Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Emporia and Refugee Resettlement - A Social Cauldron Ready to Explode

“The making of an American begins at the point where he himself rejects all other ties, any other history, and himself adopts the vesture of his adopted land.”
- James Baldwin

Here in Emporia, Kansas there is a social cauldron boiling. Catholic Charities in Kansas City, along with our State Department, Tyson Foods, and state social service agencies are moving this city toward becoming a refugee resettlement center, particularly Somali refugees who have been bounced from place to place ever since they arrived here in America.

When the announcement was made public in the Emporia Gazette on November 3rd the backlash was palpable. Some in power claimed that the reaction was stemming from hatred and racism. While Emporia, like any community, has its share of racists and bigots, the claim made by those who should have known better was a categorical lie. The overwhelming majority of the people who live here are of good will, eager to lend a helping hand to those in need. They’re not racists or xenophobes. This is a good and generous city.

The thing that got people upset was the fact that Federal bureaucrats, a large employer, and social service agencies seem to be making decisions about our collective futures without our consent and with little regard to the impact their decisions will have on us.

There’s going to be a meeting tomorrow night so that the public can make its concerns known. That’s the reason given and I hope it will actually go according to that plan. But I know enough about politicians and bureaucrats to be concerned that they intend to monopolize the time and tune out our concerns. We’ll see.

I’ve prepared something to say at the meeting. I’m not sure I’ll get to share it. So, I’ve decided to post my thoughts on my blog. They express what a lot of us here are feeling. For those who read this blog, please get the word out. People in positions of authority and responsibility are acting recklessly, doing great damage to those they say they want to help and to the communities affected by their reckless behavior. What’s happening here is being duplicated in other small towns in this country.

The transcript follows, in full.

In Monday’s Gazette Pat Kelley said rightly that this is a time for us to get answers. But, like most things Pat Kelley says he got the little things right and the big things wrong. He said in his editorial that the root to the problem that brings us here is fear. While that may be the case for a few, most of us are here because our trust has been betrayed. That is the truth and that’s why we’re here.

We’re not here because we’re bigots, racists, or xenophobes. We’re here to get answers to questions we have, not express hatred. We’ve come to extend the hand of brotherhood, not hatred.

It’s unfortunate that some in positions of trust and authority have labeled those who question in such a manner. This issue should occupy the highest moral ground, but some are using it as an opportunity to misinform, mis-label, and use political sleight of hand. Because of this they have lost that high ground.

I don’t believe it’s too late to climb that mountain, but I can say with certainty that time is of the essence.

How have we gotten to this point? It’s taken years and the moral failures that have broken the chords of trust are everywhere. What is being played out here in Emporia is being played out against the backdrop of international failures on a grand scale. International institutions that were founded on the premise of international justice have rejected their mandates in favor of inaction and greed. We’ve seen Rwanda, North Korea, Darfur, and the Balkans. We’ve witnessed the food for oil scandal and profit schemes built on the backs of the world’s poor and needy. The betrayal of trust has been monumental.

Americans have tried to fill this void. For my Somali brothers and sisters I want to remind you that it was a mission of mercy that originally bound us together. When international institutions failed, we felt compelled to step into the void. America, as it had done in the Balkans, came to relieve the suffering of Muslims, not compound it. What we did was in the best American tradition. Or motivation was justice and mercy.

Since those early days in Mogadishu America has kindly offered opportunity to the oppressed of Somalia. We’ve opened our doors. Unfortunately our national institutions have betrayed our trust here as well. Our State Department, with all the institutional power at its disposal, has given the Somali people a few days of orientation and then sent them pillar to post throughout America. They’ve used what bureaucrats call unfunded mandates. Many of us see this as a way for them to wash their hands like Pontius Pilate of old. When the inevitable backlash has come they act as though they’re surprised. Just what did they expect? Did they expect us to believe there would be no price tag? This is not a self-funded endeavor. Someone is going to have to pay for this and it does not appear that it will be those who’ve waved their magic wands in Washington, D.C. While we in Emporia and other communities will have to wrestle mightily with how to come up with the resources necessary, those who have set this chain in motion will be eating sumptuous meals in Foggy Bottom, reflecting on their own virtue. The betrayal of our trust in this area is every bit as monumental as the international failures.

Closer to home, in Kansas City, a service agency has taken up the mantle. On November 3rd Steve Weitkamp of Catholic Charities told the Gazette that in the future he expected Emporia to be developed as a refugee center. He further told the Gazette, “I expect that there will be direct re-settlement here.” “If re-settlement starts here, that will expand our role. ... I also see at some point the office here could possibly become cut loose from us and become an office on its own, applying for funding. If the numbers of refugees increase, it is possible the local office would apply to Washington to become a sub office.”

If the people of Emporia felt powerless and betrayed in the face of Federal mandates, it was all compounded with that declaration. Many Emporians now felt that decisions about their futures were being made without their consultation or consent. Those feelings of betrayal were, I believe, justified. We’d like to believe that Catholic Charities’ motives are benevolent, but I must be honest and say that I and others have serious misgivings in this regard. I see a bureaucracy hungry to become larger. Mr. Weitkamp’s statement of November 3rd says as much.

For many of us this seems to be a case of things being set in motion with little regard to the people of Emporia. I doubt that Mr. Weitkamp knows much about us. He probably doesn’t know that our poverty rate is over 17% or that our household incomes are far below the Kansas and national averages. He doesn’t know my wife’s mother, an eighty-eight year old widow living on a small pension and caring for a developmentally disabled son. Each day when my wife and I visit her she recounts the ways she tries to save money. “Lettuce is 10 cents cheaper at Aldi’s.” “I don’t like going to Wal-Mart because it costs more gas money to get there than it does the other stores.” “Phil, could you fill my car up with gas. I heard the price is going to go up two cents a gallon later today.”

Do these agencies really want us to believe that this is going to be a cost neutral venture? Do they really believe us to be rubes, so gullible that we’ll swallow anything fed to us without consideration to its effect on us? We’re being told that there really won’t be much impact. We simply don’t believe that’s credible. Adding 1,000 refugees to an already high poverty city is clearly going to compound our problem. In fact, based on the numbers, it could have as much as a three percent impact. Our poverty rate could increase to as much as twenty percent. Is that Catholic Charities idea of a cost-neutral solution?

And, the movers and shakers seem to be stunned by the backlash. Why in God’s name would that be so? It seems to me that it can only be because they’ve hatched their plans without any regard for the citizens of this city. I doubt that Catholic Charities even considered my wife’s mother or many other Emporians when they set their plan in motion. I doubt they even cared. The moral bankruptcy in that position is evident to me.

Our largest employer, Tyson, has given many Somalis employment. They’d like us to believe that their purposes here are noble. Well, that dog won’t hunt. Tyson’s purpose is profit, pure and simple. If their purposes were so noble, why have Tyson and other corporations in the meat processing industry caught the attention of Human Rights Watch? Is Human Rights Watch wrong when they say categorically that minorities are being pitted against each other, Somali against Hispanic, Hispanic against Vietnamese, minority against minority, all in a relentless drive to profit? Are they wrong when they say that employment abuse is close to pandemic? Who are we to believe? Tyson or Human Rights Watch?

And, to compound things, any time someone raises questions Tyson issues veiled threats about leaving for friendlier shores. It’s tantamount to corporate extortion. It’s “either stay in line or we’ll leave you high and dry.” This is a morally bankrupt position and deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms.

Caught in the middle of all this are the people of Emporia and Somalia. We’re caught in the crossfire of moral bankruptcy and neglect. It’s being left to us to pick up the pieces passed from institution to agency to employer. What should have been a chord of brotherhood has become a chain of abuse of power passed down to its lowest level, to you and me. It’s up to us to fix what has been broken.

I’d like to close with a word to my Somali brothers and sisters. The overwhelming majority of Emporians have great empathy for you. Most of us don’t know a great deal about your history, but we know enough to understand the long, painful journey that’s brought you here. We know that you came to Somalia as bondsmen and lived for generations at the mercy of slave-masters. We know that you’ve been left by the international community at the mercy of war-lords. We care. As I said earlier, it was a mission of mercy that originally bound us together. This country was willing to expend its blood and treasure, our sons and daughters, on your behalf. Those who fell had families and dreams of a better life, but they were willing to lay them down for you. For many of us the pain of seeing Americans dying on the streets of Mogadishu in 1993 is still searing. That pain may be our most powerful bond, the pain of your history and the pain of our sacrifice. I think it may be the place where the olive branch of brotherhood could be extended here in Emporia.

