Saturday, December 31, 2011

Class Warfare, Calvin Coolidge, and the Great Depression

Sometimes I wonder, are people stupid, or just willfully ignorant?  Many times I’m forced to think it’s the latter; enter author and correspondent David Pietrusza and his Op-Ed piece for titled “Class War—The Calvin Coolidge Response”

Of course Pietrusza starts off with a predictable story line, rambling on and on about how Obama has instituted a “war” on the upper class; Pietrusza even says America “no longer enjoys a peacetime economy. I speak not of Iraq or of Afghanistan. I speak of the class warfare economy officially imposed on the nation in Barack Obama’s Osawatomie speech.” He tells that Obama’s policies have been "tried everywhere. And has failed everywhere.  It leads to the guillotine—and, ultimately, back to the poor house.” Well, besides the ridiculously over-the-top suggestion that Obama’s policies will lead to people getting their heads chopped off, I can’t help but wonder how Obama’s policies will lead to the “poor house.”

'Calvin Coolidge, Thirtieth President (1923-1929)' photo (c) 2008, Cliff - license:
After getting in his rhetorical cheap shots in on the President, Pietrusza then goes on to explain what a great example President Calvin Coolidge should be to us; Yep, Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, in office from 1923-1929.  Despite being pressured to raise taxes on the rich, Coolidge resisted.  Coolidge succeeded in lowering income tax rates that had skyrocketed during the wartime Wilson administration. A booming economy resulted. Inflation and unemployment nearly vanished. The budget was balanced. The national debt reduced.” Oh, and there was this “Great Depression” thingy immediately after he left office.

Michael Beschloss and Hugh Sidey, authors of the presidential biographies found on, tell that “Coolidge demonstrated his determination to preserve the old moral and economic precepts amid the material prosperity which many Americans were enjoying. He refused to use Federal economic power to check the growing boom or to ameliorate the depressed condition of agriculture and certain industries.” Sound like any other former President (Bush) or current Presidential candidates?   

It would be unfair to blame the entire recession on President Bush’s policies (despite the willingness of some to blame it entirely on Obama), yet it is curious that just like Coolidge, who exited the White House just before the Great Depression, that when Bush’s presidency also ended a horrible recession immediately followed.   So, it has me wondering, should we really be praising the economic policy of a President whose term directly preceded the worst economic depression in American history?  Yet this is exactly what conservatives would have us do, continue to keep up the status quo, to continue the practices that Coolidge and Bush both promoted.   It’s hardly a surprise, for just like it was back in the “roaring 20’s,” the wealthy have been incredibly successful over the last 10 years and why would anyone want to change that?

I really, really doubt that David Pietrusza is stupid, I don’t think he’s willfully ignorant, nor do I even think he’s being blinded by his own ideology—I wonder if it’s much simpler.  Pietrusza knows what’s good for him and those like him, and he knows that any changes to the economic policies under which he has benefitted will likely negatively impact his bottom line.  So should we blame a guy for only caring about himself? Well, that up to your standard of morality (last I knew selfishness was immoral), but misappropriating history to support your positions—that’s just not cool.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I received nothing I wanted, I received everything I needed

I wanted strength and received difficulties to make me strong

I wanted wisdom and received problems for me to solve

I wanted prosperity and received brawn and brain to work

I wanted courage and received dangers to overcome

I wanted patience and was placed in situations where I was forced to wait

I wanted love and met troubled people for me to help

I wanted favors and was given opportunities

I received nothing I wanted, I received everything I needed

I now realize what I needed was all I ever wanted

A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world

The Disciples of Christ, the denomination I am a member of, has an unofficial slogan that they are a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”  This saying is quite relevant today, for as humans we are broken and living in a broken world.

Many smart people throughout the centuries have spent time thinking and discussing what it means to be broken.  People like Augustine, John Calvin, and Martin Luther have debated the idea that human beings are inherently flawed, or broken; a concept known as “original sin.” The idea of original sin is that each human being, from  the beginnings of life is predisposed to fail, almost like a built in self-destruct function.  This original sin therefore is the explanation for every failure and mess up of humans, for we are inherently broken.

I think we can all recognize within ourselves and within others, times when we have broken ourselves, times when we have made bad decisions which led to painful consequences.  There are so many times we reap the consequences for our poor actions and we find ourselves crawling around on the floor, trying to pick up the broken, scattered pieces of our lives. Some would say this is simply evidence of our innate problem, our inborn brokenness—we are already ruined, we are just digging the whole deeper.

Yet, I think there’s more to it than that, for as often as we may be the source of our own troubles, there is, more than many religious folks would like to admit, things in this world that simply break us.   I’m sure many of us can understand what it’s like to be broken, whether it be by dept, divorce, depression, discouragement, despondency… we find ourselves shattered in pieces, strewn across the room, through no fault of our own.  Financially we did all the “right” things, but the economy tanked and we lost our job and our home, we committed ourselves to our marriage yet when our partner just walked out the door we found ourselves hurt and alone, and despite reading all the self-help books and following the positive thinking gurus, we find ourselves beat down, depressed, discouraged, and defeated. We are broken all right—but it is this world which has broken us.

For far too long in Christianity “sin” was simply a personal problem, one’s problems were only the result of one’s personal failures.  The thing is, Jesus debunked this idea long ago; when he and his disciples came upon a blind man, the disciples asked him whether the blindness was a result of this man’s sin or the sin of his parents—Jesus said neither.  Unfortunately today, many are just as dense as the disciples; in both religious and non-religious circles, when someone is broken, the standard response is that it is the result of some moral failure on their part, that if they had just taken more “personal responsibility” for themselves or had had a better “devotional life” with God, these things wouldn’t have happened.   Slowly but surely many are beginning to recognize that “sin” can be structural—there are systems and schemes in our world that in the way they function inevitably break people. 

Anyone in America who’s been paying attention surely recognizes that there are many systems which inherently break people—economic systems, social systems, family systems.  What do I mean?  Economically it’s when a mortgage company systematically cheats minorities into bad loans and worse rates (remember Countrywide?).  Socially its strict societal expectations of how people should behave, and when they deviate from that norm—like being gay—they find themselves victims of relentless bullying and end up broken (often permanently from a tragic suicide).   As often as we may be the cause of our own brokenness, there is so much in this world that simply breaks us.

