SUCCESS

suc ceed – 1. to happen or terminate according to desire; have the desired result; 2. to accomplish what is attempted or intended

fail – 1. to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved; 2 to be or become deficient or lacking; be insufficient or absent; fall short

Robert Lupton returned from Viet Nam in 1971 with a strong sense of calling to minister to the urban population of Atlanta. He had much to learn – very much to learn. For one thing, he was not the “great white hope.” Jesus had already penetrated deep into the city with his grace and gospel. Lupton had to learn to recognize Jesus there and humble himself to serve those in whom the Spirit was renewing, transforming and empowering as his witnesses.

What Lupton could do was invest his abilities and energy into reversing the effects of poverty on the urban community. He founded the Family Consultation Service, a coalition of community services in Atlanta.

One venture promised great success for job creation. Pallet manufacturing. Saw up some wood, staple the pieces together, ship them out. Seemed like a simple formula for a successful business. Investors provided start-up capital. A warehouse was leased. Customers placed orders. Two managers and a consultant signed on. And eight men were hired from the community.

Saws buzzed. Staple guns snapped. The first pallets were stacked on the flatbed truck and delivered to a customer. The operation showed every sign of success.

Eight weeks later, a different picture was forming on the canvas. When sawdust began piling up in the warehouse, the managers purchased an industrial vacuum system to blow it into an outside dumpster. Instead, the sawdust collected in a mushroom cloud that hovered over the neighborhood. Time did not permit a contingency plan, rendering the system inoperative.

Accidents plagued production. Nails in the wood caused a steady flow of expensive saw blades. Fingers became the victim of staple guns and saws. One worker collapsed and had to be resuscitated before being rushed him to the hospital. A compressor failed, leaving eight workers idle. A forklift crashed through the side of the warehouse and the garage door collapsed.

Stress took its toll. Managers lost sleep, lost weight and mental and physical strength. Workers fought among themselves, but there was no time for counseling. Absenteeism strained output quotas. Turnover rate approached 100%. On a good day, the company was losing five cents for every pallet produced.

Solutions to the mounting problems would require the purchase of sophisticated machinery, which would replace flesh-and-blood workers. Determining the losses irretrievable, the managers had to shut down the operation. Failure had to be acknowledged.

As Lupton mused over the aborted venture, he gained valuable insights. In his book, Theirs Is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban American, he writes, “Behind my questioning is the subtle heresy that God will prosper any endeavor that is done according to his will. The corollary is that whatever fails was done somehow contrary to his intentions. The error is in the assumption that perfect communion with God assures flawless performance of his will. But neither perfect communion nor flawless performance is possible for human beings.”

“Success is not an automatic consequence of obedience. ‘A righteous man falls seven times and rises again’ (Prov. 24:16). Saint and sinner alike must take their lumps and go on to the next risk. But for the believer there is one guarantee. We have a dependable God who made a trustworthy commitment that no matter what happens – success or failure – he will use it for our ultimate good.”

How would Jesus measure up to the criteria for success? From one perspective, he seemed to fail miserably. Early in his ministry he was attracting large crowds, mostly due to his miracles. At one point, a large Galilean company wanted to coronate Jesus, but Jesus eluded them.

Instead of courting the crowds, Jesus confused them with his perplexing messages. Preaching to a multitude, he began talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to gain true spiritual life. He managed to alienate most of his listeners, who “turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66) By the time of his death, his cadre\ of disciples had shrunk to a hundred or more.

But should Jesus be evaluated by the unquestioned American standard of success – numbers? Was that the desired result? When word got around that Jesus was healing every kind of disease in Peter’s hometown, people began flocking to him. He quietly left town and they followed him to persuade him to return. He explained, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

God’s desire for his incarnate Son was to spread the good news of the kingdom throughout Israel. It was not to build a megachurch. Finally, God’s purpose for his Son was to die as a substitute for sin, to secure forgiveness for those who trusted in him, to restore them to their God.

Success, ultimately and finally, must be measured by the desired purpose of God and his purposes do not always match ours. But as Lupton reminds us, we can count on one thing. God is on our side. He will not fail us. His purposes for us are nothing less than good. And he will succeed in accomplishing what he intends.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

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“I FEEL LIKE A WOMAN”

Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

American women may “go totally crazy” with Shania Twain and sing, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” celebrating female prerogative and pleasure, but the majority of women in the world may consider their gender a chromosomal curse.

