Friday, July 29, 2005

In context

I was going to write a post on my recent frustrations with my job, church, dating life etc. You know the normal things that I like to complain about. Then on my way to work as I was praying, I realized that the problems I face are miniscule compared to what some other people are dealing with. My nephew just broke his arm and he feels like he is being cheated out of the remaining months of summer. I have another family member battling drug addiction. 365 people at the paper mill in Muskegon just lost their jobs. Two young boys died in a house fire yesterday in Lansing. 500 people have died from the flooding taking place in India.

Somedays it is all too easy to say "woe is me" look at my problems. But the world has bigger concerns than my own. This doesn't make my frustrations any less real, it just puts them into perspective.

Monday, July 25, 2005

My thoughts on John G. Roberts

It seems weird that with all the emphasis on presidential elections that the real power is in the hands of an unelected supreme court. Both political sides know this but I don't think many everyday citizens really understand the true stakes involved in naming the right appointee. Because most high profile cultural issues eventually end up being decided by the court we need to make sure that "our guy" is right on the issues we care about. While I hate to agree with Sen. Schumer from New York, it would be nice to have answers from John Roberts on how he stands on the important issues before he is voted on. Granted Schumer and I are looking for very different answers but at least we would both know what we're getting on the bench.

The more I hear about Roberts, the more distrustful I become. My gut tells me he will be good for business on the court and average at best when it comes to the cultural issues. Roberts has stated in the past that Roe V Wade is settled law. Does this mean he wouldn't be willing to change it? Lots of past supreme court cases have been settled law including Dred Scott and Plessy V Ferguson both of which were eventually rightly overturned by later supreme courts. Would Roberts use the constitution in determining if there is a right to abortion or will he use the precedent of the earlier court? We simply don't know.

Party faithful have been reassured in the past that Republican appointees were really conservatives. But once on the court these same justices voted more like liberals and by then there is nothing we can do about it. This time we are told Robert's wife is a pro-life advocate as reassurance. But my question is why take any chance? I have read many editorials about how Roberts is a conservative but just didn't want a paper trail to defend during the proceedings. What good is one's convictions if he doesn't want to defend them during his biggest hour? Why do conservatives run away from their beliefs? Liberals don't. John Roberts should stand up and answer any and all questions put forth to him. If he says things the Democrats don't like then so be it. Let them vote against him. The last time I checked the Republicans were in the Majority.

Off the record reassurances and quiet inferrences about Robert's conservatism simply won't cut it this time. We've been burned too many times before. We need to hear it from him directly before he is confirmed. Otherwise it might be too late.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Hope for Pittsburgh

This weekend the Pittsburgh Penguins finally received some good news by winning the NHL draft lottery. In normal years having the first pick in the draft would be exciting enough, but this year's draft is no normal draft because there is one player who is head and shoulders above the rest of the players. His name is Sydney Crosby and he is the most anticipated junior player in well over a decade. In fact many have compared him to Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretsky.

Crosby, from Nova Scotia, was the first junior player to be the MVP of the Canadian Hockey League twice and had 120 goals and 183 assists in 121 games in the league. Crosby's 2.5 points a game average is just behind Lemieux's 2.8 points over three seasons as a Quebec junior in the 1980s. Gretzky had 70 goals and 112 assists for 182 points in 64 games as a 17-year-old player in his one junior season in 1977-78.

While I have seen many young players not reach their potential (Eric Lindross) this kid seems like the real deal. He has incredible vision and appears to see things on the ice before they happen. The word out of Pittsburgh is that he will play on the same line as Lemieux. With the legend and the prodigy playing together I expect the Penguins to have a explosive offense especially under the new rules designed to encourage more scoring.

I haven't been this excited about hockey since the early 90's and I am not the only one. The demand to watch Crosby play is significant as the Penguins have already sold season tickets to people from 10 different states. I know I am planning to visit Pittsburgh this fall to catch a game.

Mario Lemieux saved the Penguins when he was drafted in 1984 and led them to back to back titles. I suspect Sydney Crosby will be the second hero to save hockey in Pittsburgh. Who knows he might be good enough to save the sport in general.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Chalk one up for the little guy

A couple weeks ago I stopped by an Amoco station on 28th street in Grand Rapids to purchase some aspirin. After I paid for it I realized that I had been overcharged twenty cents so I asked for my twenty cents back. The woman behind the counter refused and told me the price on the aspirin was mismarked and that the price on the scanner was correct. I then politely went the rack and pulled down every box of aspirin and dumped them on the counter in front of her so she could see that they all had the same price. This did not convince her but it did irritate the long line of people waiting in line behind me. At this point I really didn't care about the money but I was frustrated that she could care less about overcharging me. After 20 minutes or so I received the name of the store manager to contact and her phone number and left without receiving my refund.