This time of year is what is called “Advent” in the Christian tradition.  Advent celebrates Jesus’ coming to earth as a child while also looking forward to a time when Jesus will return again and right all wrongs.  When Jesus was on earth he talked about what things would be like in “God’s Kingdom;” that when God is in charge, when people do things God’s way the hungry will be fed, the poor will have enough, and  the sick will be well.   So in Advent we celebrate Emmanuel, “God with us” in the form of the baby Jesus—we recognize God’s presence among us here and now loving, caring, and working for the good; true incarnational theology.  Yet Advent is also about a looking forward, with a bit of anxious longing, for a time when God’s kingdom will come, when God’s ways of justice, fairness, and rightness will be the rule of the day—as opposed to the pain and brokenness which is caused so often by the world we live in today.

We are a broken people, and that is why I am glad to be a part of a group that has as its stated mission to bring wholeness to this broken world.  The other day someone asked me what salvation meant, and I’m beginning to think it’s as simple as this, wholeness—for when someone who has been utterly broken begins to find healing and wholeness, that is true salvation.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A sports fan’s NFL magic carpet ride just came to an end.

Professional sports are the ultimate reality TV show; between the multi-million dollar personalities and the non-stop media coverage, this is as real as it gets.  There’s drama, intrigue, surprise, suspense… often all in one game.  Professional sports is the ultimate live event, for there really is no telling what may happen;  and there is just something special about seeing it live as it happens—in person or on screen—that makes it so entertaining. Sports are one of the few TV programs people watch live anymore; it’s easy to DVR a show or movie, yet watching a game on tape delay just isn’t the same.  Besides just the difficulty of avoiding the results of the game (“earmuffing”), there is the general let-down of fast-fowarding through all the tension filled drama.  There’s the 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, the 3rd and goal in the 4th quarter, the last-second shot attempt, and so on.  What makes sports great is that it happens live, in the moment, and as fans as spectators our heart races, we move to the edge of our seats, and we turn up the volume as we anxiously wait for what will come. Professional sports is a about enjoying the present.

This current NFL season has given sports fans some great moments, from the 13-0 Green Bay Packers to Tim Tebow’s magical ride with the Broncos; these two stories alone are perhaps the best examples of what makes sports great.  As sports fans we long to see greatness, whether it be the Jordan’s ’96 Bulls winning 72 games, the ’98 Yankees winning 125 games and a World Series, or Justin Verlander lighting up the speed gun and in so doing make so many batters whiff.  We watch sports to see greatness happen.  We also watch sports to see the unexpected happen; Villanova shocking Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA final, Boise State pulling the “Statue of Liberty” play to beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and The Dallas Mavericks beating the Miami Heat’s big three of James, Wade, and Bosh in the NBA Finals.   We also watch sports to see the unexpected happen—for as much as we want to see the best at their best, we also love the upset, we love seeing the little guy knock off goliath.  The 2011 NFL season had, up to this point given us both.

The Green Bay Packers were 13-0 entering this Sunday’s game; an offensive juggernaut and a defensive-takeaway machine, the Packers showed no signs of slowing. All talk centered around whether or not the Packers would rest their starters after this weekend’s assumed win over the Chiefs or continue to strive after a perfect season.    The Denver Broncos were 8-5 entering this Sunday’s game, having started the season 1-4 and being left for dead after a week 7 trouncing by the Detroit Lions, the Broncos had somehow managed to win 6 straight games and take over first place in the AFC West due to some Tim Tebow magic, some great defense, and some incredible special teams play. 

This Sunday both of these magic carpet rides came to an end; the Packers shockingly lost to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs, able only to score 14 points against a team which had just fired its head coach. The Broncos meanwhile, after racing out to a 16-7 lead, promptly turned the ball over 3 times in a disastrous second quarter leading to 27 straight points by the Patriots.  It was a disappointing Sunday for myself and any other true sports fan.  Not only did one team trip up when they were so close to true immortality and greatness, another team came up lacking when the big boys came to town.  Rather than getting to see greatness (the Packers) and the unexpected continue to happen (the Broncos), we had to see greatness lose some of its shine and see normalcy return.

All is not lost; the Packers are still incredibly talented and with any luck will use this loss as a springboard into the playoffs and to the Super Bowl, where they will be able to display their greatness for all to see.  The Broncos too still have a stingy defense and a ridiculously competitive quarterback who with a couple more wins can get into the playoffs where once again, we will hope to see the unexpected.  

This is what I want for Christmas as a sports fan:

A dominant run to the Super Bowl by the Packers with a great performance by Aaron Rodgers, accomplishing what Brett Farve for all his greatness could not do—win back to back championships.  What a great sight that would be to see! 

More gut-wrenching, hand-clinging, heart-racing, last minute games and wins by the Broncos and Tim Tebow. At this point I don’t expect them to do much beyond making the playoffs, yet it’s that suspense of knowing that this is a team from which to expect the unexpected which makes this team so exciting to watch!

So while sports fans lost a chance to see a team go 19-0, and another team make yet another improbable win, sports fans will continue to watch, for we know that these teams give us what we really want to see in sports; greatness (Packers) and the unexpected (Broncos).  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Straight Talk For Conservatives and Liberals: Tim Tebow Explained

After reading article after article written by partisans who neither understand football nor understand Tim Tebow, I’m taking a shot at it.  Being that I’m a former conservative, a current liberal, live in Denver, and am a Broncos fan, I think I can offer some fairly unbiased perspective.
First there was this article from Sojourners in which author Joshua Witchger describes himself as “not a football fan” yet proceeds to write an article on football.
Then there’s conservative Fox News pundit Todd Starnes complaining about all the “anti-Christian bigotry” coming Tebow’s way.  Cry me a river Todd.
So here it is, straight up,  for conservatives and liberals alike:

Quit getting upset that people don’t like Tim Tebow’s evangelical message; in case you didn’t realize this, it’s pretty polarizing.  I know conservatives agree with it, and that’s fine, but telling people who don’t agree with you that they will  be tortured forever after they die just for not agreeing with you isn’t a good way to make friends.  “We can agree to disagree, but you’re wrong and you’re going to burn forever.”

