that when they lose brings a smile to your face and warms your heart.

You have to like Notre Dame's chances today. They are, after all starting, Jimmy (Deer in the Headlights) Clausen who looks like he may have a career in the NFL being the back up to Rex (Deer in the Headlights) Grossman.

Eli Manning may play tomorrow. He was awesome last week and I hope he does play. I would love, however, to see the Hefty Lefty play in a game some time. He really is exciting and fun to watch. He has a great arm, a super competitive spirit and despite what some say, he has amazing mobility for a man his size.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Athletic Cheating

Barry Bonds' home run records will always be tainted by allegations that he cheated by using steroids. Sadly, it looks like all the home run records post Hank Aaron and post Roget Maris came as a result of steroid use. Cheating does tarnish records and reputations.

It's looking more and more like the New England Patriots and their coach, Bill Belichick cheated. It was probably not the players as much as the coaching staff. Belichick's claim that this was from his interpretation of the rules (without further elaboration) seems to have the same credibility as Larry Craig's 'wide stance.'

If Belichick (and the Patriots) did, in fact, cheat, Belichick should be suspended and the game ought to be forfeited. Please realize that I do not like the Jets and for them to win a forfeit does not thrill me. If the Patriots did cheat than they do not deserve to have the victory.

Cheating in professional sports ought to be as accepted as Michael Vick appearing at the Westminster Dog show. Some things ought not happen. The way to make it stop is to penalize those who do in a way that the cost is way higher than any benefit.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11th

It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny. It was the kind of day that people love to enjoy in this time of September. Not too hot, not cold at all. Just right.

I was going to a day long retreat in Tiffin, Ohio at the home of the President of our Association. One of the women came into the meeting and said that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Having grown up on the sunny side of that river I immediately thought of my trips to the top of that tower and how much fun it was to watch the little planes flying below us down the Hudson River. My first thought was that one of them had lost control and flew into the tower. But then we heard it was an airliner and then the second tower was hit. Obviously something huge was up.

As I watched the towers burn all I could think about was how difficult those fires were going to be to put out. I never gave it a thought that the towers would collapse. Two more planes went down. The beautiful day turned ugly.

Six years have passed and people still invoke "Remember 9/11" but I wonder what that means.

There was a strong sense of national tragedy and national unity following that ugly day. Our nation's leaders stood together and said that this would not go without vengeance. Six years later the mastermind of 9/11 is still making video tapes.

Our nation stood together with the world. We have become increasingly isolated in those years.

I remember Rosie O'Donnell on The View literally shouting that the collapse of the towers was actually orchestrated by the Bush Administration and that there was no way those towers could have or would have collapsed without having bombs planted inside. Rosie's convenient overlooking of the local (NYC region) academics conclusion about the incredible amount of fuel causing a fire hotter that imagined would and did cause such a collapse.

Six years after the fact I wonder.

The last time the United States had been attacked in such a way was on December 7, 1941, a 'day that will live in infamy.' FDR promised that those who did this to us would pay and Congress declared war on Japan. Almost immediately Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. We were going to be at war with different enemies in different parts of the world.

What many people fail to realize is that on December 7, 1941 the United States was not a super-power. Our armed forces were not as large as Germany's or Japan's and our equipment, most especially fighter planes, were mostly obsolete. The President's promise and Congress's declaration of war, and the subsequent declaration of war on us was going to make life very costly and very difficult. Many would die, and great sacrifices would need to be, and were, made.

On December 7, 1947, six years later, the United States was a super-power. We had not only defeated our enemies, but with great charity and compassion, we were helping to rebuild a shattered world. Millions of people across Europe and Asia were living in peace and freedom because our soldiers were willing to fight on other nation's soil, and give the country back to the original owners. Tom Brokaw would write a book and say that the Americans of that time and place proved to be the greatest generation. He might be right. They demonstrated courage, fierceness, loyalty, and ultimately great compassion to a shattered world.

It would be easy to blame everything on George W. Bush. He is well on his way to being blamed for everything including the great scurvy outbreak in the 19th Century---taking that burden off of Jimmy Carter. President Bush has banked his entire Presidency and legacy on the war in Iraq as the war on terrorism. Personally, I think it has proven to be a diversion to the war on terrorism but I may be wrong. He might be as well. In 1947 we knew that we were not going to be attacked by Germany or Japan and we cannot say that the terrorists will not strike us here again. In fairness, fighting a war on terrorism is fighting an insurgency, and ultimately fighting against a moving target with phantom like qualities. What we face continues to be daunting.

We have proven, as a nation, to be unable to deal with natural disasters. The carnage of Katrina is still very much present.

