Monthly Archives: May 2008

Why Religion Matters for Our Future

In the midst of his negotiations in the Middle East for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, Tony Blair made the following comment regarding his dealings with religious extremists: “These people say that they’re doing it in the name of God, so we can’t say that it doesn’t matter.”

Blair’s aid followed with a similar line of thinking:

“You can’t hope to understand what’s happening in the world if you don’t know that religion is a very important force in people’s lives,” says Ruth Turner, 37, formerly a top aide to Blair in 10 Downing Street… “You can’t make the world work properly unless you understand that, while not everyone will believe in God or have a spiritual life, a lot of people will.”

Similar points have been made about the centrality of religion in the future of our world by Douglas Johnson on a recent episode of Speaking on Faith. Johnston is president and founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. He’s also the co-editor of Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft. If we want to keep weapons of mass destruction away from religious extremists, Johnson advocates engaging religious leaders, especially in countries where religious leaders wield political power.

Each of these examples show that religion and people of faith have a key place in our future. Many of our problems come when religious extremism is mixed with nationalism: a radical love of one’s nation and subsequent xenophobia mixed with the belief that God grants his wholehearted support can make for huge problems. There is a need for moderating religious leaders to deflate some of this tension, to build dialogue and understanding, and to ensure that no one’s religion or rights are trampled in the process.

You may have heard that Dunkin’ Donuts recently pulled a commercial with Rachel Ray, Rachel Ray of all people, because she was wearing a “scarf” that some conservative bloggers linked with support of religious extremism. It is this kind of disrespect and misunderstanding that cripples our politics, policy, and potentially our future.

As a person of religious faith I would never want all Christians to be equated with the crusaders, just as Muslims would never want to be equated with terrorists and other extremists. It is my hope that moderating religious voices can help diffuse the misinformation and misunderstandings that drive unnecessary wedges of fear between people who aren’t all that different since we all want the same thing: freedom to worship God as we see fit in our respective nations in peace.

Christians, Hillary, and Our Gender Mess

It’s easy for a guy to dismiss gender as a real issue we need to discuss today. In America we generally believe that women can do anything and should be treated as equals to men so far as discrimination and rights go. Of course men and women have differences, but no one should be marginalized based on gender. Some could probably pick that apart and add nuances and finer points, but we need to move on and talk about whether or not gender presents a problem to our society and to Christians.

I’ve heard a number of reports about Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president and gender factor. Some say it is and some say it isn’t. It’s a hard thing to consider. On the face of it, I know that my vote for Clinton is not necessarily decided on her gender. I don’t trust her or her husband and weary of their style of politics. The spin coming out of her campaign alone boggles the mind. However, I have also listed her sharp, caustic tone as another reason why I’m not a Hillary fan…

So I’ve been wondering out loud lately if perhaps there’s a reason why Clinton has adopted that tone. Perhaps she’s grappling with the prospect of winning a game that has been dominated by men until recent times. And so we have a woman, a woman with decent credentials if not glowing ones in the eyes of her supporters, trying to prove she has the toughness for the job. In fact, some would note she says little else besides sign boxing gloves. It makes me wonder if she played up the gentler, softer side, weeping in diners like she did in New Hampshire, that we would simply respond with, “She doesn’t have the tough skin to be president.”

I can see the commercial now coming from her opponents.

It’s 4:00 PM.

Oprah’s on.

The phone is ringing.

Where’s your female president???

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Lawnmower Hell… 2 Breakdowns in 15 Minutes

I was out to set a world record for mowing our lawn this morning. With a new mowing pattern I was zipping through our quivering blades of grass, set to have it all done in about 90 minutes… a ridiculous number for a lawn that sometimes takes well over two hours.

And then I forgot to raise the blades over the tree roots.


It happened so fast I didn’t catch it in time. I think something on the mower deck where the blade spins got knocked loose. It’s kind of crooked. So far I haven’t figured it out.

Not to be deterred, I rolled out the push mower. After all, I only had the front lawn to mow, which isn’t large or thick. So I yanked on the cord. I yanked and yanked. On the fifth pull the tiny engine roared to life.

Unfortunately the starter chord flapped out of mower. The whole thing hung lifelessly in my hand.

This meant that I couldn’t stop the mower. Stopping meant I was really screwed. So I pushed it all over the yard and made good progress. Unfortunately the blade level can sometimes shift on this mower, and today the front left section dropped way down to the point that it was digging into the dirt. Within a minute the mower cut off.

Two mowers down in 15 minutes. Unbelievable. 20% of the lawn remains.

At the least the neighbors will have something to talk about.