Veteran political journalist, Nicholas Kristof, and his journalist wife, Sheryl WuDunn, were living in China and reporting for the New York Times on events surrounding the revolution of 1989, when they discovered disturbing facts that had not emerged in the media. China’s preference for boys was resulting in the disappearance of 39,000 girls every year.

As their radar adjusted to this cultural skeleton in the closet, they also learned of a practice that equally disgraced Chinese culture, although they would later learn that this practice proliferates all over the world. Each year, tens of thousands of young girls and women are abducted and sold for various purposes.

Actress Eva Mendes with Amie Kandeh, women’s activist in Sierra Leone

While investigating this exploitation, more abuses, hideous and vile, spewed out of the darkness of gender oppression. Kristof and WuDunn concluded that the greatest factor contributing to human rights violations was not one’s political position, but one’s genetic composition. Men are violating women in shocking and shameful ways, protected by perverse cultural norms.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, germinated and sprouted in book form in 2009, which became an international best-seller. It further blossomed into a documentary film, which aired on PBS last week. The 4-hour special tells the stories of women living in six countries where women suffer oppression.

The film exposes the accepted practice of child prostitution in India, the habitual rape of women, some as young as five, that goes unprosecuted in Sierra Leone, the custom of genital mutilation of young girls in Somaliland, leading to high rates of maternal mortality in child birth, the sex-trafficking of young girls in Cambodia, the exclusion of females from education in Vietnam, and the economic oppression of women in Kenya.

Actress Meg Ryan with young Cambodian woman trafficked as a sex slave and whose owner gouged out her eye

All of these practices are growing in the underbelly of other countries in the world, usually protected by cultural standards or beliefs. So as not to appear as a Western imperialist, Kristof turned the camera lens on organizations incubated in their own societies, which are bringing attention to the injustices and change to the cultures.

“There are values that are oppressive to women that are embedded in a culture, sometimes in a religion, and I don’t think one can ignore that fact,” he said. “And it’s also true that sometimes one can go in and end up causing more harm than good in the process of trying to bring about change. What we’ve tried to do is focus on organizations that are on the ground,” at the grass-roots level, and try to “amplify their voices,” he said.

After reading the book or viewing the documentary, expect to feel a deep moral indignation and revulsion over the treatment of women. Like other issues, one may also feel powerless to help, especially since these problems exist “over there.” The book includes a chapter on “What You Can Do” and a little research on the internet can produce dozens of possible contributions to lasting solutions.

Americans are not exempt from gender oppression in milder forms. After all, we justified the brutal oppression of a single race for nearly a century, while the aftershocks of slavery still infect our society in various forms of racism today. We need to look more carefully at the subtle forms of sexism poisoning our culture. A simple bias towards males in the workplace, the classroom, the home or the church qualifies as gender inequity. Oppression may crop up as jokes, disrespectful comments or prejudicial treatment, but it originates with an attitude of superiority.

Actress America Ferrera with young Indian girls

Christians should be leading the charge for gender equality, because Jesus advocated for women unlike any reformer before or since. Although he selected twelve men as his apostles, many women traveled with him as well. In a society where only men were trained as rabbis, Jesus allowed women to “sit at his feet,” a description reserved for men who studied under a rabbi.

Jesus grew up in a specific historic culture deeply informed by the religion of that culture. Yet Jesus did not see what others saw. When his apostles saw only the generous offerings of the wealthy in the temple, Jesus saw an “invisible” widow giving a few pennies, all that she had, in an act of unprecedented faith.

When dinner guests saw only a shameless prostitute, Jesus saw a broken woman, desperate for love and acceptance. When the spiritual leaders saw only an adulterous, convicted by the law, Jesus saw another fallen creature of God in need of forgiveness and restoration.

Jesus gave hope to a Samaritan woman cast out by her community and five previous husbands. He delivered the daughter of a Caananite woman from a demon, a woman rejected by the strict exclusivism of contemporary Judaism. He disregarded the prejudice of a patriarchal society and spoke with women in public, touched women with healing and compassion, and taught women as men’s equals.