The next day I attempted to call the number for the store manager to determine how to remedy the situation. The number did not work. She had given me a bad phone number. This really pissed me off but unfortunately for them they underestimated my determination for justice. So I drove back to Grand Rapids and asked for my refund in person a second time. This time the woman behind the counter was helpful but new and did not know how to respond to me. I asked her to call the manager and she left a message for the store manager to contact me.

By now, the few friends I had told the story to thought I was crazy for pursuing a lousy twenty cents but I was undeterred and anxiously waited for my phone call. A couple days later after not receiving a call, I decided to draft a letter to the gas station demanding my money back. After reading the scanner law, I also realized I was entitled to an additional amount equal to ten times the original overpayment. In my letter I promised to unleash the full power of state government unless I received my $2.20. I got a call yesterday from their corporate office apologizing and I was able to pick up my just compensation last night.

It feels good to win a battle against big oil and greedy corporate interests. Even though the amount I received won't even cover one gallon of gas. But at least they are aware that they can't simply screw the consumer without fear of recrimination. Chalk one up for the little guy.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Hanging with the Furrs

I just got back last night from visiting Matt and Heidi Furr. I have been friends with them since college and was even in their wedding way back when. It was great to see them again. I have to laugh because the last time I visited them was in 2000 and I remember sitting around their kitchen table and they were telling me they didn't want any kids and now they have two kids and one on the way. I just had a similar conversation with my friends Don and Stephanie so I guess I can plan on seeing little Don's running around someday soon. Matt and Heidi are really good parents and their kids are awesome. Libby is so fricken cute and Izak does a mean rendition of the riverdance. It's just funny to see Matt and Heidi in their new role.

I also got to go to the church that Matt is pastoring. I hadn't heard him preach in a long time. Well not in a formal setting at least. Their service was really good. A lot of lay people involved in the service which was nice. They also have communion every week which is very cool. Matt spoke on forgiveness which is usually a topic I don't struggle with but for some reason I think there is somebody that I need to forgive but can't think of who it is. Isn't that weird? I am praying God will reveal who it is and allow me the grace to confront them.

The best part of the trip was just visiting with them again. I love friends that are open and honest and affirmative. It was great to talk about other friends of ours, the good old college days, religion, politics, etc. I don't always realize how blessed I am to have such good friends and even though we don't see each other that often, we can pick up right where we left off. I look forward to seeing the Furr's again and hopefully it won't be another 5 years.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The War on Terror

In lieu of the London bombings I have been thinking a lot about the war on terror. First the title of the war strikes me as odd because it hides the real enemy and replaces it with a vague idea. We are not at war with terror per se but rather with Islamic extremists who hate western civilization. Why we are afraid to come out and say this is a mystery. By not stating who our real enemy is it becomes difficult to measure our successes. If our enemy is only terror, then America is doing okay because we haven't had an attack since 9/11 and most Americans are not terrified. But if our enemy is radical Islam then we are losing that battle because Islam is growing rapidly in some of our bigger cities and especially in our prison system where they are recruiting followers at an alarming rate. Terror is not our enemy but merely our real enemy's weapon of choice.

I found it laughable when a London TV reporter interviewed a leader in the Muslim community and the leader said that the bombers were not indicative of a larger problem within the Islamic community as a whole. Really? Where does he think these men learned this type of hatred? It wasn't by default. They were indoctrinated by a radical theology that appears to be all too prevalent in mainstream Islam. What scares me the most is that the men who blew up the subway and buses in London were not poor or mistreated. They were not first generation immigrants to Europe. No, they were middle class citizens who had grown up in the very culture they had come to hate. The fact that these men could become convinced to kill their own countrymen reveals the depth and power of our enemy's ideals. It also reveals that their battle is not an economic or cultural battle but rather a religious one.

Perhaps the biggest problem we have in winning the war is that we didn't ask for this war in the first place. We were happy to keep our heads in the sand and pretend the world was a peaceful place since the fall of communism. Most Americans didn't know much about radical Islam and didn't realize we were their enemy until September 11th. Many can still not figure out why we are hated so much. We didn't do anything to them so while are they plotting to kill us. It is a difficult war to win when you're fighting a battle for different reasons than your opponents. They are fighting a religious war and we are simply trying to defend ourselves from future attacks. Under this scenario one can understand why our will is weakening and the enemies resolve continues. We haven't had an attack in America since 2001 and so our reasoning for fighting loses importance, while the enemy still feels compelled by religion to fight until the end.

A few last thoughts. If our battle is a religious battle then how do we as Christians respond? The bible says that our battle is not against flesh and blood but spiritual instead. Does that mean we shouldn't fight a physical battle against Islam in defense of our country? Does it mean we should instead engage the Islamic community in theological debates? How should Christians treat their moslem neighbors? Should we fight this war as Americans or as Christians? What would winning the war even look like? Suppose there were no more terrorist attacks, Islam is still an oppressive religion that is opposed to Christianity and persecutes Christians in several countries around the world.