Tim Tebow took some heat for “starring” in a pro-life commercial funded by Focus on the Family during the Super Bowl.  Besides being completely cheesy (he tackled his mom!) the commercial really wasn’t provocative at all.  Being that when Tim’s mom was pregnant with him doctors suggested that she terminate the pregnancy out of concern for her health, is it so unbelievable that he would actually be advocating against abortion? The guy wouldn’t be here if his mom had listened to the doctors. 

Tebow isn’t being “picked on” by the sports media—it’s their job to say something interesting, that’s what they are paid to do.  It’s like Rush Limbaugh, do you really think people would tune into his show if he said something to the effect of “Obama is a nice guy, but I don’t agree with his policies, but I imagine he’s doing what he thinks is best, even if I disagree. “ NOPE! Instead it’s something like, “Obama is a leftist, socialist intent on destroying the fabric of America and I hope he fails.”  These sports media folks are, like Rush, entertainers first and foremost, it’s their job to say something interesting, and if it garners more attention, all the better.
Tim Tebow hasn’t been pushing himself into the spotlight; he hasn’t sought out attention for himself.  He turns down countless interview requests every week. He didn’t ask for all the attention, so cut him some slack. It’s not like he’s Lamar Odom starring in a reality TV show or Terrell Owens taking of his shirt and doing crunches in his driveway for the media.

Yes, it is annoying that he says “first and foremost I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior…” EVERY TIME he is interviewed! But it’d also being annoying if he said, “first and foremost I’d like to thank Zeus.”  It’s not so much what he says; just that he says it OVER and OVER again. We got it Tim!

Just a reminder, that EVERY time he starts off with that “Lord and Savior” stuff, before talking about himself he immediately thereafter thanks his teammates.  And it’s not like he’s trying to go through the whole “Romans Road” with the interviewer (okay, only conservatives probably get that reference). Then at the end of the interview he tells the interviewer “God bless you.”  Whatever you think about Jesus or God, this guy wishing divine favor upon someone seems like an okay thing.

No, God isn’t rewarding Tim with wins because of his “great faith.” Tebow admitted such after the latest “miraculous” come-back. Despite what his dad thinks.

No, God isn’t rewarding Tim with wins because of his “great faith.” Tebow admitted such after the latest “miraculous” come-back. Despite what his dad thinks.

Tim’s a big boy, there’s no need to rally to his defense or assume he’s some persecuted martyr.  He’s mentally tough enough to keep on going after being told his entire sports career that he’s not “good enough.” He’s mentally tough enough to lead come-back after come-back despite having the odds completely stacked against him. Brian Urlacher called him a “good running back” despite the fact that Tebow actually plays quarterback.  When Tebow was told about the comments, he calmly replied that “coming from a really good player (Urlacher) that means a lot.”   And Jake Plummer, no one else took Jake seriously, neither should Evangelicals.  In Plummer’s big shot at stardom he threw three first half interceptions in the AFC championship game then was traded away so a Rookie (Jay Cutler) could start. He’s a nobody who’s trying to say something to get some attention for himself.   Oh and those Lions players who “Tebowed” (Tulloch and Scheffler) have been roundly criticized for their actions (Check out Jemele Hill on

A few weeks ago Tim Tebow’s foundation broke ground on a hospital in the Philippines, where his parents served as missionaries and where he’s spent many summers.  During his weekly radio show on 850 KOA, Tebow said that the hospital was “the most important thing he had done all week,” bigger than one of his comeback wins.  Last week he called a sick kid and said again that it was the highlight of his week, despite yet another big win.

Stop anointing him as the “ideal Christian,” you’re just setting him up for failure; he’s human after all.  When Christians anoint somebody, their inevitable failure just adds more fuel to the fire and makes Christianity look even more hypocritical to non-Christians.  Stop anointing Tebow as the “ideal” Christian.  People are not perfect, quit expecting everyone to be.  You already have a Messiah, Tim Tebow isn’t it.  

Yes, he’s VERY Evangelical, but it works for him.  The guy has some incredible mental toughness and apparently his faith is a big part of that.  And anyway, would you rather have your kid look up to Tebow or Ben  Roethlisberger?  Tim Tebow or Tiger Woods?

Conservatives & Liberals
Tim is starring in a TV commercial in which he wishes everyone “Happy Holidays.” Guess he’s now a part of the “W_r on Christmas.”        

I’ve heard a lot of respect for Tim Tebow on progressive talk radio stations because people recognize despite his strong beliefs he tries his hardest to be authentic and down-to-earth.  Also, people appreciate all the good work he does in the community and in the world.  I wonder if all the criticism of Tim Tebow for his faith is rather a criticism of Evangelical Christianity as a whole, for over and over again Christians have anointed some figure only to have the failure fall. And rather than being caring and authentic like Tebow, Evangelicals have been harsh and judgmental.  Take Tim Tebow out of the conversation, the question Evangelicals should be asking is, why are liberals so “put off” by conservatives?   And the question I’d ask to liberals is, what would it take for you to be more respectful of Evangelicals?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The War on War

There’s the War on Christmas, The War on Christianity, The War on Religion, The War on the upper-class, The War on the poor…

Is this really an appropriate use of the word?  It would be easy to pick on one particular political party for their constant use of the phrase, yet the usage of the word “war” in reference to things other than actual war is a bi-partisan problem.    For every conservative complaint about the “War on Christmas” or “class warfare” liberals come back with phrases like the “War on the poor;” it’s a bit disturbing.  Do we really know what war is?

America is winding down a nine year war in Iraq while another in Afghanistan continues.  In these actual wars, many service men and women have lost their lives, thousands more have suffered casualties, and countless others still deal with the after-effects of war such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  That’s sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters killed in war—families torn apart, kids growing up without a parent while scores of wounded soldiers learn to function without an arm or a leg.  Oh, then there’s the civilian deaths, which number in the 6 digit range.