One of the unfortunate lessons you’ve learned from our government officials, service agencies, and others in authority is that you’re entitled. You’re entitled to benefits. You’re entitled You’re entitled to respect and dignity. You’re entitled…You’re entitled…You’re entitled. That’s only half-true and half-truths can be exceedingly dangerous. That’s only half the great American equation. The other is that along with the benefits come responsibilities to our neighbors, our communities, and our nation. That sense of responsibility comes from a heart of gratitude. We’ve learned over time that a life focused on entitlement eventually leads to a life of serfdom. We recognize that to whom much is given much is also required. I believe it would be good if you would join us in that sense of responsibility and gratitude. We’re willing to extend the olive branch. The door of opportunity has been opened to you. I hope and pray that you will open it gratefully. I believe a good place for you to begin is for you to express your sense of gratefulness to the American people for the sacrifices they have made on your behalf. In all of the dialogue to this point I’ve never heard any sense of thanks from the Somali community expressed. It may be felt, but it hasn’t been expressed. This would be a good place for us to begin healing the pain of our shared history. I believe it would be altogether fitting for you to thank the American people, who have given their sons and daughters so that you and your families could shake the yoke of oppression. If we start there, I believe the chords of brotherhood can bind up the wounds that still prevail. If we don’t, misunderstanding and mistrust will continue to fester. If we start there I believe the sacrifices made by American families on your behalf will claim their true meaning.

The olive branch is being extended; you’re being invited to sit at the table of brotherhood. Please, in the name of God, accept the invitation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reflections on Gratitude

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”
Matthew 6:25-27 (New Living Translation)

I woke up this morning in the after-glow of Tampochocho. The cares and burdens of modern life here in America haven’t yet been able to choke out the roots of those wonderful days.

At about 8:00 A.M. I left for Wichita to have the Veteran’s Administration review my current medications and to get some of them refilled. Being a veteran has some benefits for which I’m very grateful.

By 8:20 I was passing by mile marker 109, one of my favorite places in all the world. Any time I pass by that wondrous point I get a sense of my own smallness, which I believe is very healthy for the American soul. I gazed off to my east. There was a stiff breeze from the south, about 20 to 30 miles an hour, which caused the tallgrass to bend toward the north. The wind stopped momentarily and the tallgrass stood erect, like platoons of soldiers coming to attention on command. I took it as an opportunity to pull the car over, stop, and meditate on the beauty before me. There, a sense of peace and well-being overwhelmed me. I was so keenly aware of being under the great umbrella of grace, sharing the moment with the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, basking in the truth that as it is with every grain of sand, every hair on my head is numbered. It was a quiet, yet powerful moment.

At 8:40 I resumed my journey. For the next fifty miles or so the grace and peace of the day settled in. It was as though the gentle fire of everlasting life was beckoning me on. As one mile marker gave way to another, I saw faces of loved ones in my mind’s eye radiating back the love of God to me. There was my wife Nancy, my sons and daughter, my brother Bill, his wife Marilyn and their children. Thom, the young Vietnamese student who lives with Nancy and me, was there. My sister was there, as were my grand-children, Ashley, Josh, and Rebecca. So were Pastor Mike and his wife Jannie. Gerald Clock and Larry Hayes were there at mile marker 81, close to El Dorado Lake. Not far behind was the rest of the group Nancy and I had gone to Mexico with. And, so it went. With each face that passed gently past my view I sensed God’s love mirrored in each.

I arrived at the Robert J. Dole V.A. Hospital at 9:40. By 10:00 I was sitting in a waiting room, a newly anointed member of “Team Three.” A few minutes later the call came, in a quasi military fashion – “Dillon!”
I wasn’t sure whether or not to salute or stand at attention and wait for orders. “That’s me,” I replied.
“Right this way, Mister Dillon. I’m Lisa and the adventure begins here.”

Normally I feel a chill in a doctor’s office, but today it was different. The overpowering sense of everlasting life that had beckoned me down the turnpike seemed to be there in the room with me. I felt, as John Wesley famously said, “strangely warmed.”

The routine proceeded. My blood pressure was 125 over 70, or “right on the old bazoo,” as Lisa put it. “No fever.” “Ears clear.” She peered intently into my eyes. “They’re a bit red, looks like you either have allergies or you’ve been crying.”
“Little happy tears,” I confessed. “Just something that happened on the turnpike.”
“I see. Well, next I get to ask you some questions.”
“Any family history of diabetes?”
“Heart disease?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you smoke?”
“Gave the habit up forty years ago.”
“How about alcohol?”
“A couple of glasses of wine a year or a nice cold Heineken occasionally after I mow the lawn on a hot summer day.”
Then, she broke the routine, with what seemed an odd question. “You don’t suppose you could pray that we’d all get tomorrow afternoon off so we can get an early start on visiting relatives for Thanksgiving, do you?”
It took a moment for the question to register, then realizing it was a perfectly good question I said, “Absolutely…Sure thing…I’ve got an in with the Almighty.”
Lisa smiled. “I kinda’ had a feeling.”

By the time it was all said and done, I’d gotten a pneumonia shot, blood tests, and a complete thumping of the tires. I think I got a clean bill of health. Along the way I got to meet a lot of wonderful people. Their faces, like the familiar faces I’d seen along the turnpike, mirrored back the love of God I was feeling as I’d made my way south. There was Doctor Khanam, a young physician from Bangladesh and Bao Linh Duong, a pharmacist from Vietnam. In the pharmacy waiting room I got to sit with an old band of brothers. Most looked worn and weathered. Their pot bellies and the graying temples had become their latter day badges of honor. Some were in wheelchairs, some carried oxygen bottles. I felt a bit out of place. I don’t have any of the visible scars of service, only memories, most of which were healed years ago. I offered a few silent prayers for those I saw and spent another few moments expressing my gratitude for the good health I have.

On the trip home to Emporia the grace and peace once more overwhelmed me. This time it came in short waves, with the faces once more passing into view. The small happy tears flowed at mile marker 71…and mile marker 92…and then again at mile marker 109.

I’m back home now and the keyboard I’m typing on looks like it’s lit up by heavenly, neon lights. The warmth of everlasting life seems to be filling the room.

Come Thursday friends and family will be in for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not sure how long the glow will last. I hope forever, but I don't really know. There are a few words from a Van Morrison tune that express how I feel right now – “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life was like this all the time.” Not knowing whether the fire will still be burning a couple of days from now, I feel compelled to express my thanks now. I’m grateful for faces…I’m grateful for the opportunity to lift small, silent prayers to heaven for bands of weary brothers and clinic nurses…I’m grateful for living under the great umbrella of grace and love… I’m grateful to be living in the presence of the sparrows that fall and the lilies of the field…I’m grateful to know that while I will one day wither, like that grass that withers and fades, that my days aren’t fully numbered yet…And, most of all, I’m grateful for light of everlasting life.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Poverty of el Norte

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.”
- Revelation 3:15-18 (New Living Translation)

About a week and a half ago I embarked on a great journey along with twelve other members of Victory Fellowship Church in Emporia, Kansas. Our express purpose was to put a concrete second floor on a sister church in Tampochocho, Mexico, about a thirty hour drive south of where we all live. We went to minister and were ministered to.

I’m back home now and I’m spending some time dealing with sensory overload. We who participated witnessed and experienced so much it’s impossible to say what the high points were. Words just fail to express it all.

Was it being able to see a nineteen year old young man named Antonio, who had overcome so many obstacles in life, lead seventeen people to living faith in Jesus Christ as he and I wandered around the city square in Axtla on a beautiful Sunday afternoon? Was it seeing a woman who had been tortured by pain and unable to even stand rise by the power of the Spirit and walk, leap, and praise God? Was it seeing the desperate hunger and need filled as Jesus lovingly responded to the desperation and hunger? Was it seeing a little lame girl, Griselda, ask us to pray with her for a pair of shoes so that she could go to school and for a Bible so that she could read all about Jesus? Was it seeing the gratefulness etched on the faces of the Nahuatl (pronounced nah-what) men and women cupping their hands as they received the gift of a small bag of frijoles at the close of the meetings? Was it witnessing the power of the Holy Spirit as it surged in waves through the crowd? Was it seeing these shy, unassuming folks come alive as the wonderful mix of worship and salsa wafted through the night air? Was it in the harmony of men and women from different parts of the world working together to complete what seemed to be the impossible task that had been set before us?

There was so much that we witnessed and experienced. Words fail to express it all.

I’m struck by the powerful temptation to get back into the American routine of wealth and complacency. Why not just let CNN and Fox News and CSI and American Idol and IPODS and Tommy Hilfiger and fast food get us back into the rut of American normalcy? Why not just let Rush Limbaugh or the high powered politicians continue to do our thinking for us? Why not just make Tampochocho another inconvenient speed bump along the road of American wealth and reality? It’s very tempting to clutch desperately to my loyalty to wealth and convenience and forget what I witnessed in Tampochocho.

I’m tempted, but I know I can’t.

As we entered Mexico last Saturday I was particularly struck by the fact that in the midst of poverty there is also staggering wealth. There seems to be very little trickle down in the globalization that's sweeping south from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey. I was also struck by the truth that God always responds to hunger. What raw economics fails to do, Jesus does! He feeds the hungry, the poor, and the broken. He responds to the cries of the afflicted. I saw this with my own eyes. I witnessed it.

As we came back into the United States Friday afternoon a kind of reverse polarity swept over me. My natural eyes saw the enormous wealth, but my spiritual eyes saw the real poverty that rested on the deceit of earthly wealth and riches. The condos and the 5,000 square foot homes of America appeared more like shacks of Mexico in that light. I think it might be a way of seeing things in the proper light, in the light of a kingdom where up is down and the first shall be last.

