Saturday, December 30, 2006

A New Beginning?

The news splashed across the screen last evening that Saddam Hussein had been executed. In fact, the timing of the execution was timed so that it would not interfere with the Muslim Holy Day of Eid. Surprisingly, this is a festival of peace and forgiveness for those who practice Islam.

Here we are facing a new year. This is always a time of promise and joy. According to the press last evening and early this morning, with the execution of Hussein, this may well be a new beginning, of more violence and reprisals. Others hailed it as a new era because closure had happened for the country. Along with the announcement of Hussein's execution, was a side comment that this month 108 Americans died in Iraq, bringing the total at the time of this writing to 2997.

I know that Hussein was a murderous, barbarian. He was a tyrant of the worst kind. He even killed his own family to further his cause. He lived a life of opulence at the expense of the people of his country, suffering poor schools, poverty, lack of necessary infrastructure and health care. He allowed his sons to brutally rape and murder as well. This man definitely caused more suffering than anyone could imagine. We know about this stuff. I wonder what has not been documented? I am glad Hussein was deposed.

I am confused. How does his death make for a new beginning? I understand that this man needed to pay for his crimes. How does more killing make for a new beginning? Doesn't more killing just beget more killing? That seems to be the result. We exact our eye for an eye. At the end of the day what does it bring? Doesn't it just satisfy our need for revenge and blood lust? I would have loved to see Hussein live out his days in solitary confinement, without all of the opulent pleasures to which he had grown accustom. For this man to live his days out in a dank cell, living in servitude with no light, little contact with humanity and the bare essentials would probably have been a fate worse than death for him.

I guess this all comes down to your theology of the death penalty. I know I cannot force my opinion on the Iraqi court system (which was bankrolled and trained by the US). As Christians though, I think we believe in the sanctity of life, no matter how dastardly that life is. I know that comment will probably draw the wrath of some of you. That is fine. I am convicted in my heart that being created in God's image means that all humanity deserves to live and live in dignity without the constraints of poverty, disease and with the opportunity to thrive.

If we are to have a new beginning, I think it means that we value each person and spread the message of the Gospel, by living out a life of mission and peace in the world. I want that for the world. I want a world where we begin to choose life over killing and death. Do you think I am dreaming? Do you think that we as Christians can make it happen?

What do you think?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas?

I recently read an article on-line at "" The author suggested that we ought to join the atheists and have Christmas moved out of our lexicon. At first, I must admit I was aghast at the suggestion that there would not be a Christmas.

As I read on in the article, I saw the angle the author was taking. In our country, many of the right wing religious have chosen the battle over Christmas as they see it as a rallying cry of the "culture wars." They claim that political correctness and wishing people "Happy Holidays" is somehow an affront to Christianity. While I can see the way the right would view this as a threat, I concur with the author who blames Christians for the whole mess.

Let me explain. I believe that Christians may be just as guilty as the secularists of buying into the commercialization and the watering down of the season. I am guilty of going overboard in the gift buying and forgetting the poor and broken of society. Often I try to assuage my guilt by ringing a bell or working in a toy shop at Christmas thinking that the material blessing of Christmas will somehow work the miracle of healing hurt at this time of year.

The fact is that most of us will forget the poor after today and we won't hear a Christmas song after tomorrow. We will simply allow the season to move out as we argue about whether we can have a Christmas tree at an airport or whether we can have a nativity at the town square. Whether we can or not, I think the real issue has become our inability as Christians to live out the Christmas story with open-handed living and unconditional gracefulness. I would imagine that if we lived that way we would have a less difficult time with those who want to eliminate Christmas.

I admit this year, I have gone overboard this Christmas with the lights and the gifts and done precious little to really spread the Good News that there is a saviour born who is Christ the Lord. For that reason, maybe I should align myself with those who want to eliminate that kind of Christmas. Maybe, just maybe, we should get rid of that Christmas. It is probably time we get over with the Christmas we celebrate and really celebrate the Christmas God wants us to. It is a Christmas where we share and extend the Spirit of the season throughout the year.

So I am thinking I should wish you all a Merry Christmas. If it means wishing you the type of Christmas where we run to stores at 5 am on Christmas Eve for a special or where we can't wait to go to the latest blockbuster, I am not sure that I want to do that. If it is somehow a celebration of the nativity and grace, then I think I will. I want to share the hope of Christ. So should I wish you a Merry Christmas?

I am in quandary. I want to celebrate, but I am somewhat torn. I am not sure what to do. I don't want to be a downer. I really want to celebrate. What should we do? Merry Christmas?

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Recently "The Purpose Driven Pastor," Rick Warren, convened an AIDS conference with people of different political, social and religious persuasions. His goal was to see if these leaders could come to the point where they could reach consensus on how best to encourage the religious, political and business communities to come together and fight the scourge of AIDS, especially in Africa.

Pastor Warren has taken considerable heat from the evangelical community for inviting Senator Barak Obama to speak at the conference, because of Obama's stands on gay rights and abortion. The religious right felt that many could be led astray because of the appearance of Obama. I am continually amazed by the heat that Warren has taken. He also invited very conservative politicians such as Senator Sam Brownback to speak at the conference.

When asked by Wolf Blitzer on CNN how Warren would respond to the criticism leveled at him by the religious right, in particular the Southern Baptist leadership, Warren responded that he and Obama were not necessarily allies. Allies agree on basic principles of life. He and Obama differed vastly on the issue of abortion. They were in complete agreement on the issue of AIDS and its need to be eradicated. They were "co-belligerents." They had one issue on which the had joined forces in order to advance their cause.

Co-belligerent was not a term I had heard. It is very interesting concept. Can we align ourselves with non-believers on issues of morality? Should we do that? For example, can we come together with them around the issues of the causes of poverty? Can we accept money won from the lottery to fund our ministries? There is always the debate around the issue of government contracts and the privilege of "preaching" being taken from us. But isn't our presence as Christians more important than getting people immediately persuaded to believe like us?

Can we be co-belligerents? I think our roots as Christians and Salvationists would say, "YES." Has our sometimes pharisaical attitude as evangelicals caused us to think otherwise?

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What Matters?

The talk around the office lately has been about the incredible amount of people who we will be serving this Christmas. In fact, tomorrow I will be helping with the distribution of toys, food and clothing to a few thousand people here in Cleveland. We have also been talking lately much about the whole Britney Spears incident and the photos associated with it. "How disgusting." has been the most common editorial comment.

Serving and working against the disgusting events caused by sin, those seem to be the evangelical mindset these days. It is a good thing to take on the issues of poverty caused by sin. But I wonder how much we should worry about the ex- Mrs. K-Fed. Really, how important is she? In fact, how important is that the Boston Red Sox have paid millions of dollars to get the rights to negotiate with a pitcher from Japan and then have him ask for a 100 million to pitch for them? People have been devoting all kinds of talk about these issues.

Yet, I have heard precious little from my friends about the atrocities in Darfur. I do believe we need a distraction on occasion from the pain of the realities of life. Darfur, however, is being ignored. Already the genocide there is the worst since Rwanda. While our government and the church talk often about the outrage Brit, Nicole and Paris (the anti-trinity) we hear very little about the pain and suffering of a whole generation of people who are being systematically exterminated by their government.

What really matters? Does Britney really matter? Does our obsession (I'm in on this with OSU football) with sports figures really matter? The church rails against these matters. We say little and do little about Darfur, the civil war in Iraq and our failed policy, and poverty in our own country.

What matters? What are the issues you think the church should address? There are more than Darfur. What do you think?