Economically the deficit is higher than ever before. The poor are getting poorer. In observing our Soup Kitchen it has grown a great deal in the lasst year or so. People are losing homes across the country, many victims of aggressive and deceptive lending practices----and forgetting the adage if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

And, politically, the big news is that Larry Craig's foot wandered into the next stall. Two major stories on the TV news last night were about the further adventures of Larry Craig and that Britney did not lip-sync very well, had abysmal dance moves (I think that they were dance moves) and looked paunchy in her bikini.

We can blame whomever we want for the state we are in now, but perhaps the first place we ought to examine is our mirrors. When all people want to deal with is the silly and ridiculous that is all they will deal with.

In 1947, six years after the fact, the United States was rebuilding the world and was seen as a great and heroic nation.

In 2007, six years after the fact, the United States has little respect in the world, and is focused on foot tapping in bathroom stalls.

We can blame whomever we want. I suggest first we look at our mirrors if we want to find out what is wrong.

Monday, September 10, 2007

NFL Week One Observations

Almost overlooked in the Colts victory over New Orleans on Thursday night was the defense of the Colts. Many people forget that New Orleans actually had a more productive offense than the Colts last year. On Thursday night the Colts defense held the Saints to two field goals. Indy has a great offense and their defense looks very impressive as well.

Lovie Smith is a good guy and loyalty is a wonderful quality. Sometimes, however, loyalty is not in anyone else's best interests. The Bears need a quality QB and it is not Rex Grossman. The Bears do have an championship caliber defense but their offense is dismal and will actually help them lose games this year. It's interesting and infuriating when people say that Grossman 'led' the Bears to the Super Bowl last year. They got their despite Grossman.

People said that Eli Manning needed to step up this year if he was going to be one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks. It's too soon to judge the season based on one game, but he sure looked like an elite quarterback on Sunday night. He kept the Giants in the game a great deal longer than the defense would indicate.

The Jets fans cheered when Chad Pennington got hurt. Ask a Giants' fan about Jets fans and you'll consistently hear to words. "No class." Chad Pennington did not lose the game for them, the Patriots' offense blew the Jets defense off the field. Pennington was gamely trying to drag himself to the sideline, the consummate teamer, to keep his team from having to call a time out. The crowd cheered is injury. Such class. Typical Jets fans.

I wonder if the Colts feel bad about losing Toast David. I mean Jason David. Actually, Toast is more appropriate. Burned toast at that. Wow.

I started the Raiders' defense on my fantasy league. They were one of the best defenses in the league last year and they were playing against the Lions. The Lions who each year do not have a highlight film but have gone to having a highlight slide for their previous year. Brilliant move on my part. The Lions lit the scoreboard up in a big way. Sigh.

What would happen if Joey Harrington, a player who had pretty dreadful years as a quarterback in Detroit, was moved to a team with a truly great offensive minded coach. There he is in Atlanta with Bobby Petrino who created scoring machines at U of L. If any coach could make Harrington a solid NFL caliber QB, it is Petrino. And Joey Harrington played like, well, Joey Harrington. Sad reality is this. Great coaches are great coaches if they actually have the players who can play their positions.

The Giants defensive coordinator is supposed to be great at designing and having the defense blitz. He blitzed a lot but there was virtually no pressure on Romo. Makes me think that suiting up the hot dog vendors from Giants Stadium and having them play in the secondary might not be the best idea the Giants have had in a while.

Giants and Dallas

The Giants defense was a huge question mark. Now it's not a question mark. It is non-existent.

Dallas was supposed to be great because of their defense. Their offense looked great, but their defense was pretty pitiful as well. Not quite as pitiful as the G-men, but pretty pitiful in their own right.

Eli Manning looked great. He really did. He made good decisions, made good throws, and had an awesome game. If he maintains this level of play he will be one of the NFL's great quarterbacks. We'll see, however.

During their heyday the Giants had a really solid conditioning coach who worked the players into shape and they suffered remarkably few injuries. Now they seem to run out on the field at get hurt. For all of his 'tough guy' image, Tom Coughlin's team is simply not well conditioned.

And, finally, John Madden was annoying. Tiki, Tiki, Tiki. They need Tiki. Tiki was a great player but he did retired John. His comments seem to indicate that he likes being retired. Their problem wasn't missing Tiki---their offense was fine.

