Saturday, March 22, 2008

Good Friday

Last night I went to a church service at Blacksoil. This is the church that we almost merged with last year and I still try to maintain a strong connection with them. It was a very creative service that was held in separate stations that focused on contemplating the human elements of the cross. I'll be honest, it was difficult for me. I don't usually enjoy attending a service where I have to be so engaged. I prefer safe, less interactive services but I think my lack of comfort was the whole point. My discomfort grew at the last station where we had to paint a picture of what we were feeling. Due to my dislike of art, I really struggled to put what was I feeling on paper. I share all this not to say it was a bad service. In fact, it was exactly what I needed to make me focus on the cross.

At the very end they had a sheet hung up where they showed a slide show followed by the words "It is finished". Then they tore the sheet in half and the lights went out. It was pretty dark at this point and I heard a kid's voice ask nervously "Dad, where are you?". It was a poignant moment as I could hear Jesus' voice on the cross asking the exact same question. Those very words are stuck in my mind this morning as I remember the humanity of Jesus.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Last weekend our pastor preached on the role of women both in marriage but also in the church. It was a risky sermon but he handled it well. Before he started he had us break into groups and share our thoughts on the subject. Surprisingly, I held the most progressive view of women in my group. In fact, the women at my table were the most traditional. I chalk up my view of women to being raised by a strong, single Mom and having several women friends who are in ministry.

The sermon focused on several key points but the one I want to focus on is the role of women within the church. He spoke from Corinthians and Timothy where Paul instructs women to be silent in the church. These passages seem out of place compared to countless other passages in the bible which seem to elevate women's status in society. To help explain this dichotomy my pastor prefaced Paul's instruction with 1 Corinthians 9 19 -23. Here is what that passage says:

"19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its
blessings. "

These verses instruct us to contextualize our message and our actions to fit different cultures in order to share the gospel more effectively. Using that idea to interpret Paul's instruction to women suggests that women were to be silent not because they weren't worthy of being involved but because that was what the culture expected. Paul did not want these churches to alienate their potential converts by having women participate in the church service despite their being nothing inherently improper about their participation.

I am not entirely sure if this was the sole reason Paul wrote what he did but let's assume that is the case. How should we apply this principle today? Should we adapt modern church practices to fit the broader culture? I know many women, both Christian and non-Christian, who are repelled by the way the church has traditionally treated women. Rightly or wrongly, they view church as relegating them to second class citizenship due to lack of leadership opportunities or an emphasis on submitting to male leadership. These practices and attitudes can be a big stumbling block to the message of the gospel. In fact, you could make the case that barring women from real leadership roles in the church is the modern equivalent of having women speak in church in Corinth or Ephesus; both were culturally unacceptable.

If we were to apply Paul's principle today, the church would be at the forefront on gender equality issues setting an example to the rest of society that women are important and equal in God's eyes. This would mean women as senior pastors instead of being pigeonholed in children and women's ministries. It would mean allowing women to chair the board of elders. It would mean viewing single adult women with careers as equally important as married, stay at home mothers.

At this point, several of my more traditional friends are beginning to feel uncomfortable as they read this and will argue why we shouldn't change our views just to appease the culture. But I will say it is at least possible that Paul instructed the early church to do just that. My point is that we should acknowledge that the church's traditional role of women in ministry and leadership is a barrier to many modern women. Saying "if they don't like it tough, it's in the Bible" isn't a legitimate answer for these women. We need to have a more thoughtful and respectful answer for them. And just maybe that answer will lead to changes concerning the role of women in the church.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Initial thoughts