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My Wife is the Proud Owner of a Mac

JulieBDay 009

“You didn’t?” is the first thing she said after peeling back the wrapping paper and seeing the sleek, white MacBook box.

Yes, I did.

With the help of family and friends, we all pitched in to purchase Julie her very own Mac. I’ve been working on this since April 7th via covert e-mails to friends and family, keeping every detail under the radar. She said she’d never been so surprised in all her life.

Keeping this so secretive has made life a bit tense, and I literally just crashed on the couch after she opened it. Now the fun begins.

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Birthday Planning Underground

It’s Julie’s birthday today. I have installed myself as the master of ceremonies and have kept every single detail as secretive as possible. It’s been a tough year, as is every year if you’re a special education teacher, and so I wanted her to have nothing at all to worry about. For whatever reason I also decided it was really important to surprise her completely, so all planning has been done on the underground.

This can add a bit of pressure to daily life. I have to scan everything I say to make sure I’m not giving up any clues. I also have to carefully watch my e-mails and what I say on the phone. I’ll be relieved tonight when I can end the duplicity.

I’ve been planning the “birthday meal” all week and have been cleaning the house in bits and pieces so it’s ready for tonight when her family comes over. I hope to grill some food (I won’t say what in case she reads this), but there’s rain in the forecast, so I’m hoping that it isn’t too hazardous to grill with an umbrella. I even cleaned out the rabbits’ cages, but those losers already made a mess of things. The futility of rabbits.

I’ll post tomorrow on the success of the party and whether or not my umbrella went up in flames.

Mandatory Reading for All American Evangelicals: James

If I had to list some of the shortcomings of American Evangelicals, I’d name the following broad characterizations: we’re affluent and not sure how to serve the poor, we tend to separate practical Christian living from faith, we pay special attention to the wrong people, we don’t always watch what we say carefully, we’re divided and continue to divide, and we’re impatient.

You could apply many of these to Christians in general I suppose, but I’m just thinking of my own vices here and those I have observed over time and read about in the news. Of course Evangelicals do lots of really great things well, but if we have to face our darker side, then I think my list hits on some of the general contours. That doesn’t mean every Evangelical has these problems, but I think they’re kind of broad issues that touch many of us. I know I struggle with them.

So if these are our problems, how do we deal with them?

I think one solution may be the epistle Martin Luther once called “an epistle of straw.” That’s right, the book of James.

James is writing to Jewish Christians, but he’s confronting them on their spiritual maturity, the stinginess toward the poor, and the disputes they have allowed to fester. James provides a great counter-narrative to American culture when he says,

“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” (James 1:9-11)

Is it just me, or is that verse a tough one to swallow?

The rest of the epistle continues to challenge the problems plaguing Evangelical Christians in America: our struggles with faith and works, our divisions, and the way we treat the poor and wealthy. It’s as if God wanted to put all of the really practical stuff for us in one place.

So I had this thought that we should have James month. A month where Evangelicals read James every day for 30 days. We could call it 30 Days of James, or something like that. Perhaps have it in January, June, of July just to keep the “J” thing going. How about “J-Days”?

I’m not really serious about all that, but I do think James deals with many of our problems. I’m not saying that simply reading this epistle is the magic wand to make our problems go away, only that it’s a good step forward. As we read James we can embrace God’s counter-narrative for our American culture and let him work on us to bring his changes.

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The Crisis in Burma

The following is a press release from Not for Sale, an anti-trafficking agency:

Today in Myanmar, 2.5 million people cling to survival after the disaster that hit two weeks ago. The latest state television update in former Burma has declared the death toll after the May 2nd cyclone to be 77,738 people. Another 55,917 are still reported missing.* Thousands swarm the roadsides of a country void of the foreign aid it so desperately needs. Children, destitute and orphaned, are picked up by vicious traffickers prowling the disaster area.

This week, David Batstone travels to Myanmar to approach the crisis situation.

Last Fall, Not For Sale partnered with Thai Abolitonist Kru Nam to build a shelter for 125 kids rescued out of the sex trade industry. Today, she implores us to intervene again as Burmese children trafficked into Thailand are being rampantly sold.It’s time to build a shelter, and it’s time to act fast.

Not For Sale, this week, has partnered with a foundation that will match EVERY DOLLAR we donate, up to $25,000. Our goal is to raise $50k in the next two weeks. The shelter will be on the border between former Burma and Thailand, and will provide the critical care necessary to rescue Burmese orphans out of slavery. Kru Nam’s village, as is, cannot support one of the growing needs in this crisis. But together, we believe we can raise enough money that can.

DONATE now. Every dollar you give is worth two. Join the call to action in this crisis.
* Statistics obtained from