I am not sure I have any answers but I guess I haven't really heard the church asking these questions either.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Thinking about Sex

Over the past week I have been involved in a discussion with a couple of friends about pre-marital sex. The question was raised as to whether or not the bible really speaks against it. Most of the scriptures use the word sexual immorality and then list several types of specific acts when referring to prohibited activity but premarital sex is never specifically mentioned.

On the surface Sexual immorality is not strictly defined but after doing some research I discovered that the Greek word used in most places is porneia and according to several Greek dictionaries this word can be translated to mean fornication or sex between two unmarried persons. Reading the bible references in light of this translation makes it pretty clear that Christians are not to engage in pre-marital sex. This is for our own benefit as the bible says that sexual immorality is not only a sin against God but also a sin against our own bodies. More so, the bible instructs us to flee or run away from sexual immorality because it understands the strong hold sex can have over our lives. Instead many of us linger around and wonder why we don't have the self control to beat temptation.

The good news is that even those who have not held to this standard in the past, they can start new today. Sex is a powerful sin but God is more powerful than any sin and strong enough to forgive and change lives regardless of past mistakes. This goes for people who have had sex before marriage, those who have cheated on their spouses, those who are homosexual and for those who struggle with pornography.

Make no mistake, the bible is clear that we are to live lives of sexual purity and we will be held accountable for our actions. But God also graciously provides us the power to live such lives.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Anchors Away

Today I attended a going away party for my nephew Josh. He ships out tomorrow to join the Navy. He is a good kid; level headed, smart and dependable. The kind of person one thinks ought to be representing our country in the military. Ever since I've known him he has wanted to be in the military. I am excited that he finally gets to achieve his dream. I am also proud that he is willing to serve his country and commit to something bigger than himself.

My sister in law is having a hard time saying goodbye. I could see the hesitation and sadness in her eyes at the party. Today I realized just how big a commitment it is for both those who serve in the armed forces and for those they leave behind. Parties similar to Josh's are taking place every day as young men and women leave their families to defend our country. I need to remember that when I watch the news and read about the wars going on around the world. These are real men and women risking their lives for my defense.

I wish Josh the best in his new endeavor and pray for his protection. Chances are he won't see combat but one never knows. What I do know is that America is better off today because of his commitment and because of the other men and women who serve our country.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Supreme in their own eyes

I have been patient in writing my response to the recent decisions handed down by the supreme court. I didn't want to simply write out of frustration but I cannot hold my pen (or keyboard) any longer.

For those who do not follow the court, In Kelo v. New London, they stated that property owners could be deprived of their property, and that that property could be handed over to private developers, as long as such a handover would create a "public benefit." It is hard to believe that the court could reach such an erroneous conclusion until you realize that the decision flows not out of some honest misreading of the law but out of a political philosophy that places government intentions ahead of individual freedom. No first year law student could read into the constitution that taking private property and giving it to other private developers is an appropriate use of the so called "taking clause". This clause is supposed to apply when the government needs the property for actual public use like building roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The only way to reach the court's recent conclusion is to work backwards by starting with idea that taking private property is a good thing and then using legal trickery to justify the decision.

By reaching their conclusions, the court has established a principle that nobody's private land is safe from the government. Politicians, never fail to utilize the fullest extent of the powers granted to them by the courts. I fully expect a flurry of projects designed to stimulate the economy will be approved by local city councils regardless of who already owns the land in question. Watch out if Walmart is coming to your town and you live near a busy intersection. Remember their catch phrase is "always low prices" so don't expect to get much for your house.

Perhaps the most shocking part of all is how silent most democrats have been. They are the ones who claim to care about the little people. But this law essentially yields great power not only to the government but also to wealthy developers who can politically influence city and local councils for their own schemes by offering new jobs and "economic development". Meanwhile the elderly and poor are at risk of losing their homes simply because someone else thinks they can make better "public use" of it.

The sad truth of this case is that it was hardly surprising. The court has been trekking towards reinterpreting the constitution for a long time. This is just one outpouring of that continuing ominous trend. The real problem is that the executive and legislative branches have yielded their powers to the court. The appointment and advise and constant process for judges is not used to determine their qualifications to be judges but rather a chance for both parties to make political points with the core supporters. Instead of fighting to protect the constitution, the fight is over secondary issues like abortion, gay rights and the like. These are important issues but the bigger issue is why we let an unelected body determine national policy on these issues in the first place.

I propose a bold answer to this growing problem. Instead of lifelong appointments, the voters should decide who sits on the supreme court. By voting on judges we could stop the charade that these positions are not political. It would also provide some accountability and reign in some of their power. This is not a new idea. In Michigan we already elect our supreme court and the system works well. Any change would be welcome compared to our current corrupt court.

In honor of the fourth of July, I want to close by quoting a paragraph from George Washington's farewell address that eloquently warns of the problems when one branch of government becomes to powerful.

"It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution, in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way, which the constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for, though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield."

Well said George. Well said.