Kristof with actress Olivia Wilde and a Kenyan woman

America may be a long way from the detestable practices of other countries, but this does not imply full equality of respect and dignity between men and women in American culture. The Church may surpass every other religion in its view of women, but this does not guarantee that Christians do not oppress, repress or depress women in subtle forms of prejudice that are not characteristic of Jesus.

“Half the sky’ comes from a Chinese aphorism, indicating that women hold up half the sky. Christian theology extends even greater honor to women in our understanding of creation and redemption.

God created woman in the same image that he created man, and the Son of God died for women in the same way he died for men, making no distinction in their glory, their dignity or their worth.

We can reflect that sense of dignity and worth by extending compassion to oppressed women and by working to relieve women of reprehensible injustices. It is yet another way that we bring the kingdom of God into reality in our generation.

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FIGHTING ABOUT NUKES

What do you want with an atomic bomb? That question follows Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad like questions about steroids have followed Lance Armstrong.

Ahmadinejad denies that Iran is pursuing the construction of such a weapon. The uranium enrichment program will provide fuel for nuclear energy plants only, according to the president. Nuclear inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) argue otherwise.

Iran launched its nuclear program in 1957 with the assistance of the U.S. Under the Atoms for Peace program initiated by President Eisenhower, the U.S. provided equipment and information to foreign countries to enable them to build nuclear reactors.

After Iran’s revolution in 1979, most foreign countries discontinued the supply of materials for the program in Iran. The U.S. cut off the supply of highly enriched uranium, forcing Tehran to shut down its reactor. In 1987, Argentina agreed to help convert the plant to a low-enriched uranium reactor and provide the uranium for Iran.

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Natanyahu, draws the “red line” of limit on Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

Iran began construction of its own uranium enrichment facility in 2002, which led the IAEA to request immediate access to inspect the plant. As a member of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran complied with the request. One of the provisions of that treaty forbids a non-nuclear-weapons state from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Inspections by the IAEA would ensure that Iran was producing uranium for peaceful purposes only.

An Iranian dissident group obtained documents revealing a secret program to eventually build a nuclear weapon. The international community protested and Iran suspended its enrichment program and agreed to increased inspections by the IAEA. When Ahmadinejad, a hard-line conservative, took office in 2005, he reinstituted the enrichment program in defiance of world opinion.

The U.N. Security Council voted to impose sanctions on Iran to force them to comply with stricter oversight by the IAEA. The Bush White House considered military intervention to halt the program, including the possibility of nuclear attack on the underground plant. President Bush followed the advice of Secretary of State Condolezza Rice to use diplomacy rather than aggression, although he continued to state publicly, “All options are on the table.” (Hypocrisy or moral hubris seems apparent at this point.)

President Obama has pursued diplomatic means exclusively to resolve the conflict between Iran and the world over its nuclear program. Israel has put relentless pressure on the U.S. to take whatever action necessary to stop Iran’s program.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated last week to the U.N. that Iran would have enough highly enriched uranium to construct a nuclear weapon by next summer. He appealed to the U.S. to establish “a red line” of tolerable nuclear activities, which would warrant the use of military intervention if the line is crossed.

Five countries (U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China) currently possess 4,400 active nuclear warheads, the U.S. wielding 2,150 of them. An additional 18,765 are inactive and in stock piles. Three other countries, India, Pakistan and North Korea, have over 200 inactive weapons, although these countries did not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Most people believe that Israel also houses nuclear weapons, but Israeli officials will neither confirm nor deny it.

Only one country in the world has employed a nuclear bomb in war. President Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration demanding Japan’s surrender in 1945. When they refused, the Enola Gay ascended from the Pacific island of Tinian on August 6, headed for Hiroshima with a single bomb – atomic. That one bomb destroyed over four square miles of the city, killing 70,000-80,000 people. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing another 40,000-75,000 people. Deaths caused by the radiation fallout of these two bombs reached into the hundreds of thousands.

All players in WWII employed bombing runs on cities, but the extent of destruction that a single atomic weapon could incur was unprecedented. Moral implications for its use rose exponentially. American leaders were desperate to end the war and stop American casualties. They justified the unthinkable annihilation of life as the means to save lives.

In spite of a treaty signed over 40 years ago, five nations still wield 4,400 weapons of even greater capabilities of massacre. And other countries willingly endure world opposition to acquire one.

Can we really explain why anyone would want such a weapon or ever use it? Can any gain fully justify this form of genocide? Are there moral limits even in warfare?