On the long journey north I saw the sights one normally sees along America’s highways, the Burger Kings and Cracker Barrels, the truck stops, the sit-down restaurants and high-rise office buildings. They’re the familiar symbols of America’s power and wealth. Other less frequent symbols accompanied them. They’re called mega-churches. As we wound down the highway they became more and more frequent, with neon signs and electronic message boards beckoning the “needy.” Their parking lots stretched for what seemed to be miles and their spires extended far into the heavens. They were impressive sights indeed.

A day earlier I’d heard the strains of the old sixties ditty – “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, as long as I got my plastic Jesus, sittin' on the dashboard of my car.” One after another the mega-churches came into my view and passed just as quickly as they’d come. With each passing I couldn’t help but wonder how many plastic Jesus’s were being sold inside the walls of some of these monuments to man’s faith in himself . Down to our south, in the minimalist view we had of Tampochocho, the Nahuatl were praying for the Holy Ghost to fall on them and praying for a pair of shoes or a Bible to read, and God was responding to the deep need and hunger. On the U.S. side of the border, inside too many of the mega-churches, too many people are praying for expensive trinkets, like the prophets of Baal cutting themselves in a futile attempt to get the fire to rain down from the heavens. Jesus is all too often being peddled as some sort of cosmic errand boy. So, it’s Jesus, satisfier of wandering desires, Jesus dispenser of electronic gadgets, SUV’s, and Cadillac Sevilles, and Jesus enabler of professional goals. In too many others, based on what folks are hearing there, you wouldn’t be able to recognize the real Jesus and the real Bread of Life because He’s being drowned out by the artificial stuff that’s being sold. It’s all too much like the bread you get in the grocery stores these days, full of artificial ingredients. You can take a piece of it and roll it into a little ball of junk. About the only thing it’s good for is for throwing into the water and feeding the carp. There, for one hour on Sunday, you get to hear tales of “the ground of all being” or “considered consequent eschatology,” messages too profound to understand delivered by men in frocked coats. Their booming baritones belie the emptiness of their messages.

By now some of you are probably gnashing your teeth. You’re thinking I’m just a judgmental old fool. “After all,” you say, behold our wealth and power, that’s our proof that everything is just fine here in el Norte. All I can say in response is that I’ve seen what I have seen. America is on the brink of judgment! A spiritual famine is about to descend like the locusts that swarmed over Egypt of old.

America is fast becoming a place where Ichabod is being written over many of its doors. Could it be that we’re fast approaching the place where those with eyes to see and ears to hear are saying, “Stay away from most of the religion of el Norte, it’s dead. Don’t eat the stale bread being offered and whatever you do, don’t drink the water.” Could it be that the time has come for missionaries who have been the beneficiaries of the work of the Spirit in Tampochocho and other poor villages to our south to stream north across the border to give drink to the thirsty and bread to the hungry in the vast American wasteland?

If so, what is our role in all of this?

I see this and I’m becoming convinced that Victory Fellowship and other little beacons of light are being called to be those small pockets of spiritual wealth and generosity in what is becoming a spiritual wasteland, a place where the prayers offered aren’t for the IPOD we just can't live without or the designer outfit to die for, but for the fire of the Spirit to fall and hide our nakedness, a place where our cry is not “Give me!” but “Here am I Lord, send me,” a place where repentance replaces demands for things that cannot soothe the hunger or satisfy the thirst.

That’s what Tampochocho meant to me. I’ve fumbled as best I could for the words to describe that meaning. I realize that they fail. I pray that the Spirit will give them life and meaning, that the fire will continue to burn and that we all will heed God’s call to become the people He desires us to be.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chords of memory

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love.”
-Washington Irving

On our way back from Kansas City this morning we passed under a small group of firefighters positioned on the overpass at mile marker 160, which is about thirty miles north of Emporia. They were energetically waving large American flags at the north and southbound traffic below them. Nancy, her developmentally disabled brother James, and I waved at them as we made our way under the bridge. As soon as we passed, I felt a lump in my throat and the warmth of tears welling up in my eyes.

I remember that September day six years ago the firefighters on the overpass were commemorating; I’m sure you do to.

I remember the overwhelming grief I felt as I thought about the terror that the innocent men, women, and children, who had begun that day anticipating vacations, business meetings, or a visit to grandparents, must have felt in the agonizing moments leading up to the impact of the planes.

I remember those occasional times when Nancy and I would take an evening trip from our home in Denville, New Jersey to share a meal at Pal’s Cabin, an eatery situated just across the river from lower Manhattan. I remember the times Nancy and I would gaze across the river at the Word Trade Center and the rest of Manhattan that it towered over. The lights seemed to be beckoning anyone who wanted to partake of its bounty and opportunity.

How often since that terrible day have I cried out from the unseen depths of my soul? How often have I wished that I’d had the power to just make it all stop? How often have we all? The silent screams and the agony must now be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. But, now matter how often we cry out, we cannot change the reality of September 11, 2001. The power of our collective retrospect and hindsight are no match for the power and resolute evil of Osama bin Laden’s rank and file. We cannot take history and put it into freeze-frame.

I remember trying to sort through the questions that some raised in the years after the attack. Was it our imperialism, as those in the terrorist camp and many on the American political left have claimed? Was it, and is it, true that America is the source of all the evil in the world? What acts of imperialist aggression had the mothers, fathers, and children who died at the hands of the terrorists committed? And what of the rest of us? How culpable were we? Was it true that our support for Israel is at the heart of every terrorist grievance? Was it true that America was (and is) nothing more than a world-wide instrument of terror, imposing its evil will on the rest of the world?

It’s impossible for me to fathom how clinging to teddy-bears, gazing at New York from the observation deck of the World Trade Center, or dreaming of going to Disneyland could be construed as acts of imperialist aggression, but logic can sometimes turn on its head and make good seem to be evil and evil good. The camel can indeed be pulled through the eye of the needle.

I’ve heard all the claims and I see them as feeble attempts to revise history or freeze-frame morality. The more I hear them the angrier I get. I remember what happened on September 11, 2001 and when I hear terrorists and terror’s apologists blaming the innocent my blood boils.

I also remember American resolve in the months after the attack. We seemed to be united. But, it was a flimsy fellowship. Time, failed strategies, personal hatred, politics, and personal agendas have evaporated all of that. We’re divided. Some now blame George Bush. Some blame American imperialism. Some claim that America is a Nazi state and deserved everything it got on September 11th. Some say that those defending us are actually betraying us.

Somewhere, possibly in Pakistan, Osama bin Laden is also commemorating September 11th. In a video released today he lionized one of the hijackers responsible for this monstrous crime. Sensing that our will and courage seem to be failing, he used it as an opportunity to recruit others to his cause:

“It remains for us to do our part. So I tell every young man among the youth of Islam: It is your duty to join the caravan (of martyrs) until the sufficiency is complete and the march to aid the High and Omnipotent continues.”

Yes, I remember September 11th, 2001. I remember the grief we all shared. But I also remember the righteous anger. I remember how keenly and rightly it was focused. We knew who the enemy was then. Today, however, in the shadow of Afghanistan, Iraq, the lust for political power, presidential aspirations, failure in some measures, success in others, slander, and character assassination, our collective anger has turned inward. The one thing we should have remembered about September 11th seems tragically to be the one thing we’ve forgotten. September 11th did not happen because of American foreign policy. September 11th was not some monstrous way of the sins of our fathers being visited upon us.

The war on terror that followed the September 11th attack, being waged from Kabul to the Sunni Triangle to America’s Main Street, is very real, and very deadly. It’s not the figment of some politician’s imagination, nor is it the result of our failures and sins, either as individuals or as a nation. We must remember that, find our way back together as a nation, and then bring this war to a just conclusion.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Eye of the Beholder

“Glances of true beauty can be seen in the faces of those who live in true meekness.”

- Henry David Thoreau

It’s hard to believe it’s been so long, but the morning news confirmed it, so I have to accept it. Princess Diana died in an automobile accident ten years ago. According to the reports filed today as many as two billion people watched her funeral and mourned her passing.

It’s also hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the death of Mother Teresa. While her death was also mourned around the world, it must be said that far fewer mourned her passing.


Princess Diana was stunningly beautiful, tall and angular. She was young, vibrant, poised, admired, and often adored. She had good causes she advanced – AIDS, the effect of land mines on innocent children in the war-torn Balkans. When the royal family jettisoned her she gained an enormous amount of support world-wide. She was the beauty scorned by the mighty. Given those circumstances, whose heart couldn’t go out to her? Underserved rejection, followed by an untimely death became the perfect recipe for the outpouring of grief.

Mother Teresa was craggy faced, short, with stooped shoulders. She was old and appeared to be weary to the point of death from the burden she’d carried for so long. She was a homely woman, not the type of woman men would lust after or desire to possess. The truth was, she was possessed by Someone else. That, I believe, troubled us.

She was admired, albeit at arm’s length. There was something we feared about her. Could it have been that the message she brought made us uncomfortable. Could she have been telling us that her burden needed more burden-bearers and that too few would come to her aid? Could it have been that she revealed the gaping holes in our philosophy? Could it have been that, by her life, she exposed the moral bankruptcy of our time?