This is what war is like—its kill or be killed.

The word War should be an expletive.  Sure there’s the F-bomb, the S-bomb, and even that still taboo C-word; yet what happens in a war is far worse than any of these other words put together.  Men are tortured, women are raped, children suffer brutal deaths—we use the word so flippantly.

Every time we use the word to describe something other than actual war, we disrespect the men and women who have suffered and died in actual war. When we misuse the word we dilute the horror, suffering, and violence that takes place in actual war.

America has been at war for the last decade, wars which have basically been “out of sight, out of mind” from the general public.  Are we seeing the results of a blissfully unaware public in America today? I can’t help but wonder, for when people throw around the word “war” when talking about something other than actual war; it only cheapens the sacrifice of America’s soldiers and softens the horrors of war. 

Next time I hear anything about war, I’d prefer it to be in reference to an actual war.  Even better, I’d prefer not to hear of any war at all—because war is a horrible, awful thing which our world would be far better without.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Rich Fool

The Gospel of Luke tells of a parable Jesus spoke about the “Rich fool.” In the story, the man had a bountiful harvest, so much so that it was more than he could store, he decided the best thing to do would be to tear down his current storehouses and build bigger ones to hold all the abundance.  The man says to himself, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”[1]  Jesus tells that God considered him a “fool,” for after he died his great storehouses of grain would be worthless to him.

This man, by all modern standards, was a wise investor making a prudent business decision.   Similar to the advice any retirement specialist would tell a worker thinking about the future today, he was going to set his resources aside in the best financial portfolio of his day—large, secure storehouses to keep his wealth safe.  Translated to modern terms, he would be putting away all his cash into a well-managed, organized financial portfolio so her could relax, eat, drink, and be merry.  Translated into modern terms, “you fool” still means “you fool.” 

 Though he did not consider himself to be so, Jesus described him as a hoarder.  Despite his organization approach, despite his attempts to be make “prudent financial decisions,” he was simply a hoarder, he could not recognize when he had enough.  It seems to me, despite all that fancy terms and in-depth descriptions given today, all the modern avenues available to save one’s money equal to this man’s storehouses.   And despite what one may call it, “saving for a rainy day, for retirement, for the future…” when it comes right down to it is simply hoarding.  Because what did Jesus suggest later in that chapter as the proper way to live? “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[2] That does not sound like a Roth-IRA to me. 

[1] Luke 12:19 NRSV.
[2] Luke 12:33-34 NRSV

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cities bringing the smackdown to "Occupy;" why it'll prove a mistake

                The weekend crackdown on several big-city “Occupy” protests is odd on many counts.  Occupy sites in Denver, Portland, Oakland and Nashville have either been recently evicted or are under the threat of an impending removal.  While local authorities claim the forceful removal of these groups is to protect public health and safety, in reality local governments are simply sick and tired of these protestors.   Can you blame them?  I’m a supporter of the movement myself, but even I can see how one would want to get rid of dissent, especially if one had the power to do so.  Though the protests may have been quaint at first, a nice example of young people becoming politically active and utilizing their Constitutionally protected free-speech rights, to civic leaders their just becoming a pain in the ass. 

In some ways local mayors probably initially liked the protestors in that their actions drew some national media attention to their cities. Yet local leadership has been spending so much money patrolling the protests, clearing sites, even using heavy construction equipment to demolish snow igloos (Denver) the costs associated began to mount.  Citing vague and indefinable justifications like “public safety,” “public health,” and “sanitation” local authorities have finally brought the smack down to many city Occupy protests.  Though many conservatives likely wonder what took leadership so long, the ouster of these many groups will prove to be a mistake. Here’s why:

1.        By removing the Occupiers, a city removes the need for a constant police presence. No more riot-gear-clad police, no more overtime hours racking up, no more budget-busting late night engagement.  By removing the Occupiers, cities have taken away an easy target for those disparaging conservatives.  No longer will conservatives be able to whine about the expense being caused by these protestors to the local municipalities.  No longer will conservatives be able to label the protestors as a bunch of do-nothing bums who need to get a job.  Mistake #1

2.       By kicking the protestors out before winter, cities are doing the movement a huge favor.  Rather than having to suffer through the bitter cold of the coming winter months, the same cold which pundits felt would be the doom of the movement, Occupiers now can simply show up each day or on weekends to protest.  Thanks to the cities kicking them out, the protestors don’t have to look weak when they pack up because of the cold, the movement won’t suffer the embarrassment of lagging numbers camping out, and conservatives won’t be able to rip the protestors for not being strong enough to suffer for something.  Mistake #2.

3.       By evicting the protestors, cities have become exhibit A for the Occupiers .  What’s more convincing of the problems of big government that’s at the bidding of corporations than when that same government is seen all over the media dragging people away, spraying folks with pepper spray, and beating protestors with batons.  These evictions are just reinforcing the foundations of the movement while giving them priceless TV time and media attention.  If cities want the Occupiers to give up they’d be a lot wiser to just ignore them. Let them freeze out all winter, leave them to rot, keep the police away, and most importantly don’t do anything to the protestors to draw media attention.  In time, the media and the attention of the nation would divert to the next story.  After all, in our visual culture, what’s out of sight is out of mind.  By bringing all the media focus to the protests because of the evictions, cities are doing the movements a huge favor. Mistake #3.

The truth is, most government leaders just don’t get it, and why should they? Why should they support a movement which calls attention to the very system which keeps so many of them in power? It’s the massive political donations of corporations—oh wait, “persons”—which fund the campaign efforts of so many (all) politicians and causes their political terms to be 2,4, or 6 years of just giving paybacks to those “people” (corporations) that supported them during their campaign.  Nope, they don’t get it, and for anyone who’s a supporter of the Occupy movement, we’re better off that they don’t.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Success with (Dis)Honor at Penn State.

 Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past week has by now heard something about the Penn State scandal.  The story is too unbelievable, too stunning, and too disturbing to rehash.  All we as spectators can do is ask the mystifying questions: how could this go on for so long? How come no one said anything? How could anyone pretend nothing happened?  Why was everyone apparently more concerned about themselves and their school than about the children? The more I learn about this story the more I just shake my head in utter bewilderment; why?
Is there anything, any words, from the entire English language that could be formed into a sentence that could begin to answer these and other questions???
Thoughts on Penn State:
1.       PSU doesn’t deserve football if this is what they are willing to allow this to go on.
2.       The “Death Penalty” should be applied to the program.  This is a loss of” institutional control” if there ever was such a thing.
3.       “Joe Pa” was successful, but not honorable. When honor and morality were desperately needed, he was lacking.
4.       An entire administration sold its soul for football. The President, the Athletic Director, a Vice President and for God’s sake Mike McQueary?
5.        Happy Valley will never be the same. They painted over the Jerry Sandusky moral, but perhaps they should have left it to be always reminded what they allowed for football glory.
Criticisms of PSU are all over the web these days and rightly so, but I’d also like to ask a bigger question.  Penn State is not alone, college football is entirely driven by money and winning; the two are interrelated.  Winning brings money, money tends to bring winning.  NCAA BCS football presidents have bought into the cult of money and success; those are the only two things that matter. The ridiculous BCS conference realignments are about noting more than money; school presidents are chasing after a pay day and they’re more than willing to look the other way now and then in order to keep a good thing going.  After all, you don’t win, you don’t make money.  Academic fraud? Sex parties? Sex abuse? Sweep it under the rug; we’ve got games to win and money to make; why should we sacrifice money for morals?
If it only stopped there, because really this is a bigger problem in American culture; our obsession with money and winning. “You ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t trying.” “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” “Winning is like shaving—you do it every day or you end up looking like a bum.” Sports fans are the worst example, we may cheer for the good guy, but we’ll always cheer for a winner. It’s amazing how fast we can forgive an athlete for an ethical failure if they are successful on the field play.  We teach our kids that in the “real” world there are always “winners” and “losers;” does there always have to be losers?  Does there always need to be winners?
If winning is the ultimate value in a society, people will do anything and everything to get there.  Penn State won; they even did so legally—yet morally? Far from it. And that’s the problem; just because I win within the confines of the law, does that make it morally right? And that’s not even getting into all the illegal stuff often done to win—and I’m not talking about just sports here.  Capitalism is all about declaring winners and losers, and to the winners go the spoils.  We see from PSU, that a company can be legal in winning, but far from moral. 
We as a society have got to take a hard look at our own values, because we’re ultimately hypocrites if we scorn the actions at Penn State, yet still promote a “win at all cost” culture in which money and winning are the only things that matter.  With all the money floating around college football to be had, it’s no wonder teams constantly push the edges to win and get a chunk of that pie.  It’s no different in our society, there’s wealth galore out there, and as long as money is God, we shouldn’t be surprised when individuals, colleges, companies, and corporations go all out to win—even if that means losing their soul.
What’s the Bible verse about gaining the whole world but losing one’s soul?
Yeah, America, that’s us.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tim Tebow 3.0: the blueprint for success

It’s strange how deathly silent the sports media has been on Tim Tebow after the Broncos recent win. Despite being more than willing to trash Tebow after his horrific performance against the Lions, there only seems to be a few sentences here and there about this past Sunday’s success.  But to begin, I’d like to point out 2 things:

1.        Tebow’s struggles were against some pretty good teams.  Yes, the Dolphins are 1-7 but they just smashed the Chiefs on the road and the week before nearly beat the Giants on the road as well.  The Lions, as everyone seemed to forget, are a very good team this year. Not only that, but they were coming off a 2 game losing streak and determined to get back to their winning ways.  The Lions are 6-2, hardly an accident or fluke at this point.  Not only that, but the Lions (along with the Dolphins) have a very good defensive line, and against the below-average Denver offensive line, Tebow never stood a chance.  Heck, even Tom Brady looked horrible last week when he was constantly pressured and hit. As the saying goes, “it all starts up front.” Tim Tebow’s success or failure will largely be dependent on the performance of the O-line.

2.       The Broncos are just a bad team in general. Cam Newton and Christian Ponder are getting lots of love, and deservedly so, but the Panthers and Vikings are far better teams all around.  Carolina’s record the last 3 years: 12-4, 8-8, 2-14.  Three years ago they won 12 games! Their demise was due to poor QB play (Delhomme, Moore, and Claussen).  Throw in a decent QB and they’re competitive, yet for all Newton brings to the table, the team is still 2-6.   The Vikings are another example: 10-6, 12-4, 6-10.  This is a team that was a Brett Favre interception away from the Super Bowl two years ago!  This is a team that has arguably the best RB in football in Adrian Peterson. Again, what’s been the demise of this team? Poor QB play from Favre last year and Donovan McNabb this year; Ponder is 1-1, with that one win coming against the Panthers.  Given the all-around talent, both teams should improve with decent QB play.  The player who should be getting criticized is Blaine Gabbert; the Jaguars are 1-5 when he starts.  Jacksonville’s record the last 3 years: 5-11, 7-9, 8-8.  This was a team on the upswing and having a decent QB would continue that upward trend, yet Gabbert’s poor play is pulling them down.   Oh, and Denver’s record the past 3 years: 8-8, 8-8, 4-12 (and remember after that 6-0 start in ’10 they went 6-20).  Denver was clearly a team on downside before Tebow even got a start. 

I predicted (see my Facebook) that Denver would beat the Raiders and the Chiefs.  So far I’m 50% right.  Playing against average to below-average teams will provide a clearer picture of what Tebow can do. Last week was a solid foundation from which to build on if the Broncos wish to go all-in on Tebow.  Certainly one game is not enough of a sample size, but it does provide a blueprint on how to succeed.  Play strong defense, run the ball well, and don’t turn the ball over.  These are certainly easier said than done, but these three things were certainly true of John Fox’s Carolina teams so there’s no reason to think he can’t make it work here.