Hiroshima after the atomic bomb

How would Jesus approach this question? Books explore the theological and ethical considerations for war. Christians divide over the issue. When humans take up arms against one another for political or religious purposes, they run the risk of damaging their own humanity. Do we not wound our own soul when we take another man’s life? When violence overrides any impulse towards peace, do we not further scar the image of God stamped on our humanness?

In an earlier civilization, man’s wickedness multiplied itself, until God could no longer tolerate it. When he decided to eradicate the earth of his dissolute creatures, he told Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.” (Genesis 6:13)

Our highly technological society has found more ways to spread violence in the world than ever before. Violence seems to beget violence. Will someone step forward to demand that it stop? Will we find ways to halt violence without harming innocent bystanders? Will we learn the skills of diplomacy and persuasion that intercept the hell-bent rush towards violence? Will we promote diplomacy over military intervention?

These are the questions that should shape the coming election, because they will shape our future.

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THE NEED FOR SHREWD SKEPTICISM

Harvard Professor, Karen King, examining the Coptic papyrus fragment

You have surely heard by now. “Jesus may have been married.” At least, the media has come to this “scholarly” conclusion based upon a papyrus fragment written in Coptic that surfaced last week at a conference on Coptic texts.

Karen King, Harvard Divinity School Professor, presented the fragment to the conference that is held in Rome every four years. She gained access to the artifact in 2011 when an anonymous dealer brought it to her for translation and analysis. It was authenticated at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University according to its director, Roger Bagnall. Other scholars are awaiting more testing to rule out a possible fraud.

The small fragment contains the words, “Jesus said, ‘My wife ….’” The papyrus is torn so that the remainder of the sentence was truncated. King dates the fragment around the 4th century, 300 years after Jesus was on earth. She also suggested it may be a copy of one of the Gnostic gospels written in the 2nd century.

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical comedy on Comedy Central, The Daily Show, skewered the media for racing to conclusions. In his sardonic style, Stewart suggests possible wording to complete the sentence, “My wife, if I ever find one, will really have to like Thai food. Or how about this? My wife? No, I’m not married.”

Stewart raises one of the many issues challenging the conclusion that Jesus was married based upon the papyrus fragment. Even King was quick to say, “This fragment … does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married.” (Of course, the latter seems a little too obvious.)

The Green Scholars Initiative oversees one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities in the world. Executive Director Jerry Pattengale commented, “This is an aberration; this is something totally outside of any biblical tradition.” Pattengale seems to hold the door open that this aberration might somehow supplement biblical tradition, correcting it in some way.

Biblical tradition leaves no room for a spousal Jesus. Although no direct statement denying Jesus had a wife occurs in any New Testament text, the gospels definitively portray Jesus as single. One cannot easily explain how such an important character as the wife of Jesus could have been omitted from any gospel account.

In his popular novel, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown claimed that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a child, facts the Church has suppressed for 2,000 years for self-serving reasons. The novel bases the assertion on the non-canonical gospels, those records of Jesus that were not included in the biblical canon for various reasons.

Mark D. Roberts has debunked any notion that these Gnostic gospels prove a conjugal relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The few references to her offer no substantial evidence of a marriage with Jesus. In fact, careful interpretation of them would argue that Jesus was not married to her.

Scholars will always debate new discoveries that relate to the biblical record. And they will always view any new discovery with a certain bias. They are not impartial androids that can interpret the data purely.

Biblical scholars are predisposed to explain new discoveries subject to the priority and authority of Scriptures. Liberal scholars, who do not hold to the same high view of Scriptures, will often slant their interpretation in favor of supporting their assumption that biblical authority does not prevail over human reason.

These biases bring balance to the debate. The arguments must be weighed with honesty and prudence. Certainly the reliability of Scriptures must be respected. For hundreds of years the Scriptures have withstood the tests of accuracy. Problems usually sprouted from seeds of naïve or shoddy interpretation, not because the text was dubious.

The media, however, generally does a great disservice to this debate. They will sacrifice scholarship for sensationalism every day. Media outlets are in the business of selling news and attracting viewers with entertainment. Popular hosts do not gain popularity through the intellect.

Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan on “Live! With Kelly”

Many of the comments by the media seemed to favor the shocking revelation of a hitched Messiah. Who cares about the arguments? As long as they can entertain viewers, they will ignore the scholarship.