I was, however, wondering what LT is doing these days...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Vitamin Glee--A Sermon

Vitamin Glee
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
September 9, 2007

The Byrds were a rock group that started in Los Angeles in 1964. In 1965 they recorded the song Turn! Turn! Turn!, which would go on and be their greatest hit. Many people liked the lyrics of the song. If you listened to the Scripture reading this morning you heard most of the lyrics. They borrowed them from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

This passage is one of the passages more people seem to like than many others. There is something very neat about these words, “for everything there is a season,” with the litany of things for which there is a season. It’s a great passage but many people seem to forget to keep reading. The verses following are unique and wonderful in their own right:

[12] I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; [13] moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

The author’s litany of time and his subsequent remarks remind us that we have no control over time and often little clue as to what God has done. So he surmises that the best thing to do with life is to live it and enjoy it. It is not unlike John 10:10 when Jesus says that he has come to that we might have life and have it to the full.

Whenever I read this passage from Ecclesiastes I always have a twinge of guilty. The words jump out. Be happy! Enjoy themselves! Eat and drink and take pleasure in their toll!

It’s almost as if the author of Ecclesiastes does not understand it. People who believe in God are not supposed to have pleasure. God’s people do not ascribe to happiness. And God’s people eating and drinking and taking pleasure????

But having said all of this, perhaps we learn in the Book of Ecclesiastes that taking pleasure in life is not only not bad, but it can be downright good. A little bit of vitamin glee never hurt anyone.

Some times we are good at creating sin where there isn’t any. We make it a lot more difficult than it is. We get the impression that anything good and worthwhile and enjoyable must be a sin.

A young woman was dating a young man and she invited him to attend church with her one Sunday. She attended a very strict congregation with a lot of rules. The preacher preached a sermon that Sunday on the evils of dancing.

He was fired up and said that dancing is the work of the devil. Two people dancing arm in arm, close together. So close in fact that they could feel the other person’s heart beat right next to their’s. Their faces were so close that they breathed the same air. This was just a sin, the preacher fired away.

After the Worship Service the pastor asked the young man if he had learned anything.

The young man said, “Yes, sir. I learned that I’m not getting nearly enough out of my dancing.

Something always strikes me about this story. It always seems as if something is enjoyable Christianity has attempted to label it a sin.

I used to teach college Ethics and I learned something about teaching ethics.

If you mention the word ethics, the first thing people think about is sex.

If you mention the word morality, the first thing people think about is sex.

If you mention sin, the first thing people think about is sex.

If you read the Bible the Bible actually says very little about sex in regards to sin. Most sexual sin in the Bible, and the only sexual sin in the Ten Commandments is adultery----which is about a whole lot more than sex. Actually, the book that does refer to human sexuality a great deal is the book Song of Songs, and it was not a book about sin.

People think about having a good time they often think about having drinks. People get together and have a few drinks as they socialize with each other.

From the mid-point of the 19th Century, Christianity has had a peculiar view of alcohol. I listened to a popular TV preacher a few years ago and he was preaching about John 2, the Wedding Feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. The preacher said that Jesus really didn’t turn water into wine because that would have been evil. He therefore concluded that Jesus had turned the water into grape juice. He said at the last supper when Jesus passed the cup to his disciples he used grape juice.

To say that Jesus turned water into grape juice or used grape juice at the Last Supper is a bit of revisionist history because we know exactly when grape juice was invented and by whom. It was invented in 1869 by a man named Thomas Welch because he was uncomfortable with using wine in church. Grape juice was instituted for use in churches by a Methodist Bishop, Herbert Welch, early in the 20th century.

The Bible, in reality, does not preach against the use of wine or alcohol. It does preach against drunkenness, but having a drink and getting drunk are two very different things.

My point in all of this is that the enjoyment of life is a good thing; it’s even a holy thing. Just because something is enjoyable does not mean it’s a sin. I’m obviously not advocating people run off and practice immoral or unethical behavior. I’m just trying to say that calling everything fun and enjoyable a sin misses the point.

Secondly, we need to recognize that being in the presence of God needs to have a sense of joy, enthusiasm, even fun and laughter. I love the story about a pastor’s wife in church on Sunday.

Gladys was the preacher's wife and accompanied her husband each Sunday to church. One particular Sunday when the sermon seemed to go on forever, many in the congregation fell asleep.

After the service, to be sociable, she walked up to a very sleepy looking gentleman. In an attempt to revive him from his stupor, she extended her hand in greeting, and said, "Hello, I'm Gladys Dunn."

To which the gentleman replied, "You're not the only one!"

One of the reasons I like using humor in sermons is actually fairly personal. I hated going to church when I was a kid. I really hated it. I figure that God must have had an incredible sense of humor calling me to the ministry because I really didn’t like going to church and I hated listening to sermons. I had one problem with sermons. I found them to be totally boring. That is, unless the person preaching told a really profound story, or something neat in history, or, best of all, humor.

Often when the service was over and the pastor effectively used humor, if someone asked me what the sermon was about, I couldn’t tell you. But then I’d remember the joke or the funny story, and then remember the point the preacher was making, and then I’d remember the sermon.