It’s ten years later, and the world is remembering. Diana is being remembered for her beauty and tragic end. Mother Teresa is being remembered for her lapses of faith. Les Csorba, writing in today’s Houston Chronicle, put it this way:

“Ten years ago, Princess Diana's life was taken tragically in a tunnel in Paris. Up to 2 billion people would watch the memorial services around the globe. But, as the world wept over Diana, the news arrived that Mother Teresa had died of cardiac arrest. The irony was that while the world mourned the princess they conferred sainthood upon, they overlooked real beauty.”

It’s been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If the majority sanctify Princess Diana the turn away from Mother Teresa, does it mean that that the message as well as it bearer are to be rejected? In this self-absorbed world it seems to be so.

Jesus said that the pathway to the kingdom of God is narrow, and few find it. In a world where our notions of beauty are so jaded, the truth of Jesus’ words pierce like an arrow to the heart. In a world so often corrupted by fame and worldly notoriety, they cut us to the quick. They go deep, to the depths of our souls, and we shun them. We’d much rather the superficial and the vain than to trod the lonely path of service and humility. There are indeed two ways, one narrow and the other broad. We most often choose the one that appeals to our vanity and pride. We must validate our choice, hence, Princess Diana is elevated and Mother Teresa is brought low.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Cost of the Democrats' Foregone Conclusions on Iraq

The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.

- John F Kennedy

Pete Petraeus will be reporting to the President, then to Congress, in about three weeks. While no one knows for sure exactly what he is going to say, there are indications that the report will be far more positive than negative.

I’m not sure that it’s going to make a lot of difference. The overwhelming majority of Democrats and their anti-war base concluded that Iraq was an abject failure before the surge began. They did vote to fund the surge, but I think that was only because they feared a backlash from the American people, who don’t lean nearly as far to the left as the Democratic base. Others have seen things in a different light. In May, former New York Mayor Ed Koch had this to say:

“The Democrats, like terriers shaking a rat (Iraq) using a plan of funding war for three months -- salami tactics -- causing the Army command to recognize that the Congress, not the President, is effectively in charge, have achieved their goal: implementing withdrawal.”

It could be. But, whatever their reasons, I’m certain that come September their political wheels are going to be spinning madly. There will be little offered in the way of strategy. What I believe we’ll see is more triangulating and political maneuvering. Will they play to their base and cut off funding? Or, will they endure till the 2008 election and then pull all the plugs.

The President, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week, drew several parallels between the war in Iraq and other conflicts. Most Democrats didn’t seem to mind the comparisons to World War II or Korea. But they went ballistic when the President compared Iraq to Vietnam. They claimed that the comparisons were inaccurate, that there were few, if any, parallels between the two.

I think there’s much more to it. Vietnam will always be a great revealer of the Democratic Party’s intent and the intent of their anti-war base. That’s what made them climb the rafters, screaming like banshees.

This morning I read an op-ed piece by Robert Tracinski. I think he got to the heart of why the Democrats don’t like the comparisons. He claimed, I believe correctly, that the Democratic Party’s left wing base clamored for defeat and the Democrats gave it to them:

“Whatever the failures of American strategy in Vietnam, there is no doubt that the anti-war left pushed for American failure and accomplished it by persistent and vigorous legislation. And that is the crucial issue. If the architects of the Vietnam War in the Johnson administration can be criticized (as Moyar does) for not doing enough to win the war, the later anti-war left actively pursued American defeat and humiliation as their goal. They didn't merely want us to withdraw; they wanted us to lose, and they did whatever was necessary to make sure that happened.”

I then came across this from Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe:

“It is troubling that there are no such profiles (referring to John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage) among the Democrats running for president this year. JFK was elected at a time when Americans could trust his party to confront international threats with resolve. That changed after Vietnam, where the Democratic left insisted on defeat and got its way.”

I remember coming back from my tour in Vietnam. I kissed the ground at Travis Air Force Base, then proceeded to the transit barracks with some of my buddies. That night I watched the news from “the world” and was treated to left wing demonstrators chanting, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna’ win.” Later, like a lot of others who served, I was called a “baby killer” by young students exercising the right of free speech I went to Vietnam to preserve for them. They were determined, loud, offensive, and wrong, but in the end they got all they wanted and then some – boat people, genocide in Cambodia, re-education camps for those who trusted us in Vietnam, and international retreat under Jimmy Carter.

I think about the Democrats’ current strategy and I get a bit cynical. Why not give them what they want now, like we did in Vietnam? That will make the parallels between the two wars much more understandable. If they want defeat, let’s pull the plug. Hell, I’m an old retiree and the terrorists won’t make it to Emporia, Kansas by the time I’m pushing up daisies. But, then I think of my children and grand-children, my brother and sister and their families, my friends and neighbors, the thousands and thousands of Iraqis who have cast their lot with us, civilization itself, and the cynicism fades.

The majority of us don’t want to lose this war. We actually want to win it. But, the Democrats, dangling like puppets on the strings of the far left, are going to pander their way to defeat in Iraq. We cannot allow that!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Faith and Doubt - Mother Teresa and NBC Nightly News

“One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

John 20:24-25 (New Living Translation)

A few days ago Nancy and I watched NBC Nightly News, which was a departure from our normal routine. At about ten till six, anchorman Brian Williams introduced a segment about Mother Teresa’s “dark side.” He said that it just might change the way we’ve come to think of this woman.

The segment, which was about six minutes long, focused on a series of letters that Mother Teresa had written years ago. In some of them she expressed deep doubt, even to the point of doubting the existence of the God she prayed to and served so tirelessly.

By the time it was all over I found it difficult to think of what the point of the piece was. Could it have been that Mother Teresa was a fraud, a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing? Could it have been that any expression of theological or philosophical doubt casts doubt on the veracity of the message she proclaimed in public? Could it have been that Christians who doubt are schizophrenic lemmings, flitting from ecstatic religious highs one moment to chasms of deep despair the next?

When the segment was completed, Brian Williams bid America good night. My guess is that his next step was to find his way to some upper crust Manhattan restaurant to order a steak tar tare and a glass of good vintage wine, something as raw and intoxicating as the high tech hatchet job he’d just finished.

I doubt that the piece had much impact on what people think of Mother Teresa. In death, as in life, she was either loved or hated. There was no neutral ground. She worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor and forgotten and she spoke out forcefully against social injustice, especially abortion on demand. She didn’t fear the powerful. She once even called the President of the United States to task for his support of abortion. Given that, it’s easy to understand why the powerful didn’t like her message. Perhaps in exposing her doubts NBC Nightly News was trying to cast her causes in a greyer light – doubt is tantamount to unbelief and unbelief invalidates the message as well as the messenger.

I read the entire piece Brian Williams cited, titled “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith,” published in Time magazine’s on line edition. The conclusion David van Biema, the author, came to was, surprisingly, far different than that of NBC Nightly News:

“But for most people, Teresa's ranking among Catholic saints may be less important than a more general implication of Come Be My Light: that if she could carry on for a half-century without God in her head or heart, then perhaps people not quite as saintly can cope with less extreme versions of the same problem.”

I interpret that to mean that Mother Teresa’s doubts are the same doubts all of us who follow Jesus experience. The significant difference between Mother Teresa and most of us, however, was that her doubts were much more intense, magnified because of the great task she’d been given. As the Book says, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Calcutta’s slums, teeming with the dying, neglected, and forgotten was a far more difficult a forging place for faith than most of us will ever endure in life. Giving a few last meals to a maggot infested street beggar must have sometimes seemed a futile gesture in the face of all the neglect, abuse, and violence she saw played out in the world. She must surely have felt the sting of the apathy of the world. Under those circumstances, the doubts seem not only reasonable, but also inevitable. I’d be willing to wager that Brian Williams would seriously doubt NBC’s ability to “take care of him” if he were resigned to eating chitins’ every day instead of steak tar tare.

The power of this woman’s life lay in the fact that she pressed beyond her doubts and served the poorest of the poor. Having her doubts revealed only makes my admiration for her grow.

Brian Kolodiejchuk, author of Come Be My Light, saw Mother Teresa in that same type of light:

“The tendency in our spiritual life but also in our more general attitude toward love is that our feelings are all that is going on,” he says. “And so to us the totality of love is what we feel. But to really love someone requires commitment, fidelity and vulnerability. Mother Teresa wasn't ‘feeling’ Christ's love, and she could have shut down. But she was up at 4:30 every morning for Jesus, and still writing to him, ‘Your happiness is all I want.’ That's a powerful example even if you are not talking in exclusively religious terms.”

In a world where the superficial too often reigns, Mother Teresa, doubts and all, stands head and shoulders above her detractors and critics. Her face, worn, chiseled, and wrinkled by the burdens she bore, stands as a great testimony against the straight teeth and crooked smiles of those who attempt to cut her down to a size they can manage. When all is said and done, when the last trumpet sounds, I’m certain that she will hear the words she longed to hear in life – “well done, good and faithful servant.”