The real question is whether Denver wants to build around Tebow; because for the offense to succeed around him, the team must acquire players that will fit in a similar offense to which he ran at Florida (the zone-option read play was hugely successful against the Raiders). Are the Broncos willing to take that big of a risk? We’re talking 2-3 years of drafting players to fit into this system and then if that doesn’t work, another 2-3 years fixing the mess.  It means drafting a La’Michael James next year instead of a Landry Jones next year, and so on.  Is Elway—whom himself was the conventional NFL gunslinger QB willing to go against everything he knows and everything the NFL has been for the last decade-plus—willing to take a shot on Tim Tebow and take the risk necessary to acquire the personnel necessary for the system to work? I doubt it.  Starting Tim Tebow was more about shutting the fans up and saying “I told you so” when he failed.  So far it isn’t working as the Broncos are 2-1 so far under Tebow, but time will tell.

Can Tim Tebow be successful in the NFL? I think so, but not in the conventional “Brady/Manning” mold. Will Tebow ever throw for 300+ yards and complete 65% of his passes? I doubt it. But Tebow did account for nearly 250 yard of offense last game, and ten yards running is as good as ten yards passing in my book.  Converting all those runs to passes, his line would be 22/33, 242 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT with a QB rating of 108.3. Decent stat-lines I’d say. With a solid defense and good running game, the Broncos would be a very competitive team.  Can the Broncos win with Tebow? It’s all up to John Elway.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

If America is a Christian nation, we’re sure not acting like it

There is a lot of negativity these days surrounding government assistance programs; so-called “entitlement” programs like Social Security, Welfare, Medicaid and Medicare. Many people find themselves “benefitting” from such programs because of mistakes they have made—like poor financial or social choices.  Throughout the media, from the talking heads to the political pundits, I hear complaints that taxing the wealthy, asking them to pay their “fair share” to help fund these programs is essentially punishing the wealthy for their success.   Beyond penalizing these “job creators” for their achievement, taxing them to fund “entitlement” programs essentially is an enablement to those receiving those benefits. 

The people I hear complaining are also the ones who like to say that America is a “Christian nation,” or at least that America was founded on “Judeo-Christian values.”  Let’s go with that.  What then are three core values of Christianity?  I would say grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Since the Bible is considered the foundational document for Christianity, we should look at what this sacred book has to say about these values and perhaps more importantly, what the Bible describes about God and God’s relation to these values of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

So what does the Bible say about God’s grace? It’s overflowing.  How about God’s forgiveness? Never ending.  And what about God’s mercy? Always available.  What did Jesus teach us about forgiveness?  Forgive 70 x 7; forgiveness is to be a continuing, never ending practice of Christians.    

Just because the Bible describes a way of living, just because God demonstrates these values to us every day, “Your mercies are new every morning,” doesn’t mean it’s easy for us to practice those same values ourselves.  Far from easy, it’s extremely difficult; giving someone second, third, even fourth chances is hard, very hard.  I get that sometimes we want people to face the negative repercussions of their poor decisions they have made—that’s human.   Guess what’s not human? God.  Somehow God is able to repeatedly forgive us for our faults. Somehow God’s grace is enough. Somehow God can handle not giving us what we “deserve.” God’s mercy is incomprehensible. 

These things are all understood in the context of individual human beings, but if you hold to these theological positions and you understand America to be founded as a Christian nation or at least on Judeo/Christian values, shouldn’t that mean a commitment by America on a political/governmental level to practice these same values?  Therefore, wouldn’t “returning to the values our nation was founded on” mean a return to the Godly, Christian values of grace, mercy, and forgiveness? If America was founded as such, America as a nation—in the social, political, and governmental decisions it makes should be acting in ways to promote the values of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

So when I heard all the negativity regarding government assistance programs, regarding second chances—even giving people what they may or may not deserve—what comes through is unwillingness by America to practice these values of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

If God is willing to forgive us our sins, show us mercy by saving us from hell, and be magnificently gracious by giving us an eternity in heaven, shouldn’t we as Christians and as citizens of this “Christian” nation be more than willing to demonstrate to others these same values?  Yes, people have issues, many of their own making, but lest we say “they don’t deserve it,” perhaps we should remember that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 

If you believe these things to be true

If you believe this nation to be a Christian nation

We should forgive, we should show mercy, and we should be gracious as a nation, even to those who “don’t deserve it.”  For if not, we simply have to admit we as Americans simply are not acting that Christian.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Choosing to Love

My wife and I are strange people who don’t pay for a television provider.  It’s nice in a way because when the cable or satellite company comes to sell their service and asks how much I pay for TV and I tell them I don’t have either, they tend to be dumbfounded and leave me alone.  That being said I also think DTV is a big scam between the government and those TV providers in that DTV sucks.   I can finally watch football on Sundays thanks to my father-in-law giving me his old converter box!

Since I haven’t taken the time to wire up my totally awesome 10 year old, tube TV with the curved screen to the DTV box, my wife and I tend to watch quite a bit of Netflix (and no we didn’t go for that Quickster crap either).   One night when trolling the new TV show releases we found this show “Life Unexpected” that looked interesting and we started watching (The one negative of TV shows on Netflix is that most of them are not being made anymore so you end up getting into something that only has 26 episodes which you’re already halfway through…)

The whole story of the show is based around a male and a female who had a “one night stand” in high school; the girl got pregnant and decided to give the baby up for adoption. Well, like 16 years later this girl tracks down her father and mother seeking “emancipation.”  Due to some medical problem early in her childhood, she was never adopted and had been bounced around the foster system.  Long story short the birth parents (who were not a couple) are given joint custody of the daughter after she flops at her “emancipation” hearing. 

Sure enough, like any good drama, there’s a love triangle, and this one is between the birth mom, the birth mom’s boyfriend, and the father who’s suddenly back in the picture and brings back old feelings.  So there’s this back and forth drama in multiple episodes about who loves who, who is “meant” for each other, blah, blah, blah.  Well, finally the mom and the boyfriend –turned –fiancé get married—only before the wedding the father is struggling with feelings for the mom, who herself is struggling with feelings for the father.  Well, conveniently neither one is willing to admit it to the other, yet the day of the wedding the mom sits in the church with her daughter unsure of her desire to marry the other guy.  It’s the wise beyond her years daughter who reminds her mom that just as she had this fantasy that her parents would marry and they would live happily ever after, these feelings by her mom for her father were also a fantasy.  She reminds her mom that “what you have with (the fiancé) is real.” After all, “it’s not having feelings for two people that matters, it’s what you choose to do about them”

 The episode comes to an incredible end.  Sure enough the father makes one of those dramatic attempts to get to the church to stop the wedding only to get stuck in traffic; he bursts in through the double doors of the church just as they finish their vows.  There he stands, there they stand, looking back and forth at each other; we see the father’s desperation, the groom’s bewilderment, and the bride’s... Well, we’re not sure—until she turns, looks at the groom, and kisses him.  What’s captured in that shot is nothing short of spectacular.