Jon Stewart specializes in a satirical perspective of the news, in particular the reporting of it. With humor, Stewart at least explored the “evidence” of the claim that Jesus was married, lampooning the lack of such evidence. Although it was not a careful analysis of the issue, the piece at least pointed the audience in the right direction for interpreting it.

In our media saturated culture, Christians must be “shrewd as serpents” as we interpret the incessant supply of information. Media sources must be viewed with a healthy skepticism. They rarely offer all the facts.

We should frame Proverbs 18:17 and hang it over our flat screens:

  “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

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TRUTH AND THE NEWS

Can television news report the truth? This is not a rhetorical question. It can generate opinions on both sides and in the middle. Millions of Americans watch network and cable news, hoping to learn the truth about events in the world each day.

In his latest television drama, The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, The Social Network) contends that this is not happening. Set in the newsroom of a nightly cable news program, a news anchor and newly hired executive producer swim against the current of corporate sponsors and commercial interests to reveal the naked truth about current events as they occur.

Critics have slammed the HBO summer series for its romantic moralizing, its “false nostalgia for an America that never existed” (Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker), “a show in which paper-thin characters spend so much time congratulating themselves for ‘speaking truth to stupid’” (Maureen Ryan, The Huffington Post), a show that relies upon “the general American historical amnesia so many of [its] characters spend so much time decrying” (Charles Pierce, Esquire).

Jeff Daniels as news anchor Will McAvoy in HBO’s The Newsroom

Despite the critics, The Newsroom raises an important moral question. Can television news report the truth? Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) has ascended to popularity above all other news anchors on television, because for the past three years he has refused to say anything controversial. He has conceded to the Nielsen ratings and acquiesced to the corporate sponsors. Swimming in the current of compromise, McAvoy creates no waves.

Facing an auditorium full of journalism students at Northwestern University, McAvoy suddenly explodes from his cocoon of passivity. Two other news anchors on the panel provide plenty of inflated opinions in a rhetorical brawl, while McAvoy sits quietly. When a student asks the panel, “What has made America the greatest nation in the world,” McAvoy uses his characteristic duck and roll, but the moderator refuses to let him dodge the question. Suddenly McAvoy goes off on a fact-filled rant to deny America’s greatness, ending with a nostalgic (and naïve) reflection on what once did qualify America as the example for other nations to follow.

Emily Mortimer as executive producer of Will McAvoy’s news program, MacKenzie McHale, in HBO’s The Newsroom

His diatribe leaves his innocuous image bloody and swollen. Most of his staff leaves him to produce for a rookie anchor in a different time slot, opening the door for his ex-girlfriend to fill the vacated executive producer’s chair. Recently returned from Afghanistan, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) depicts idealism on steroids. Determined to create a news program that exposes the unguarded truth of world events, McHale endures McAvoy’s the seething venom of a jilted lover in order to persuade the genius anchor to join her crusade.

In the Gulf of Mexico, a BP deep-well oil rig explodes and begins dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf at an unprecedented rate. The newsroom erupts into activity as sources reveal severe neglect and corporate cover-up. Anticipating the worst environmental catastrophe in decades, McAvoy and McHale combine their brilliant talents to produce a one-hour breaking news story on the Deepwater Horizon disaster that scoops every other news program.

Critics may have aimed their barbs well in many instances, but one must respect Sorkin for his pursuit of moral high ground. His left-leaning perspective may tint the characters’ sermonic dialogue, but he boldly engages a relevant moral issue: truth in news media.

Television programming is sustained by advertising. Corporate sponsors pay enormous amounts of money for both entertainment and informational programs. When Arthur Nielsen applied his research methods to television audiences, he forever changed televised news reporting.

Nielsen ratings report the size and composition of audiences for every program broadcast. The ratings determine sponsorship. Using the ratings, corporations can predict how many people they can reach with their commercials. When ratings sink below a certain number, sponsors abandon ship and programs disappear from the schedule. News programs are not exempt from this formula.

Consequently, corporations dictate the content of what we view – and the news we hear. Controversial news or complex reporting may alienate large audiences, which discourages corporate sponsorship. If a news program becomes inconsistent or unreliable in its factuality, it will lose the confidence of viewers and will find itself in the network archives.