Most preachers preach first to themselves so part of the reason I come up with stories, historical images, and humor is so that if I were sitting out there I wouldn’t be bored. For me, a little humor brings about a sense of joy and well being and fills my soul with vitamin glee and enables me to move closer to God.

Lastly, sometimes when we approach God, we need to do so with a sense of profound joy and not complicate matters too much. Something that I have noticed about Worship over the years is that we have a tendency to make it more and more complicated.

I read this and it’s only a portion of someone having fun with church Holy Communion rules.

All Baptized persons are welcome to receive Holy Communion as long as they believe in the Real or Symbolic Presence of Christ as either Risen Lord, Rabbinic Authority, Holy Spirit Person, or Great Ethical Teacher.

If you prefer to receive Communion under the conventional species of Bread (St. Mary's Convent, Wahoo, Nebraska) and Wine (Ernest and Julio Gallo Classic Port, California, 1994) please stand or kneel with your hands by your sides at the rail.

If the nitrates in the port induce nasal congestion a light Chablis (Sutter Home, 1993) or Zinfandel (Paul Masson, April) is offered depending on availability. Please indicate this preference by placing your right hand behind your head.

Two non-alcoholic selections options are also offered. For red grape juice (Tucker's Berry Farms), place your left hand behind your head. If you prefer a white, pasteurized grape juice product, kindly place both hands behind your head. To express solidarity with oppressed farm workers in the grape industry, place both hands tightly over your mouth and hum "Le Marseillaise".

To receive an ordinary, unleavened Communion wafer kindly wink your right eye as the minister approaches. For a certified organic, whole-grain wafer, wink your left eye. For low salt, low fat bread,c lose both eyes for the remainder of the service. For gluten-free bread, blink both eyes rapidly while staring at the ceiling.

Children may receive a blessed animal cracker by showing the minister that they can cross their eyes. Parents who are concerned about the violence implied in eating animal shaped foods may join a support session that will try to lobby the church for change. It meets in the Fellowship Hall on Tuesday evenings after the C. S. Lewis Reading Group.

Most of us, if these were really the rules for Holy Communion in church, would look at them and say, never mind.

Which brings me back where I started. The writer of Ecclesiastes speaks to us of time and basically indicates that one of the best things to do with the time God has given us is to take that time and enjoy it. We have our church picnic today with good food, good friends, and games. Enjoy the day, enjoy the food, enjoy one another, and let’s all have fun together.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

But Clinton lied.... And Coal Mines

Every time one tries to even have a remotely intelligent discussion concerning politics, if a person is the least bit critical of President Bush, the retort is, but Clinton lied...

One can debate about Bush lies and Clinton lies, etc. Whose lies were worse. Etc.

If you are a coal miner, however, there ought to be some food for thought. Robyn Blumner, one of my favorite columnists, wrote this last weekend concerning coal mining safety:

Say you are a miner, a historically dangerous job in which more than 100,000 of your compatriots have perished since 1900. Whom would you want to have in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the government agency charged with inspecting mines and promulgating and enforcing safety regulations, J. Davitt McAteer, the Clinton appointee, or David Lauriski, the man selected by George W. Bush?

Here is a bit about each:

McAteer was a law student at West Virginia University when an explosion occurred at a mine near Farmington, W.Va., that killed 78 coal miners. The disaster led McAteer to organize fellow students to study the West Virginia coal industry. The resulting report helped to persuade Congress to pass a series of safety reforms under the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. The act revolutionized mine safety, requiring regular inspections of underground mines, fresh air supplies for miners and fines for safety violations.

After law school, McAteer worked to develop a mine safety program for Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law. In 1984 he founded the Occupational Health and Safety Law Center, a public interest law firm, which is where he was working when President Clinton tapped him to head up the MSHA.

Lauriski, President Bush's choice, had a far different resume. He had spent 30 years in the service of mining companies. In 1984, Lauriski was employed by the Emery Mining Corp. in Utah when 27 people died in a mining fire. Safety violations contributed to the cause, concluded MSHA investigators. But Lauriski later defended his employer's safety operations before Congress.

In 1997, as general manager at the Energy West Mining Company, Lauriski lobbied for a substantial elevation in acceptable coal dust levels.

Due to its high combustibility, coal dust has been the root cause of a number of deadly mine accidents. But beyond that, coal dust is a demonstrated source of black lung disease, and experts at the federal National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say the acceptable levels should be cut in half - never mind increased many fold as Lauriski wanted.

Unlike the safety enhancement agenda that McAteer pushed, Lauriski's tenure at the helm of the MSHA was marked by the slashing of regulations. According to the New York Times, the agency "rescinded more than a half-dozen proposals intended to make coal miners' jobs safer, including steps to limit miners' exposure to toxic chemicals."