More powerfully than my words can ever express, the images display that love is ultimately a choice. By turning away, by looking at her groom, by initiating the kiss the bride showed that despite whatever feelings she may have had, she was going to CHOOSE to love this man.  It’s quite beautiful.

What struck me was how counter-cultural this episode was, for feeling are equated with love in our entertainment culture; love is something that just happens, it’s almost accidental—“I fell for you.”  Feelings are almost always portrayed to be this overpowering force which can’t be defeated (Seredipity) and happen suddenly (Failure to Launch, The Proposal). Oh, and that cliché of running into the church almost always works (Made of Honor).  Yet this episode demonstrated clearly and powerfully that love is actually a choice!

This is an important reminder for all of us in marriages or committed relationships.  “Feelings” for another will develop and crushes will happen – these same experiences we laugh about from our childhood we take seriously now.  It’s Crazy; yet so many of us buy into it every day.  “But I felt something, there was a spark;” are we slaves to our feelings? Do we not have a brain?

I would bet that everyone who has ever been in a long-term committed relationship has at one time or another had feelings for another person outside of that relationship. Yet, “it’s not having feelings for two people that matters, it’s what you choose to do about them.”  We are presented with a choice, who will we choose to love?  We can go after the fantasy or we can stick with what real. Choose wisely. 

(If you’d like to watch the episode I’m referring to its season 1 episode 13 of “Life Unexpected” on Netflix.  And after watching just that one episode you’ll understand why it’s not still being aired on the CW, it’s not nearly trashy enough for that network!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Young, White, Heterosexual, Christian Male Privilege

After a conversation with a couple of classmates regarding privilege, I decided to see if I could detect some of the implicit advantages I have within American society as a young, white, heterosexual, Christian male.
My list is far from comprehensive; I made this inventory at roughly 2 am while trying to keep myself awake at work.  That being said, if I can come up with these things at this ungodly hour when my body expects to be sleeping, those on normal sleeping patterns should be able to do the same or better.
So here’s the drill, I will list each “privilege” followed by whichever aspect of my social/cultural/… status it stems from. 
Example: (and please forgive me, again this was at 2 am or so): I don’t have to worry about being “ogled,” i.e. reduced to a sexual object (gender).
 Explanation: as a heterosexual male, culture has taught me that I should be the one objectifying women.
Ok, so here’s the list:
1.       I don’t have to worry about getting second glances when I get onto a plane (ethnicity).
2.       I don’t have to worry about having to show my papers when traveling in states like Arizona or Alabama (ethnicity)
3.       I, as a man, make more on average than a female in the same position (gender)
4.       My health costs are lower (age).
5.       People don’t tend to move to the other side of the sidewalk when I’m walking towards them on a city sidewalk (ethnicity)
6.       Every advertiser markets to me and wants my business (age).
7.       My religious holidays also happen to be national holidays (religion).
8.       My sexual orientation is considered “normal” (sexual orientation).
9.       I’m far less likely to be the victim of a sexual assault (gender).
10.   I don’t have to worry about getting pregnant (gender).
11.   As a man married to a woman, I get some nice tax breaks (sexual orientation).
12.   I’m able to add my spouse to my health insurance (sexual orientation).
13.   Statistically, I’m much more likely to graduate high school (ethnicity).
That’s what I came up with.  Funny enough, as I was driving home and listening to conservative talk radio (it’s a good way to stay awake when you are tired), a caller mentioned that “life is about choices” and that “this country has an entitlement problem.”  Well, I know that what he (no surprise, right!) was thinking is that people who are poor are basically reaping the consequences of their poor choices and that those who get federal aid like Social Security and Medicare are greedy and unthankful.  Well, based on my list alone, I have had “choices” available to me that weren’t even an option for others.
 Oops, the homosexual or unwed couple are actually reaping the consequences of their bad decisions when they face huge medical bills due to their inability to get health insurance.  Same goes with the pregnant, unwed mother; clearly she made a bad choice having sex and why should America “reward” her bad decisions by giving her government aid???
Seems to me this country does have an entitlement problem, except the problem is that those who are actually entitled are completely unwilling to admit or even recognize their entitlement!
 “I got this Ivy League education and 6 figure job all by my hard work and personal responsibility. The fact that I had two parents, lived in a house with a 3-car garage, went to school in a suburban community that featured top-notch public education, and that my college was paid for by those same parents had nothing to do with my success now! I am a self-made man.”
Perhaps even more disturbing is that much of this talk comes from evangelical Christians, folks who should be thanking God for every good thing they get in life.  Shouldn’t that at least produce some humility at least? Like, “God was gracious enough to give me this McMansion, Land Rover, and $200,000 a year job.  I’m really blessed.” (I’m puking as I write this).
So while my bank account doesn’t seem to reflect as much as I’d like my “entitled” status, I’d be a fool if I didn’t recognize some of the advantages I as a young, white, heterosexual, Christian male have in life.  I’d also be a fool if I refused to continually acknowledge advantages I have beyond my above list.
I guess in some ways I agree with that caller... 
Life is about choices = the ones not available to all
This country does have an entitlement problem  =  those who have reaped great benefits from their cultural/ethnic/… advantages are unwilling to admit it

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Founding Fathers and Occupy Wall Street