And what happens when news reporting exposes the dark side of corporate America? Threatened corporations do not make friendly sponsors. Producers must hold tight reins on their anchors if they want to stay on the air. This does not nurture an environment friendly to truth. Every news source that depends upon corporate advertising has bowed its knee to Baal and must be digested with skepticism.

Christianity centers truth, not in a system, but in a person. Jesus declared himself to be the Truth (John 14:6), not merely a source of truth. Because we love him, his followers should love truth. Because we follow him, we should seek truth with vigilance. We should not allow ourselves to succumb to this game of spin and slant.

The Newsroom may be flawed, even in its factuality, but we can appreciate its premise. Can the truth be protected and reported by television news?

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LOOKING FOR A CANDIDATE WE CAN TRUST

The other day, my wife asked me if I was looking forward to voting in the upcoming presidential election. About as much as I look forward to my annual visit with my urologist, though for different reasons. I trust my urologist.

When Jesus declared to Pontius Piliate that he had come to “bear witness to the truth,” the infamous Roman governor scoffed, “What is truth?” That same disdain for truth pervades the political campaign of nearly every candidate in American politics.

Truth is what political strategists decide it will be. Truth results from a carefully crafted spin of facts, disregarding any context.

Paul Ryan speaking at the Republican National Convention

At the Republican National Convention, Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan criticized President Obama for his health care law, saying, “The biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly.” He is referring to a decrease of $716 billion out of Medicare. “So, they just took it all away from Medicare, $716 billion, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.”

After a careful analysis of the law, Politifact.com concluded that it did reduce Medicare spending by $716 billion over 10 years, but it was not at the expense of the elderly. It aims at decreasing payouts to hospitals and insurance companies, but it does not affect beneficiaries in any way.

Democratic Governor of Delaware, Jack Markell, speaking at the Democratic National Convention

During the Democratic National Convention, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell stated, “Mitt Romney says he likes to fire people.” He was referring to a speech Romney gave to the New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce. Speaking about health insurance, Romney favors individual control of health insurance, believing competition stimulates higher quality insurance.

In context, Romney said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I’m going to get someone else to provide that service to me.” Remarkably different intent than was implied by Markell.

These half-truths and whole lies littered the convention platforms of both parties like the confetti at the end of the conventions. The truth-o-meter needle steadily oscillated during the political speeches of nearly every speaker.

Truth in politics has become as scarce as men in synchronized swimming.

This failure of integrity completely undermines any confidence in the promises that proliferate in the candidates’ speeches. The visions they espouse appeal to most Americans, because they always include prosperity and success – “a chicken in every pot.” The path for achievement is not always so clear. Even when it is, any sane voter would have to ask, “Can they really do that?”

What they do not say may be more important. The hidden agendas of power brokers that prop up the candidates often play a greater role in the scheme of events than the candidates’ visions. Deals under the table, in the back room and on secluded park benches can trump personal convictions in policy decisions.

With no way to vet every candidate adequately, voters ultimately rely on trust. Who can you trust the most? That trust may be as flimsy as a house of cards, but if it exists at all, it frequently determines the name that is checked in the voting booth. Unfortunately, too often, once they are in office, we remember what we didn’t trust about them.

In case you can’t tell, I have more confidence in picking a trifecta at the Kentucky Derby than I do in our political system. Campaign speeches provide little substance for building opinion. Debates entertain more than they inform. And campaign ads propagandize more than they proselytize. Any effort to know the candidates eventually exposes their very long noses. Pessimism gives way to despair unless something or someone can offer hope.

Jeremiah prophesied in a tumultuous period of Israel’s history. Kings were rising and falling like bowling pins. Egypt subjected this small nation for a while, until the powerful army of Babylon laid siege to its capital, Jerusalem. The prophet witnessed the devastation of that city and a massive exile of its occupants. He was left to live in the rubble.

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. In fact, he wrote another book in the Bible entitled Lamentations. Yet, in the midst of this gloom and doom, he wrote a letter to those taken in the exile, announcing that God had promised to return the Jews to the land in 70 years. Then he gave this wonderful promise from God,

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)

I believe it is naïve and inaccurate to apply this promise to any other nation in history – like America in the 21st century. But I do believe this promise applies to God’s people in every generation. Regardless of what we might have to endure, God has a plan for those of us who trust him. And he makes it clear that he can be trusted.