In 2004, soon after Bush's re-election, Lauriski resigned to "devote more time" to his family. It also happened to be shortly after a Labor Department inspector general report found that the agency had engaged in improper contract letting under his leadership.

In short, coal mines have become significantly more deadly in the last 7 years. I know, but Clinton lied...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Christopher Hitchens & Mother Teresa

Very few people in this universe ever took Mother Teresa and her legend on except Christopher Hitchens. Mr. Hitchens views himself as an anti-theist and, over the years, he found Mother Teresa, in his perception, to be less than real.

He recently wrote an article in Newsweek that is pretty darned interesting. In a major departure he almost seems to be sympathetic towards her rather than attacking her with the ferocity that he did before.

Some things have become painfully obvious in reading about her, her letters, and such. She had become a very tortured soul. We can debate as to why she had become such a tortured soul, if it was the foundation of a remarkably deep spirituality, or grievous depression.

Her life had a radical transition. She had grown up and joined the convent. She felt God was calling her into a new ministry and through her persistence she founded her own religious order, the Missionaries of Charity. Their ministry was to work with the poorest of the poor, the most wretched people in society. It was and is a religious order of women who take vows of profound poverty, chastity, and obedience. This order and their ministry was her dream and her dream was fulfilled.

The problem became, however, upon accomplishing the dream and actually doing it, practicing the spirituality that she desired and doing the work that she wanted to do, Mother Teresa moved into a long, life-long period of great spiritual darkness. Her life became one of profound pain and the feeling of abandonment of God.

Hitchens, who ever much liked her, seems to indicate some sympathy for her. His theory is that her time of spiritual darkness did not come despite her practices but because of her practices. His argument, not mine.

What he points out, and is true of her, is that she became and was very, very dogmatic. She was adamantly opposed to divorce, birth control, and abortion and spoke often about these three subjects. It seemed that the more miserable she became personally, the more vehement she became in preaching on these topics most especially.

What I find to be ironic is that the Roman Catholic Church ethical teachings on these subjects as, to be kind, suspect in the first place.

The Roman Catholic rules on divorce are less about divorce and remarriage. The annulment process in Roman Catholicism attempts to reconcile divorced (and remarried) folks to the good graces of the Roman Catholic Church by demonstrating that spiritually the marriage did not take place. The problem, of course, is that people do marry in good faith and things do happen, and go wrong. Many Protestant Churches are filled with former Roman Catholics who were divorced and remarried only to find themselves banned from Sacraments. It is, in my opinion, a pretty ugly discipline.

The Roman Catholic teachings on contraception and birth control are, frankly, based on medieval 'science' and are totally irresponsible in this day and age. Additionally, they are written about mostly by people who have never been married and are basing their perceptions of marriage on their parents' marriage. (Like anyone really knows....)

Abortion, most everyone knows, is forbidden by Roman Catholicism. What many people do not realize is that it is forbidden in all times and circumstances. What this means is that if a woman's life is in peril she is ethically forbidden to have an abortion. At least officially.

Why it is that Mother Teresa focused her attention on these issues is least to me.

Hitchens blames the Roman Catholic Church ultimately in exploiting her. He ends his article in a fierce but almost poignant matter when he writes:

I say it as calmly as I can—the Church should have had the elementary decency to let the earth lie lightly on this troubled and miserable lady, and not to invoke her long anguish to recruit the credulous to a blind faith in which she herself had long ceased to believe.

A couple of things to strike me.

First, it hits me that the whole idea of naming people 'saints' is absurd. From a universal perspective of Christianity a 'saint' is a person in Heaven with God. When we sing hymns about the saints they are not hymns to the people 'named' saints but to everyone we believe has died and gone to be with God. A person's spiritual journey, ups and downs, etc., ought not be debated or put up for scrutiny or, frankly, even honored. People who live holy lives, it would appear, are strictly doing what God would have wanted them to do. Nothing more, nothing less. No honors are necessary for doing what one ought to do in the first place.

Secondly, I do agree with Hitchens on the point that Roman Catholicism did use this woman. She was exploited. She was willingly exploited and did 'her thing' world wide, but she was promoted as the 'ultimate Roman Catholic' the 'ultimate Christian.' Her interior life and what was promoted, did not match.

Thirdly, and I say this most seriously, when we see a person become so fanatical about almost petty doctrines without seeing or investigating beyond what they see or believe, we are usually witnessing a person out of touch and often a person suffering from something like depression. One of the symptoms of depression is that depressed people have a difficult time concentrating and because they have a difficult time concentrating any complexity of thinking is thrown out the window. They simply cannot handle it. I say this not as an ethical indictment, but a statement of great empathy for people who suffer from this.