I wish I could say the same for her critics and detractors, but I don’t have that much faith. I find it difficult to press past my doubts about them. While I hope it isn’t so, I fear that the message they hear at the last trumpet – “Depart from me, into the eternal fire!” – will be far different than the message Mother Teresa will hear.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Cowboy Way

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
- Albert Einstein

About a year ago our electricity went out for a few hours, giving us the opportunity to visit outside with our neighbor Ellen, and subsequently with our cross street neighbor Shelley Wise. We found out from Shelley that the source of the power outage was a transformer at the sub-station close to the university recreation center where here husband, Mike, works. Shelley said Mike had seen it happen and called her proudly proclaiming that when the transformer blew it was a real thing of beauty. The real big news we got, though, was the news that Ellen, who has been such a wonderful neighbor, is moving to a senior friendly apartment complex being built a bit north of us on 15th Street. Keeping up with the house had just become too much for her, so she’d decided to cash in her chips and move on to more amenable quarters.

One of the nice things about a good neighbor is that there is no need of a fence between us. There are none of those incessant quarrels about where my neighbor’s property line ends and mine begins. There are no mine fields between us, protecting the sanctity of our little plot of ground. It’s quite idyllic, really, which makes me sometimes ask why, as did Robert Frost, fences are needed at all. Wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place if we didn’t spend our time worrying about whether or not my neighbor’s apple trees are eating the cones under my pine?

The morning after Ellen announced her move I took a long walk. It felt wonderful to be out in the cool of the day. The heat wave had broken for the time being and being outside was quite pleasant. I meandered from my place through downtown, past the Friends church on Sixth Avenue, occasionally walking a block or two down side streets to add a little mileage. At each detour I would hear the barking of dogs as I passed by their houses. There was a sheltie on the south side of Union Street, a Boston terrier on Exchange, a chocolate labrador on Cottonwood, and a toy poodle on Sylvan. Their barks, whether high pitched soprano like the poodle’s, or deep bass like the lab’s, all voiced the same sentiment. “Do you see this fence, buster?” “Do you know what it’s here for?” “This is my yard, not yours and I’m not going to let you play in it.”

As much as I’d like to live in an idyllic world, I think the barking dogs have something on Robert Frost and me. Fences and property lines are there for a reason and it’s a good idea to respect them.

I’m a great fan of western movies, with Shane being my all time favorite. I watch it once a year, much to my wife Nancy’s dismay. I even dust it out on special occasions. I’ve played it for Corina, a young exchange student from Moldova who lived with us for a year and for Binna, the South Korean exchange student who just got back home from her one year visit to the Flint Hills. They seemed to like it too. It’s all about simplicity, about right and wrong, in what seems to be a complex world. Film historians and critics (a double oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) call it a cold-war parable revealing the way America viewed itself in the post-World War II period. We had defeated Tojo and Hitler. America’s natural sentiment saw the great victories as a time to turn the swords into plowshares. But was it? Unfortunately, the victory over tyranny was short lived. New enemies were on the horizon. The iron curtain was beginning to descend between international neighbors, one casting a greedy eye beyond the invisible wall he was erecting; calculating ways to take what belonged to his neighbor, and the other casting a wary eye to the east. We had come out of the war as a great world power and were on the horns of a great moral dilemma. Great oceans separated us from the tyranny that threatened to engulf Asia and Europe, like fences often separate us from our neighbors. Why couldn’t we put the guns away? After all, we were safe. What moral obligation did we have to the rest of the world? Hadn’t we sacrificed enough? As much as we wanted to, though, we came to realize that we couldn’t disarm because there was no one else who had the power to stand against freedom’s enemies. The burden was ours to bear.

Shane is the story of a gunfighter who would love to put his gun away and settle down. He wants what we all want – peace, security, a home. He comes across the Starrett family, homesteaders who just want to work the land they’ve invested their money, sweat, and tears in. He puts his gun away and goes to work for them. The good life is within reach. But, the Starretts and the other homesteaders in the valley can’t lay hold to the peace and security they so desire, because the Ryker boys are terrorizing them, trying to force them off the land. The homesteaders are no match for the ranchers’ guns. What good are plows and rusty shotguns against the weapons arrayed against them? In the end the great battle between good and evil comes, when Shane realizes that he’s the only one who is able to face down Jack Wilson, the gunfighter the Rykers have hired to do their bidding. Shane wins the gunfight, the bad guys are dispatched to hell, and Shane leaves the valley, knowing that he’ll never be able to break the mold he’s been existentially cast in. He is what he is and little can change that. There will always be some homesteader somewhere who needs his gun. As Shane rides off, young Joey Starrett begs him to come back home and settle down. His young voice can be heard echoing through the Wyoming valley – “Shane, come back. Pa’s got work for you to do… ShaneSHANE……Come back!” Shane never looks back. He just keeps riding away from the things he would really love to do. He has a burden to bear.

Perhaps it’s an oversimplification, but being a child of the forties and fifties, I see our modern world in much the same light that Shane did his. It would be wonderful if we could all just settle down and work our land in peace. It would be wonderful if the walls and fences could all come down and the same harmony that Nancy and I enjoyed with our neighbor Ellen would prevail for all mankind. The dream of a day when the swords will be beaten into plowshares is as real for me as it is for any peacemaker. But, like Shane, I can see that it’s “not just yet.” If we don’t confront the evil afoot in the world, who will? Who has the power to confront it? Who is even willing? The United Nations? The European Union? The people of Rwanda or Darfur? The starving in North Korea? Those being brutalized in Iraq and Afghanistan by thugs and terrorists? Where does our moral obligation end? At the water’s edge? Why do we have to carry so much of the burden?

I’ve had some tell me that I cast things in shades that are too black and too white. Perhaps, but I really don’t believe the international stage is nearly as grey as they would lead me to believe. There is a right and wrong in our world. There are good and bad guys, there are homesteaders like Joe Starrett, ranchers like the Ryker boys, Jack Wilsons, and Shanes.

My answer to the moral question of our time is not as complex or nuanced as the solutions offered by America’s critics. It’s the cowboy way. It’s simple, with few if any nuances. It’s not an easy answer, but it is straight-forward. We are what we are in the world. If we don’t stand up to the Jack Wilsons of the world, who will? The burden is still ours to bear.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


“Question: “I understand that Congress is considering a so-called ‘flat’ tax system. How would this work?” Answer: “If Congress were to pass a ‘flat’ tax, you'd simply pay a fixed percentage of your income, and you wouldn’t have to fill out any complicated forms, and there would be no loopholes for politically connected groups, and normal people would actually understand the tax laws, and giant talking broccoli stalks would come around and mow your lawn for free, because Congress is NOT going to pass a flat tax, you pathetic fool.”

- Dave Barry

One of our most distinguished citizens here in Emporia is at it again. I think it has something to do with his age and municipal seniority. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been proclaimed and anointed as a professor emeritus at Emporia State University.

Last Thursday he wrote an op-ed piece in our local rag titled “Taxes are a Must.” Upon reading it I realized that the only thing I needed to read was the title. He made two points in the piece, first that “we would all agree that taxes are a must, if I had my way,” and second that we should have a flat tax accompanied by surcharges on those he deemed to be wealthy. For those making $500,000 per year, an additional five percent would be added to their tax bills. Those making a million would pay an additional ten percent. For those making two million, the good professor advocated a fifteen percent tax surcharge in addition the other income taxes that would be taken in what he called “routine fashion.”

The “routine fashion” comment was especially clever, don’t you think?

In a town like Emporia, where there are lots of folks living on fixed incomes and poverty rates are very high, it’s a very popular idea. For someone like me, a retiree, it should seem eminently fair, but I can’t bring myself into a state of ecstasy over the idea.

Last night I decided to send a response to Mr. Peterson’s proposal, risking the wrath of one of Emporia’s finest. I just couldn’t help myself. My response follows for your edification and enlightenment:

At first blush, John Peterson’s populist ideas on taxes published on August 9th seem quite appealing, especially for folks like me who are retired and living on fixed incomes. Why not add a tax surcharge on the wealthy. After all, “it is our magnificent cultural and economic system which gives them the opportunity to be rich. They should give back.”

The problem with first blushes, though, is that they are much like puppy love, where emotion overwhelms good sense. The first blush says that it’s love. Given time and reflection, the emotions of the moment give way to the truth that it was nothing more than raging hormones.

Must we all pay taxes? Unfortunately, yes. We’re taxed on every hand. The federal government taxes us; the states tax us, municipalities tax us. They tax our income, our purchases, and our homes. They tax gasoline, food, and clothing. They tax the books we read and things that seem sinful like cigarettes or a glass of Zinfandel. If we occasionally eat at a restaurant, they tax the meal. Our check stubs reveal that government withholds additional taxes for government programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They even tax us when we die. By the time they’re done with us they’ve taken 50% or more of the money we’ve earned by the sweat of our brows.

Will Mr. Peterson’s ideas work? No! They won’t, first of all, because they’re not as fair as he would have us believe. It’s easy to say that income and wealth of others should be surcharged. It’s not Mr. Peterson’s ox that’s going to be gored, nor will it be mine. I suppose it might not mean much to some these days, but as it was once observed, the eighth commandment expressly prohibits theft (taking something that belongs to someone else and using it for another’s purpose, agenda, or pleasure) and the tenth commandment also prohibits coveting our neighbor’s house, his goods, or anything that is his or hers.[1] I don’t know how long Mr. Peterson has been hatching his plan, but I do know that the eighth and tenth commandments have been around a lot longer than his notions of fairness, and came from a far more credible source.