“God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Number 23:19)

The rulers of the world are pawns in his plan, a plan that will reveal his glory through those who trust him. The spin doctors cannot manipulate the outcome of that plan and the political power brokers cannot alter it.

At last, someone we can trust!

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LOVER OF STRANGERS

Amardeep Kaleka, whose father was killed by a gunman in the Skih Temple in Wisconsin, comforts other mourners

Only three weeks ago Sunday, a neo-Nazi white supremacist, Wade Michael Page, used a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun to kill six worshipers and wound four more inside a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. One day later, a Muslim mosque burned to the ground in Joplin, Missouri, a month after another fire at the same mosque was extinguished. Officials suspect arson, although no one has been arrested. Four days later, a neighbor to a Muslim mosque in Morton Grove, Illinois (suburb of Chicago) fired several shots from a pellet gun at the building. Muslims inside the packed facility were completing the final day of Ramadan. The incident capped a series of hostile acts towards the congregation.

It would seem that our turban- and scarf-wearing neighbors also bear a target on their backs and their places of worship. Violent attacks may be limited to the crazies in our society, but this will do little to restore peace of mind to these religious minorities. After all, how many crazies roam our streets?

The remains of a mosque that was destroyed by fire in Joplin, Missouri – officials suspect arson

I am currently a resident of Morton Grove and Joplin, Missouri is my hometown, so I read the reports of these crimes with a certain degree of shame. Joy replaced my shame today when I learned that Joplin residents reached out to their victimized neighbors, organizing a rally Saturday night. Donations to a rebuilding fund have reached $406,000, well in excess of the $250,000 needed for the project.

The Joplin rally displayed the true meaning of hospitality. Dictionaries trace the English word back to Middle English and Middle French in the late 14th Century. It evolved from a 13th Century word that meant to house and care for the needy, our word “hospital.” A related word that meant to house guests developed into our word “hotel.”

The concept of hospitality existed millennia before the evolution of these words. The New Testament writers used a word that literally means, “lover of strangers.” Paul urged the believers in Rome, “seek to show hospitality” (12:13). It is coupled with the exhortation to “contribute to the needs of the saints.”

Most people, when traveling, lacked the ability to pay for the few inns that existed in the first-century world. Christians had the opportunity to demonstrate the mark of God’s kingdom in a tangible way by offering to house overnight guests who would have to sleep on the ground otherwise. Followers of Jesus should treat all of their physical resources as tools that God has entrusted to us to bring relief and refreshment to others, in either “hospitals” or “hotels.”

Morton Grove mosque was the target of a neighbor with a pellet gun.

The Christian community should lead the way in offering this kind of hospitality to the strangers among us, even, especially the religious strangers. A Joplin church illustrated such hospitality when it invited the mosque members to use their building to host the iftar dinner, eaten communally at the end of each day during observance of Ramadan.

Historically, the Church has close identity with the prejudice leveled against these worshipers from the Middle East. Rome aimed its fear and animosity at the new religious sect known as the Way, rounding up Christians as a blue plate special for lions in the Coliseum. The brutality brought cheers from the savage citizens who attended the entertainment.

Persecution against Christians still litters the world today. Because of their faith in Jesus, many believers are tossed into the streets by their families or hauled into prison by local officials. In some countries, hostile crowds, often incited by the dominant religious group, harass believers, sometimes to the point of murdering them.

Jesus did not allow for this kind of hatred and religious superiority among his followers. When a Samaritan village drove away Jesus and his band, John and James suggested an act of religious justice. They wanted to call fire out of heaven on the village, in the tradition of Elijah’s encounter with the prophets of Baal and God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Luke 4:55 simply says, “he turned and rebuked them.” Such action does not characterize the good news of a kingdom that brings liberty to the captives and freedom to the oppressed.

Members of a Sikh community in California hod a vigil for those who were killed in Wisconsin.

In a glaring contradiction of current religious practice, Jesus taught new core values for his kingdom. “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

Those who worship at a different altar than us do not qualify as our enemies. For many of us, they are literally our neighbors. We should reach out to them with the love that reflects the Lord of our kingdom who loves the world, without exception. And for those who experience the angry outbreaks of the crazies, they especially need a display of the hospitality of Christ’s kingdom, an act of love for the stranger. What an opportunity!

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