The life of Mother Teresa was, to say the least, profound. She did a great deal of good for a great many people and offered compassion to God's most wretched of people. And she wrestled with her faith in a profound way.

There is that lingering question. Was she a confused and miserable old lady; or a saint?

Maybe that's not our's to answer.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Lobster Dinner at St. Marks!

St. Marks does a Lobster Dinner and we give our profits to the local Habitat for Humanity. It is fresh, whole lobster. Yep, they are ALIVE! (But not when you eat them, unless you are a real adventurer.)

On Saturday September 22, 2007
St. Marks will hold its third annual

Lobster Dinner

You may also have a pork chop dinner as an alternative entrée.
Dinners will include coleslaw, baked potato, green beans, bread,
Homemade dessert and a drink. There will be a children’s
dinner (hot dog and chips) and a vegetarian meal.
Takeout dinners will also be available.

There will be a 5:00 pm seating and a 7:00 pm seating
Take Out dinners may be picked up between 5:30 and 7:30 pm

Lobster Dinner - $24.00 Extra Lobster - $18.00
Pork Chop Dinner - $12.00 Extra Pork Chop - $ 7.00
Vegetarian Dinner - $ 5.00 Kids Meal - $ 4.00

Tickets must be reserved by September 17, 2007
For ticket information please call Joanne Howard at 812-948-8840

Proceeds from the dinner will once again go to
New Albany/Floyd County Habitat for Humanity.

St. Marks United Church of Christ
222 E. Spring Street
New Albany, Indiana 47150

Come join the fun, have a delicious meal
and contribute to a great organization.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Issue of Character in Politics

Every time an election is looming the issue of character is raised. Generally, one person tries to demonstrate that he or she has a better character than their opponent does. Is it true? Maybe, sometimes and maybe depending on what issues of character people choose to raise.

When Bill Clinton was in trouble over his affair with Monica Lewinsky and was up for impeachment there were screams about his terrible character. In essence, his impeachment was very much about character. And his character was, needless to say, not very good. However, my daughter asked me if I believed he would be removed from office. I told her, no, because in order to removed a person from office because of character, the people doing the removing have to actually be people of good character themselves.

Newt Gingrich, it turns out, was having his own affair.

Tom DeLay, it turns out, was busily breaking the law.

Clinton remained in office.

Recently two Republican Senators found themselves in trouble. Larry Craig pled guilty to lewd conduct with an undercover police officer and David Vitter's name was on an escort/prostitution service. Both found themselves in a very awkward situation because they had run on character.

Tragically, many people have found these many 'falls from grace' to be amusing and entertaining. Despite protestations to the contrary, some significant hypocrisy abounds in several instances. However, when people fall from grace, no matter how much we like them or dislike them, no matter how much we agree or disagree with them, it is still tragic.

Character is often defined as what we do when no one is watching. For many, there is a 'secret life' that comes into play. Often the 'secret life' comes as a result of pressures of their 'real life' and their inability to deal with the pressures in any sort of constructive matter. They fall into deep sin and misconduct.

Last week on Larry King there was a panel discussion. The Democrats were laughing, having fun at the fall of Larry Craig. The Republicans were gamely trying to spin this and remind the world that the Democrats aren't too hot. One panelist, however, Dr. Drew Pinsky, was the only person to demonstrate any concern for Mr. Craig. (Dina McGreevey was on and she expressed concern for Mrs. Craig, so she is not a guilty party in this.)

While the others were playing the great political game, the Democrats laughing, the Republicans lining up to find the bus to toss Mr. Craig under, Dr. Pinsky made the observation that Mr. Craig's behavior was very consistent with the behavior of many out of control addicts and that Mr. Craig was actually in trouble emotionally and could be a high risk for suicide. Indeed, his 'wide stance' comments were absurd and his interview with the police was almost surreal. He was ashamed of his conduct and wanted to not even confront it and for it all to be over with. Dr. Pinsky pointed out that this kind of behavior is incredibly dangerous to a person and that the person needed to be handled with care and compassion.

Larry King seemed to completely miss the significance of what Drew Pinsky said and the others ignored it. Their game was 'more fun.'

Character is significant. Character is about ethical conduct----but it is also about our responses to the ethical failures of others. Watching another fall ought never be funny, ought never be amusing, ought never be exploited for political gain. Watching people fall is tragic and dreadful and ought not be entertaining.

There are positions that have a high demand for character and personal conduct. There are people who are ethical leaders in society. Frankly, I think that if we look to Presidents, Senators, Congressmen and women, Governors, etc., to be ethical leaders, we are adding something to their job descriptions that ought not be there.