Second, it won’t work because it encourages government at all levels to find ever more creative ways to redistribute our wealth. The last thing we need here is more creative ways for government to mug us. And, lest you think they won’t, I’ll remind you of a California case some years ago. The state was plagued by drought and the answer to the problem was conservation. The tool used to conserve was an increase in the water use tax. The more water people used, the higher the tax rates went. It worked so well that it created another problem when the rains came. Lower water usage meant shrinking government revenues. Another creative solution was implemented to solve the problem government had created. A non-use tax on water was proposed. As Orwellian as it seemed, government bureaucrats were going to tax people for something they weren’t using because they were trying to conserve the resource and reduce the tax load government had imposed on them for using too much of it to begin with. Mr. Peterson might think it quite clever to give government ideas on how to tax us more. I don’t. Our representatives are clever enough without his help or anyone else’s.

Third, it won’t get the desired result. Here in Emporia our city’s leaders are seeing that truth painfully played out in the current budget processes. The people of this city are tapped out and many who can afford to leave are voting with their feet. Few people, other than Mr. Peterson, are in any mood to encourage increases in taxes. The recent messages from the public have been “Hold the line.” Hopefully the various entities have gotten the message and taken the pledge.

Fourth, and most important, the power to tax is becoming increasingly the power to control. In 1999, historian Daniel Pipes sent an ominous warning:

“Such immense concentration of citizens’ wealth in the hands of the government carries with it obvious dangers to individual liberty, because the government, by dispensing or withholding its largesse, is able to influence the behavior (and secure the conformity) of a large segment of the population. It is not fortuitous that the foundations of Western liberty were laid when governments controlled but a small fraction of the nation’s assets.”

Prior to the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment government controlled about seven percent of our gross domestic product and employed about four percent of the total workforce. By 1995, our federal bureaucracy employed nearly twenty million Americans and controlled one-third of gross domestic product. That’s as staggering as it is sobering.

In about a year and a half the page of history will turn and in all likelihood there will be a complete shift of political power in America. I can only imagine how much more of our property and wealth will redistributed when that day dawns.

How could we ever survive without taxes? I suppose we might ask our founding fathers, who funded a revolution without levying taxes. In fact, wasn’t one of the principle reasons we shook off the tyranny of George III the matter of taxation without representation. How did we ever manage to secure our liberty without so much as a hint of an Internal Revenue Service?

If I had my way, unlike Mr. Peterson, I would require him and government leaders at all levels read Laffer curves into the wee hours of the morning, much like sleepless people count sheep. I’d also require them to read the works of economists like F.A. Hayek, Hernando DeSoto, or Thomas Sowell until the ideas sank in. Maybe if that were to happen they’d see that tax reductions actually produce increased government revenues or that our freedoms shrink as government’s share of what is ours is increases.

[1] Daniel Pipes, Property and Freedom, (New York: Vintage Books), 1999

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Stuff That Dreams are Made of

“Then, after doing all those things,
I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.”

- Joel 2:28 (New Living Translation)

There’s not much in the way of explanation I can offer for not having posted since May. I’ve been living in a state of perpetual motion and busyness over that time. I’ve had ideas, but the daily affairs of life have pushed those ideas into the back seat.

While I haven’t had much time to express my thoughts in writing, thoughts and ideas have been coming to me in a medium that’s been unfamiliar to me since my childhood. In the past month I’ve had two very vivid dreams. Perhaps, as the Bible says, it means that I’m now an old man.

I’ve shared what I saw and in these dreams with my wife, Nancy, and a few other people. This morning Nancy told me that she thought it would be a good idea to share them on this blog. I’ll share the first one with you today and the other either tomorrow or early next week.

I believe they have meaning, not just for me, but for others as well. I’ll leave it to you to interpret them. Feel free to share your thoughts about them by way of comment.

The first dream began outside a large church, built for multitudes. It had the familiar steeple. From all appearances it appeared to be very mainstream. It looked a lot like a church Nancy and I once attended in Kansas City. It also appeared to be strong, made of large limestone blocks. It was very impressive. At first I saw the church from a distance, then somehow the cornerstone of the building caught my eye. It read, “To the glory of God; peace and freedom for all humanity.”

At first things appeared to be very peaceful. Then, in an instant, it all changed. As I looked in either direction, north and south, from the entrance of the building, I saw long lines of ambulances with their lights on and sirens blaring. They were all going in one direction, coming from north and heading south. The horizon, both near and far, was filled with them. It was an overwhelming sight. Each ambulance stopped at the church entrance. As they did, wounded and dying people were carried on stretchers and placed in the ambulances. I could hear the moans and screams above the sound of the sirens and could see blood running down from the circular drive in front of the church, then flowing into the gutters.

I felt powerless. I couldn’t stop the procession, which went on and on for what seemed to be an eternity.

I began to weep and then was transported into the sanctuary. It was almost as if I was being taken inside to see what was causing the procession outside. As I entered the sanctuary I could see men who appeared to be dressed from head to toe in very unusual clerical robes. They were bright and colorful, reds, blues, greens, yellows, purples, dotted with images of birds and snakes. The material was wispy and flimsy, giving these men, who I assumed were leaders, a very feminine appearance. Even the hoods covering the tops of their heads and their eyes were made of this flimsy material. The only thing different about them from the rest of the material was that they were jet black. I looked down at their feet, expecting for some reason to see sandals. Instead, I saw they were all wearing hobnailed boots. Each of these men was playing an instrument of one kind or another. They weren’t the traditional instruments one would normally associate with worship, like trumpets, cymbals, and stringed instruments. They were banging on tin drums, blowing furiously on kazoos and flutaphones, and plucking on some sort of one stringed instrument. As they played, they also stomped their feet and gyrated wildly around the sanctuary. The sound was so discordant it pierced the air. The rhythms were so discordant that they drove those observing into a state of fearful frenzy. It was painful to listen to and even more painful to watch. The most disturbing thing about what I observed was that the leaders seemed to derive great pleasure from the pain they were inflicting on those entering the sanctuary. As the pain got greater, the discordant sounds and frenzied dance reached a crescendo. I could not tell whether or not the leaders were aware of the bloody scene taking place at the entrance, or even if they cared.

I then found myself outside the church once more. The line of ambulances proceeded, unabated. The wounded and dying moaned and screamed. The blood continued to pour from the entrance to the gutters in the street. It appeared that the procession would go on for a long time.

I began to weep once more and heard a voice saying, “The cup of iniquity is full. I am winnowing, I am winnowing, I am separating the chaff from the wheat.”

Then, the dream ended.

I’m not offering it to sensationalize. I’m only offering it now so that I can record what I saw and felt before it becomes a faded memory. Also, as I said earlier, I’ll leave it for you to interpret.

I’ll share what I saw and felt in the other dream with you either tomorrow or early next week.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Love in a Time of Cruelty

“You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good.”
- 2 Timothy 3:1-3 (New Living Translation)

I read last night that Don Imus is filing a hundred and twenty million dollar lawsuit against CBS, his former employer. According to his attorney a clause in the contract he signed with CBS gave him full contractual permission to say many of the outrageous things he’s said over the years.

Legal experts seem to think he has a pretty fair chance of winning at least the forty million dollars in contracted salary in some sort of a settlement with CBS.

I guess that enjoying the pain and distress of others pays, and it pays handsomely. CBS knew this, as did MSNBC when they brought Don Imus on board. ABC was aware of this twisted business adage when they hired Rosie O’Donnell. Everyone involved, from the on screen purveyors to the honchos in the boardrooms, were part of a marriage of convenience. The net result was that the airwaves have been crackling with cruelty and the profits have been skyrocketing.

I’d like to think that the recent sackings will end the mayhem, but I’m not that na├»ve. You see, Rosie and Imus were but two in a fraternity/sorority of malice for money. Someone else will replace them. There will be one for the right wing and another for the left to ensure balance. However it plays out, one thing is certain - an updated iteration will follow as surely as the hurricane’s winds only changes direction once the eye passes.

It’s not like this is all new to us. These recent episodes are just links in a long chain of smut storms that have plagued us for as long as I can remember. There were the Dixiecrats in the late forties, followed by the Klu Klux Klan in the fifties. In the sixties it was the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, followed by Stokely Carmichael in the seventies. In the eighties, Democrats expressed their contempt for Ronald Reagan; in the nineties, Republicans, the Moral Majority, journalists, and right wingers savaged Bill Clinton. The page turned again at the dawning of the new millennium with Democrats, environmentalists, feminists, leftists, and journalists vilifying George Bush.

Each episode comes under the rubric of free speech. “It’s the price we must pay for the right to free speech,” we’re told. And who am I to argue, especially when it pays so well. Cruelty wins elections. Cruelty has the magical power to turn ledgers from red to black. Cruelty gets its practitioners noticed. Sometimes it even makes them famous.