Watching FoxNews, one can’t help but get the impression that the folks who are occupying Wall Street and many other cities across the country are a bunch of unpatriotic, America hating, left wing socialists.   Just the other day I saw a two photos put side by side to compare the amount of American flags seen in each picture; one was of a Tea Party rally, the other of Occupy Wall Street. I’m going to let you guess which gathering had more flags.   It was also pointed out the amount of people arrested at each gathering and the amount of trash left behind by each group.  Since the Tea Partiers  are never arrested and pick up their trash they are clearly more patriotic.  Way to Go.
 I’m reminded of the saying, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and waving a cross.”  Why patriotism has somehow become equated with lapel pins, flag waving, and constitutional bus wraps is beyond me.  I always liked the saying “dissent is patriotic,” this statement is inclusive enough to allow for the protests of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Yet now having the gall to suggest that America may not be the best, brightest, and holiest nation in the world is enough to get a person blacklisted.   McCarthyism had nothing to do with patriotism in the 50’s and neither does most of what is being hailed as “true patriotism” today. 
Looking back at the revolutionaries who helped bring America into being, their actions would be terribly out of place at a Tea Party rally.  They refused to wave the flag; the flag of Great Britain.  They felt there was a corrupt system which constantly was against them; the British government.  They were litterbugs; burning folks in effigy left quite a mess I imagine.  They caused all kinds of civil disruptions, with many, many people being incarcerated – heck they started a war! Compared to the revolutionaries these Occupy Wall Street folks are pretty tame; they are not dumping entire loads of ship cargo into the ocean, nor like the Sons of Liberty threatening or participating in acts of violence – the Occupy movement has as a central tenet peaceful, nonviolent protests.  The revolutionaries were responding to what they felt was a corrupt system; exactly what the Occupiers are doing today.
The Tea Party folks would like us to believe that the oppressive and corrupt system of today is the government, a system which is always “getting in the way” and hindering the procurement of wealth for all Americans.   Problems with America’s government is actually something Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party can sort of agree on, it’s that each sees the problems differently.  For the Tea Party it’s the “massive” taxes that are getting in the way of the “Job Creators.” For the Occupier, it’s the idea that the government is in bed with Corporations to such an extent that these corporations pay little or no taxes and are able to contribute vast sums of money to politicians entrusted with keeping the status quo. 
Tea Party ideology sounds all well and good until one starts examining the numbers; 50% of U.S. workers earned less than $26,364 last year.  The number of people making $1 million or more soared by more than 18% from 2009.  There are 5.2 million less jobs available since 2007.  Since 1980 roughly 5% of annual national income has shifted from the middle class to the nation’s richest households.  Median compensation ($36,959) last year was just 66% of the average income, compared with nearly 72% in 1980. 
Say what you want about the Occupy Wall Street movement, but they remind me of our Founding Fathers. With all the “reminiscing” of the Constitutional and “founding principles of America,” I think these Occupy folks should be praised as True American Patriots.
Let’s raise a glass to true American Patriots, whether they lived long ago and protested in Boston harbor or are alive today and Occupy the land of Wall Street – these are true American Patriots!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Life at a Liberal Seminary: The Beauty of Diversity

Multiculturalism is the appreciation, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultures.  Today in America there is pushback against the growing influence of multiculturalism and diversity, there is this (illogical, ridiculous) fear that this emphasis on diversity is destroying the fabric of America.  Well, first of all, America is and has always been vastly diverse, it’s just that the dominant ethnic group (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or WASPS) have either suppressed divergent groups or forced them to meld into the culture of the WASPS.  Whether it be the subjugation of the Native Americans, the forced slavery of Africans, the oppression of Irish immigrants, the racism towards African-Americans, and now the denigration of Latino immigrants, America has a long history of being afraid of the “other.”   This fear of other cultures and perspective is really quite a shame because the people of America have lost out on so much, for there is much to be gained from the point of view of others.  Let me give an example.

I’m currently in my 5th semester at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK.  I’m actually enrolled in the online program so most of my classes are on the internet.   Once a semester however I come down to Tulsa to take a week long module class; it’s a wonderful time to get to know new people while strengthening friendships already in place.  The first time I came on campus was during my second semester, I hadn’t established any relationships yet nor did I even really know anyone.  That week of class validated in my mind my status as a seminary student.  Not only that, I was able to develop friendships, talk theology, and drink some beer!

As I write this I’m down in Tulsa for another module class, Theology and Practice of Public Worship.    Sitting in the chapel one day, singing all kinds of songs from different faith traditions I was suddenly astounded by the wealth of diversity embodied on the stage and within the room.  We sang from the United Methodist hymnal, the Disciples of Christ hymnal, the Presbyterian hymnal, and the United Church of Christ hymnal.  We sang “The Days of Elijah,” with a mix of young and old, gay and straight, black and white leading us in singing.  In this space were Disciples of Christ, Methodists, Unitarian/Universalist, Baptists, and even an atheist and together  we sang an African American spiritual, with an African American woman singing a descant to the song “Thank You Lord” while accompanied by an older female pianist and a young male guitarist. It was awesome! I was so amazed at the diversity of PTS, such a rich, vibrant, and diverse community which brings such a spiritual richness. 

I know there are some out there who do not value or appreciate diversity, I know there are some who don’t welcome thoughts or opinions that conflict with their own, and I know to some the thought of an atheist being enrolled in seminar y is simply heretical.  Well, I’m sorry for you, because you’re totally missing out.   Every time I am on campus (physically or electronically) I am stretched, challenged, pushed, prodded, amazed, and impressed by the different perspectives available to me.  This incredible, rich, beautiful diversity only enhances my educational experience.

If you want to maintain your culture, your perspective that’s great, but participating or even allowing the perspectives of others will not hinder yours.  To maintain your own culture, simply keep practicing it.  Celebrate family traditions, cultural holidays, and long held practices; allowing someone to practice their own culture shouldn’t affect the practice of your own.  Perhaps even observing or participating in another cultural practice might even make you more aware and interested in the cultural practices of your own group.   The slow, gradual loss of American culture is not the fault of multiculturalism; it is the result of our own disregard for our history and traditions.  When we reclaim those practices, while celebrating the culture of others, America will be a picture of distinct yet adjacent cultures living in peace and harmony with one another; and it will be a very beautiful thing.