Perhaps we need to focus on a couple of things.

First, when campaigns turn into 'character debates' we need to confront these people and tell them to focus on issues and not the faux issue of character. It truly is a faux issue that sets people up for failure.

Secondly, in cases such as these, I'd love to see us have a culture that offers a sense of compassion and perhaps rehabilitation. We tend to like to shoot our wounded instead of trying to heal them. Senator Larry Craig is, no matter what we think about him, a very wounded man. Instead of trying to find a bus to toss him other, or instead of finding his behavior amusing, maybe some compassion but ultimately be a gesture of far greater character than many claim to have.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


My sports prognostications are not very good. I expected the Mets to get killed this weekend and they swept the Braves. Who'd have thunk it?

I had to do it. I checked out a men's room stall to see about the 'wide stance' thing. No way you touch another person's foot unless you absolutely are trying to. I think that even then, it would require a huge effort. Oh, lest you ask there was no one in the stall next to me.... Me thinks Larry Craig might have been fibbing a tad about what was going on.

Dina Matos McGreevey is reaching out to Suzanne Craig. Dina Matos McGreevey is the ex-wife of former Governor Jim McGreevey of New Jersey. McGreevey resigned just before a news story broke stating that he was gay and had been in a relationship (affair) with another man. Ms. McGreevey is still angry, but at least her husband did finally tell the truth.

The University of Louisville looked awesome in its opening game of the season.

As for the University of Michigan...Wow. The players of Appalachian State missed the memo that they were just a practice squad coming into Michigan for the Wolverines to work out kinks and get sharp for their 'real' games. The players of Appalachian State showed up to play in Michigan. Their coaches game into the game to win. As for Michigan. Wow. They were ranked as #5 in the nation and they lost to a much smaller school from a subdivision of college football.

There is good news for the University of Michigan. They did go down in college football history. The bad news is that they are down in college football history much the way the Titanic went down as a credit to durable ship building.

Fred Thompson is a hot prospect for why?

He's old.

He's a neo-con.

He lobbied for whoever paid him money.

He did a short stint in the Senate.

He's been in movies and TV shows as an actor.

He seems like a likeable guy and I found him to be decent on screen but he's a hot commodity for what reason?

It is ironic that Leona Helmsley's dog, Trouble, is now worth more than Michael Vick...

Ms. Helmsley chose to give 12 million dollars to her dog and gave several of her grandchildren nothing. Sort of makes you wish that Paris Hilton's last name was Helmsley, doesn't it?

I have always had to be kind and never say anything mean about Elisabeth Hasselbeck on The View. It was never because I adored her or agreed with her, but because her husband was one of the back up quarterbacks on the Giants. Tim Hasselbeck was cut, however. His brother Matt is a big star in Seattle, but Tim was never as good. Actually, I found that he had good mechanics but lacked a strong enough arm to play in the NFL.

Speaking of back up quarterbacks, the Giants second string QB is Jared Lorenzen, formerly of the University of Kentucky. This year he's down about 35 pounds and only weighs in at 285. He's pretty flexible. He's the back up quarterback and back up left tackle... I'm always amazed watching him. He has a great arm, but he's also surprisingly mobile. And it's great to watch cornerbacks run the opposite direction when Lorenzen gets a head of steam going.

I recently read in a comic strip about a failed business venture of trying to sell nude yoga to the Amish. Clever idea...the joke, not nude Amish yoga. Actually, if I ever went to a nude yoga class it would clear the room. Quickly!!!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Class Warfare---A Sermon

Class Warfare
Text: Acts 13:42-52
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
September 2, 2007

Every so often in political debates one person or group usually steps up and claims that another person or group is engaging in class warfare. It is almost as if this is a new thing that someone just dreamed up.

Class warfare is obviously one class of people in conflict with another class of people.

It can be a conflict between rich and poor.

It can be a conflict between races.

It can be a conflict between ethnic groups.

It can be a conflict between political parties.

Virtually anyone, at any time can claim that they are in a conflict with any one else and claim it to be class warfare.

We have this kind of scenario in our passage today. Paul and Barnabas are preaching to both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews reject the preaching of Paul and Barnabas as blasphemy and sinful whereas the Gentiles embrace it. Paul and Barnabas further say that they were commanded by God to preach first to the Jews and since the Jewish community would not embrace the Gospel, they were pushed aside for the Gentiles. In how they are speaking, they are not saying that God is rejecting them, but that the Jewish community was rejecting what God had laid out for them.

In that realm the Jews saw the Gentiles as unclean heathens and to be pushed aside for unclean heathens was just more than they could handle.