To make matters worse, things are heating up rather than cooling down. People seem to hate more than they used to. Perhaps it’s an illusion, brought on by the mechanisms of free expression we’ve invented. Perhaps we’ve invented new and wondrous ways to express the venoms that infect us. Nowadays we’re wired like never before and we’re letting people know what we think.

What is it about this cruelty that makes it so successful? I don’t know. About as close as I can come is that Harvey Cox’s observation of media preachers like Jimmy Swaggart is eerily accurate. It describes our current climate all too well. The names and philosophies of the players change, but the hate emanating from the root is all too familiar:

“I think that Wright is correct that Swaggart was in touch with something fearsome but real in all of us. But Swaggart was also an unprincipled megalomaniac, a cruel and mean-tempered man whose rambling sermons attacked “faggots” and Catholics and the leadership of his own denomination with equal ferocity. I do not believe, however, that in saying no to Swaggart’s version of Pentecostal Christianity, as many Pentecostals do, one can deny the spiritual forces he was able to conjure. Denying them does not make them go away. Nor does exploiting them for sordid purposes mean that they cannot also inspire generosity and compassion. I think that Swaggart is a warning signal to the tired mainline churches, pointing to genuine spiritual energies most of them have forgotten. But to Pentecostals he is also a warning signal, a reminder that the fire from heaven can burn and destroy as well as purify and inspire.”

There’s a real temptation here. We can tune in. We can also enter the fray and pile on along with Imus, Rosie, Swaggart, and others like them. It’s fun; it’s entertaining. But I think it’s a temptation we must resist. We need to tune in to Someone else. Living by the precepts of I Corinthians 13 may not increase our earthly wealth, but it certainly will enrich us in ways we can only imagine now. It will also shift the poles of power in our lives from negative to positive. In the light of recent events, that would be a welcome change indeed!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hoisting the White Flag

Shall I tell you what the real evil is? To cringe to the things that are called evils, to surrender to them our freedom, in defiance of which we ought to face any suffering.

- Seneca

Other than reading about the tragic events at Virginia Tech, I’ve been out of touch with national and international news for the past month. I’ve been preoccupied with family affairs. A lot of water has passed under the bridge of history in that time. France will have new leadership in a couple of weeks. The DOW has surged to over 13,000. Boris Yeltsin died a few days ago. Rosie O’Donnell is leaving her daytime show. Katie Couric’s ratings are plummeting.

It all reads like the first chapter of Ecclesiastes. Politicians plea for votes. Money changes hands. People die, even famous ones. Celebrities self-destruct. It’s all so timeless.

There’s very little I read about in the news that’s really newsworthy. As Solomon wisely said, he’d seen it all before. So have I.

In Iraq, too, some things remain as they have for the past four years. There’s violence in the streets and innocent people are dying.

Something needs to be done to break the cycle, someone needs to win this war. A week ago Democratic senator Harry Reid gave us all the answer. On the 20th of this month he declared the war in Iraq lost. He tried for a few days to distance himself from the statement, but he couldn’t. He’d said what he said and that was that.

Republicans were furious. Democrats closed ranks. And, al Qaeda felt strengthened.

Now, this is news that really matters. The United States is on notice from its majority party that it’s time to surrender. The war is lost; it’s time to come home. And, they may get their wish.

Why does this matter? It matters for three reasons. First, the Democrats are now mounting a political offensive built on the foundation of capitulation that might well succeed. Second, Usama bin Laden and the terrorists have skillfully manipulated America’s political left to the brink of surrender and find themselves on the cusp of a cataclysmic victory. And third, the Republicans don’t seem to be offering any counter-strategy for victory for the free world.

There are a few exceptions for the Democrats, the most notable being Joe Lieberman. In this morning’s Washington Post he made the following observation about the Democratic Party’s legislative strategy:

“This reaction is dangerously wrong. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of both the reality in Iraq and the nature of the enemy we are fighting there.”

About the only counterweight the Republicans have is a presidential veto.

The terrorists must be dancing with glee. Victory indeed seems to be within their grasp.

This couldn’t be happening at a worse time for America. This is deadly serious business. We need to come together, but unfortunately we’re pulling further and further apart. As Israeli peace activist Ami Isseroff noted a couple of months ago:

“Unfortunately, it is equally true that everyone except those in the Bush administration ignores the disastrous consequences of a U.S. defeat in Iraq, not only for the US, but for European countries who depend on Persian Gulf oil, and for Arab allies of the US. The U.S. administration is playing politics with Iraq. They are denying the obvious facts, because the obvious facts are politically catastrophic for the Bush administration. Everyone else is playing politics with Iraq, in the mistaken belief that a U.S. defeat there will somehow give them an advantage. Everyone is working an angle instead of looking for a solution.”

The most frightening thing about all of this is the fact that if we don’t find a solution to this, the terrorists will certainly implement one of their choosing. And, I suspect it will look something like this:

“The problem of Iraq is not insoluble. I promise you that in five years, and if not in five years then in fifty, order will be restored to Iraq, in one way or another. However, the problem cannot be solved by ignoring it or by standing on the sidelines and watching, like spectators at a fire or rubberneckers at a road accident. If the U.S. leaves, then no doubt others will take over. The people of Iraq will live in peace and harmony, enjoying the benefits of a Mukhabarat (secret police) state, probably under the joint protection of Syria and Iran. Nor will this Middle Eastern paradise be confined to Iraq. With the collapse of U.S. influence in Iraq, Syria, Iran and their new-found Iraqi allies will be at liberty to spread their enlightened rule for the benefit of the editors of Daily Star in Beirut, and Al-Jazeera in Doha. As for the U.S. Democrats, they will be able to gloat that $10 a gallon gasoline is the fault of the Republicans.”
If, or when, that happens, I can assure you most solemnly that there won’t be room for elections, stock markets, or obituaries. I suppose there may even be a silver lining to it all. Rosie and Katie won’t be the centers of our collective attention either.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

How Long, Oh Lord?

Revelation 22:1-2 (Contemporary English Version)

“The angel showed me a river that was crystal clear, and its waters gave life. The river came from the throne where God and the Lamb were seated. Then it flowed down the middle of the city's main street. On each side of the river are trees that grow a different kind of fruit each month of the year. The fruit gives life, and the leaves are used as medicine to heal the nations.”

This is truly an age of terror for America. The rage and hate in the air are palpable. It’s apparent on our highways as we commute to and from work. It’s apparent on our airwaves and it’s becoming more and more pervasive in our neighborhoods. The smallest perceived slights all too often bring new terms to our lexicon; hence we now have road rage and drive-by’s and father-son sniper teams and gangsta’ rap and shock jocks to deal with as part of our daily lives. Less than ten years ago our schools appeared to be safe. They appeared to be institutions of learning and life, but now our collective memories are filled with names like Columbine, Pearl, Mississippi, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and now Blacksburg, Virginia. So, in this age of terror it’s twelve lives cut short here and thirty-two there. It’s innocent children caught in the crossfire of rival gangs. It’s classrooms bathed in blood.

Of all the frightening components to this arc that has joined one century to another, the most terrifying of all is the power the individual has gained to randomly inflict pain and misery on the many. Some of these individuals have grown up living lives privilege, like Osama bin Laden. Some lived their formative years in America’s suburban cul de sacs. Some spring up from families trying to claim their part in the American dream. They hold one thing in common – rage. It may spring from a real or perceived slight or from a desire to rid the world of infidels. The rationale for the evil is almost always expressed in a crude fatwa or a rambling manifesto.

In the aftermath of the evil we’re trying to make sense of it, but few answers come, and those offered don’t seem to help much. I find no solace in hearing that this latest iteration of evil was just an isolated act, nor do I find any comfort in our feeble attempts to analyze the minds of the killers. The acts are becoming less isolated and more and more commonplace. The actors have acted out their gruesome thoughts and that’s that. I doubt we’ll ever really know why. It’s all so incomprehensible and those upon whom the evil is being inflicted seem so powerless to stop it.

And so in the end we all will find our ways to go on with our lives until the next random act of terror paralyzes us all once again. The cycle of mourning and explanations will follow just as surely. The purveyors of hate will crawl out of the woodwork and picket the mourners. The philosophical lines will be drawn, left versus right. Laws will be enacted; politicians will make promises. Little will change, though. The foundational issues, the issues of the heart which trigger these evil deeds, will remain every bit as constant. As the prophet said, it’s the heart that is deceitful, desperately wicked, and un-knowable.

Yesterday afternoon I spent an hour or so attending a service organization luncheon at Emporia State University. As I approached the Memorial Union I noticed a group of senior citizens gathered at the entrance. I’m not sure why they were there. Some may have been visitors. Some may have been grand-parents of students. Others might have been professors. There were also students scurrying from one place to another, trying to make a class in economics or English composition perhaps, or just making their way to meet a friend at an appointed place. Some looked sullen and downcast. Could a poor result on an exam have triggered that? Some looked joyful. A fellowship or a scholarship offered, possibly? Some appeared to be contemplative. Most appeared to be hurried. I couldn’t tell the good from the bad or the chaff from the wheat. How could one? How could one sort out the ticking time bomb from angel of mercy? There’s no way to tell at first glance.