God does not bring about conflict, people do. Conflict is not from God, but often comes as a result of people’s reaction to God or God’s way. And people react in very different ways to God.

In the time leading up to the Civil War and through the war itself Christians, from both the North and the South firmly believed that they were doing God’s will. From the pulpits in the South, their Bible told them that God not only permitted slavery, but expected it and blessed it.

From the pulpits in the North, their Bible told them that God hated slavery and expected all people, of all races, to be a free people.

Of course, the Southern Bible and the Northern Bible were the same Bible. It wasn’t the Bible that caused the division, it was people’s response to it.

During World War II the average foot soldier of the American Army and the average foot soldier of the German Army found that they had something in common.

The average soldier in the German Army, and I’m not talking about the radical Nazis, believed that they were fighting for God and country and that God wanted them to fight against the godless Communists. Most could not understand why the Americans and the British did not join them to fight against the Soviet Union because this was something that God truly wanted.

Among the German soldiers were many religious medals, were Bibles, and copies of prayers that they carried in their pockets. When they began to lose the war many of them wondered aloud whose side God was really on.

The average soldier in the American Army was fighting against the evils of the Nazis. They were fighting to keep freedom alive in nations where the Nazis had conquered and terrorized the population. Among the American soldiers were many religious medals, were Bibles, and copies of prayers that they carried in their pockets.

The God of the German Army and the God of the American Army was the same God, the one God we all Worship. It wasn’t God who caused the conflict, it was people.

When we read this passage from Acts of the Apostles we see conflict among the people. It’s important to recognize that God is not the one who caused the conflict; it was the reaction of people to God.

People’s divisions over God and their response to God is always tragic. Jesus had several fervent prayers in the Bible. One of the most fervent was in John 17 when Jesus prayed that all may be one. I often think that when Christians decide to fight one another, to become hostile with one another, we ought to read and reread that prayer and ponder if the conflict is worth defying Jesus’ prayer for. I greatly suspect that if we truly did that, God’s people would fight a lot less.

There is a second aspect to this narrative. Paul and Barnabas were humble and practiced humility. They did not engage sides, they did not engage the conflict, they simply and humbly preached God’s Word.

The leading cause of conflict among Christians does not come from the Bible and does not come from God. It comes, as I said before, from people’s response to God and God’s Word. The bigger problem however, the thing that colors that response almost more than anything else, is spiritual arrogance.

Spiritual arrogance comes when we believe that our view, our perception, our response to God is the right one. And, if we are right, that means they are wrong. No matter where we are coming from, when we begin to go down this road, we are dancing in the world of spiritual arrogance.

Almost twenty years ago I was reading a book by a theological historian named Malachi Martin. Martin is one of those people who weaved history and theology together in some remarkable ways. He made an observation about 20th century Christianity that was really interesting at the time and I didn’t totally get it back then. But his observation stuck with me.

He said that the two most lethal words that were being bandied about in Christianity were the words liberal and conservative. His use of the worth lethal in regards to these two words really jumped out.

He pointed out something pretty interesting.

First, the words liberal and conservative are not Biblical words. Neither word shows up in the Bible.

Secondly, he observed that the words liberal and conservative did not show up in church history until very recently.

The conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches was theological and about where authority resided in the church. The words or concepts behind liberal and conservative never entered the debate.

During the time of the Protestant Reformation Luther did not use the words liberal and conservative in his writings, his preaching, or his discussions. His issues were very precise, very theological, and very much core issues of faith. Was he liberal because he wanted to change Christianity or was he conservative because he wanted to go back to ancient Christianity? We don’t really know because he never really engaged the words liberal and conservative.

Martin makes the observation that the reason the words do not show up for most of the history of Christianity is because they are not theological, Biblical, or spiritual words. They are political words. They are words, be design to form a wedge.

For better or worse, our democracy is based on wedges. We have multi-party government to intentionally have differences of opinions and wedge issues. It, in so many ways, keeps us safe from tyranny.

But the Gospel, by design, is not about wedges. It is, by design, a Gospel which shares the belief that God loves us and wants to be loved back. The Gospel, by design may lead to people responding in wedge-like fashion, but it isn’t, by design, intended to drive wedges. It is intended to live out Jesus’ prayer that all may be one. When we use political words, wedge words, we actually promote a spiritual arrogance more than we share the Gospel.

Paul and Barnabas preached and there was conflict. Let us know, however, that God does not promote conflict; God’s people in how they respond to God, often do. When we fight, it is not God’s will, but our will. We need to learn and live the humility that God challenges us to embrace. God’s people do, on occasion fight. We need to recognize that the fight comes not from God, but from within ourselves, and is not to be exalted, but is to be recognized as tragic.