Our local newspaper asked a day or so whether or not something like the tragic events of Monday could happen here in the Heartland. Most agreed that it probably couldn’t. After all, Emporia is too nice a town and Emporians are too decent a people. I hope and pray that’s true, but I can’t help but think that Blacksburg, Virginia is a nice town and its people are eminently decent too. They didn’t deserve or expect what happened, but it did.
Holy Writ says encourages us not to fear the terror by night nor the arrow that flies by day. I know it’s wise advice, but I find myself still asking the age-old question. “How long, Oh Lord, how long.” At a time when the brutish things seem to command the world’s stage and attention, when the good seems so elusive, I find myself longing for citizenship in that city nestled by the clear, crystal waters. I long for healing and restoration and the time when peace and harmony will be the order of the day. That day will come; I’m certain of that. But, in the light of the events of the past few days it seems so far off.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bristling With Hostility

“In contemporary American culture, the religions are more and more treated as just passing beliefs – almost as fads, older, stuffier, less liberal versions of so called New Age – rather than as the fundaments upon which the devout build their lives. (The noes have it!) And if religions are fundamental, well too bad – at least they’re the wrong fundaments – if they’re inconvenient, give them up!”

- Stephen Carter – “The Culture of Disbelief” (1993)

There have been a lot of discussions about censorship and free speech over the past few days. Imus is in the national news. Here in Emporia, commentary about Somali refugees on the local newspaper’s internet forum has prompted heated discourse about free speech and its limits.

Free speech is often messy. The lines between decency and filth aren’t always as clear as they were in the Imus case or in the cases of child pornography. Almost all of us know that we don’t have the free speech right to libel another person. We know that we don’t have the right to yell fire in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. But what about the person who publicly calls another a fool? What about the person who says he doesn’t like Somalis? What about the person who says he doesn’t like another’s religion? Should they be censored because they say unpopular things? At what point do we cross a line and censor all thought that’s not in keeping with the current “mainstream?”

I looked back through my archives and found the following piece from August, 2006. I wrote then about a judicial decision that all but censored Prison Fellowship Ministries from the public square. It was subtle; it was legal. But was it right? It seems there’s a great appetite in this country to squelch opinions and beliefs that aren’t considered “mainstream.”
The original essay follows.

Sometimes bad news comes under the radar like the attack on Pearl Harbor. In a June 2, 2006 decision, Robert Pratt, Chief Judge of the Des Moines, Iowa circuit, ruled against Prison Fellowship Ministries in a lawsuit that had been filed against the ministry by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The net effect of the ruling was to declare Prison Fellowship’s faith based ministry unconstitutional. Judge Pratt has given Prison Fellowship sixty days to vacate its work, pending an almost certain appeal.

Judge Pratt’s primary rationale for the ruling was that:

“The program was “pervasively sectarian,” requiring participants to attend worship services, weekly revivals and religious community meetings. Participating inmates also were ordered to “engage in daily religious devotional practice.”

Barry Lynn, American’s United for Separation of Church and State’s executive director, couldn’t contain his joy over the rendered decision:

“There is no way to interpret this decision as anything but a body blow to so-called faith-based initiatives.”

The decision, if upheld, will have a major impact, there’s no doubt about it. For example, out nation’s prison recidivism rate is, according to Prison Fellowship’s president Mark Early, currently running at fifty percent. With 600,000 inmates being released from prison annually, it means that we can count on 300,000 doing something within three years to merit re-incarceration. The recidivism rate among those inmates who have worked their way through Prison Fellowship’s program is, while it’s still functioning, running at eight to eleven percent. The potential of that number is enormous. Think of it. Prison Fellowship’s number, applied to the current release rate, could mean that thousands fewer former prisoners would find their way back into the prison system. It could also mean that thousands and thousands fewer Americans might become victims of crime.

And this is the kind of decision that Barry Lynn is hailing! Apparently, higher recidivism was a much more favorable outcome in his mind than excoriating a fellow Christian. Its anti-faith bias is much in keeping with the 2000 Santa Fe School Board vs. Doe decision that brought this withering dissent from Chief Justice William Rehnquist:

“The Court distorts existing precedent to conclude that the school district’s student-message program is invalid on its face under the Establishment Clause. But even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the Court’s opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life. Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the meaning of the Establishment Clause, when it is recalled that George Washington himself, at the request of the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights, proclaimed a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Presidential Proclamation, 1 Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789—1897, p. 64 (J. Richardson ed. 1897).”

While I have no doubt that Prison Fellowship will survive this battle, regardless of the outcome of the appeal, I’m troubled by this decision. I read the full transcript of the decision earlier today and I can now see clearly just how hostile our courts and culture are becoming to religion, particularly Evangelical Christianity. Having read the decision I can now see that, beyond the logistics and rationales for recent anti-faith decisions, some within our judiciary and other organizations (Americans United, for example) are using the nation’s courts as a testing ground to decide which religious beliefs are normative and which aren’t. The circuit court in Des Moines made what amounted to a theological decision, enshrining its view of normative religion and subtly declaring that Evangelical Christianity was not in the mainstream of any religion, particularly Christian religion. Lest you think I’m a conspiracy theorist I’ll cite some examples directly from the decision. The first, written early on in the decision follows:

“Throughout this Memorandum and Order, the Court will describe Prison Fellowship and
InnerChange’s theological position, as reflected in its public statements, curriculum, and in practice at the Newton Facility, as Evangelical Christian rather than simply Christian or Non-Denominational Christian.”

About a page later the following judicial opinion was rendered:

“As will be evident from the facts set forth, the religious nature of the InnerChange program is not only distinct from non-Christian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Native American practices, and Judaism, for example) as well as atheist or agnostic practices, it is also quite distinct from other self-described Christian faiths, such as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Greek Orthodoxy. Evidence shows that the Evangelical Christian message is also distinct from the beliefs held by self-described Protestant Christian denominations such as Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian, again, to name only a few.”

What was so egregiously out of the mainstream of current Christian thought? The court cited Prison Fellowship’s statement of faith:

“We believe in one God, Creator and Lord of the Universe; the coeternal Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We believe that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary atoning death on the cross, rose bodily from the dead, and ascended to heaven where, as truly God and truly man, He is the only mediator between God and man.

“We believe that the Bible is God’s authoritative and inspired Word. It is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, and its own origins, and salvation. Christians must submit to its divine authority both individually and corporately, in all matters of belief and conduct, which is demonstrated by true righteous living. We believe that all people are lost sinners and cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven except through the new birth. Justification is by grace through faith in Christ alone. We believe in one holy, universal, and apostolic Church. Its calling is to worship God and witness concerning its Head, Jesus Christ, preaching the Gospel among all nations and demonstrating its commitment by compassionate service to the needs of human beings and promoting righteousness and justice.”

“We believe in the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit for the individual’s new birth and growth to maturity and for the Church’s constant renewal in truth, wisdom, faith, holiness, love, power, and mission. We believe that Jesus Christ will personally and visibly return in glory to raise the dead and bring salvation and judgment to completion. God will fully manifest His Kingdom when He establishes a new heaven and new earth, in which He will be glorified forever and exclude all evil, suffering, and death.”

Once you’ve read the statement of faith I hope you’ll find it eerily reminiscent of statements the Christian Church has made throughout human history, such as the Nicene Creed, which follows:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

But, the court didn’t stop there. It ended with this flourish, which was enough to make what little hair I have on my head stand on end:

“Evangelical Christianity tends to be anti-sacramental, which means it downplays the traditional sacramental Christian events—baptism, holy communion or Eucharist, marriage, ordination, etc.—as appropriate ways to interact or meet with God. Along with initial adult conversion, contemporary Evangelical Christianity emphasizes religious experience—the actual experience of God in the believer’s life. Evangelical Christians, therefore, are receptive to overt, actual displays of this experience much like those manifested in Pentecostal Christianity. Additionally, for Evangelical Christians, everything that happens in the world is understood through and interpreted by religious language. For many Evangelical Christians, the belief in creationism and suspicion of evolutionary theory is also present. Finally, the Evangelical Christian stance toward religious institutions is one of suspicion. This is most obviously seen in the worship style. Whereas traditional, organized religious groups, such as Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, and Lutherans, employ a structured, highly liturgical style of worship, Evangelical Christian worship is free form with individual pastors given authority to determine how services are planned. For instance, Evangelical Christians have embraced contemporary music forms and multi-media presentations.”
I’m sure that Judge Pratt would insist that he made his decision in the matter based on the merits, and would be able to provide enough legal smokescreens to prove his point. I don’t for a moment believe him, nor do I believe in the good will of Barry Lynn and the folks at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. What the decision says, clearly, is that anyone else who takes their faith as seriously as Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Intelligent Design proponents, and others who actually have the temerity to believe in “actual, overt displays” of faith in the public square will have no standing in this nation’s courts. They’re heretics, living and thinking in direct opposition to the prevailing religion, whatever the courts determine it to be. Not only is the decision rendered by Judge Pratt bristling with hostility, it’s bristling with the kind of theological insanity that could effectively shut religion out of American public life and policy.