This is my favorite time of the year. They just announced the NCAA brackets on CBS and frankly could they draw the announcement out any longer. I wish they would speed things up but I guess they want to build the anticipation. Here are my initial thoughts:
  1. The committee had no respect for the Big 10. Maybe this is deserved but how is Wisconsin, who won both the regular season and tournament, not at least a 2 seed. MSU surprisingly has the second best draw of the conference as a 5 seed but they have a tough match up with Pitt in round two. But the real injustice was moving Purdue down to a 6 seed and IU to an 8 seed.
  2. The east coast bias is alive and well as the Big East gets 8 teams despite being ranked as the 5th best conference by the RPI. Villanova did not deserve to be in. I really don't see what the hype is all about and the conference will probably disappoint again.
  3. Duke gets over seeded again. How many years in a row can they over seed the same team? They didn't win the regular season and didn't even make the tourney finals in a conference with only 4 total bids yet they are still a 2 seed? I realize Coach K has a lot of tourney wins but he owes many of them to the committee who annually give him the easiest schedule to sweet 16.
  4. The big conferences get richer while the little guys get stiffed again. Of the 34 at-large bids only 6 went to mid majors. You would think that George Mason's run would have opened the eyes of the committee members to the mid majors place in the tournament but apparently not.
  5. Tennessee got screwed big time. Not only do they lose the 1 seed, they get the 2 seed in N. Carolina's bracket. Then they have potential tough match ups in both rounds two and three. Tennessee deserved much better; like say Duke's draw.
  6. UCLA appears to have the easiest road of all the 1 seeds while Memphis has probably the toughest bracket. If UCLA doesn't get to the final four I'll be stunned. On the flip side having to play Texas in Texas will be no picnic for Memphis.
  7. There are no obvious sleepers yet. Usually one mid major stands out above the rest but not this year. A lot of people say Davidson but having Georgetown in the second round keeps them from being a major threat. And no 12 seeds look like winners this year. Which of course means all of them will win. I may pick Temple over MSU just to spite all the Spartan fans.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Big Chocolate

Lately it is easy to become angry at large corporations and industries who are making millions in profits while the general US economy teeters on the brink of depression. But one company deserves credit for being a good corporate citizen as they compete in the global economy. The company is Cadbury Schweppes and they are one of the largest candy makers in the world.

I first learned about their partnership with cocoa farmers in an article that appeared in the Economist. Cadbury has agreed to spend 87 million over the next ten years to help farmers in Ghana increase their cocoa production as well as diversify their farms by planting red peppers, mangoes and coconuts. They are also investing in drinking wells, schools, teachers and libraries that will be used by the entire village.

Now I realize that their gesture is not solely philanthropic as they are reliant upon these farmers for a large majority of their cocoa production. But their commitment to improving the lives of their partners, makes good sense from both a business and humanitarian perspective. Cadbury can now depend on a long term, steady supply of cocoa while the farmers receive new skills, improved health conditions and increased educational opportunities for them and their families.

This partnership should serve as a model for other companies doing business in underdeveloped regions. Cadbury could have walked away from Ghana and decided to find cheaper suppliers but they didn't. Instead they invested in their farming partners. In an age of putting the bottom line before people, I am encouraged by their actions. In fact, I plan to buy a Cadbury egg to show my support.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The VP

Last week I had the opportunity to help at a fundraiser for Congressman Walberg. A good friend of mine works for Walberg and so I gladly jumped at the chance to help him. An added bonus was finding out Dick Cheney was the special guest for the event. While I realize Cheney's popularity is not soaring, I still admire and appreciate him and was anxious to see him in person.

The morning of the event, I received a call from a number I didn't recognize and let it go to voicemail. The same number called back 10 seconds later and I decided to pick it up and see who it was. I hear a voice ask me if this is Jeff Cobb and I tell him it is, and then he tells me he is from Secret Service and I was to be available to answer their call throughout the rest of the day. It was a little unsettling to have them call but kind of cool to say "when secret service called me this morning". I used that line a lot throughout the day and into the weekend.

The event went very well. They drew a huge crowd and undoubtedly raised a lot of money. They held the fundraiser at a private home in Marshall and it was the biggest house I have ever been to. I don't know if this is true or not but somebody told me the house was 15,000 square feet and it felt every bit that big. In fact, they had a VIP reception in the kitchen which consisted of close to a hundred guests and it didn't even seem crowded.
I had two main jobs during the day, first I was on sign duty which was actually quite fun despite the frozen ground. My friend Ryan and I and a few others put up probably 100 signs or more on the property and along the route where the guests would be arriving. You could see his orange signs a mile away. Very eye catching. Then my next duty was to greet people as they came through security and direct them to the proper locations in the house. This was a great job as I was able to meet and visit with all the guests. Plus it was nice to be inside from the cold.

After all the guests arrived, I should have stayed upstairs as the other volunteers who stayed up there had their picture taken with Cheney. But I have a crush on one of the other volunteers so I went downstairs to chase her down. Despite missing out on the picture, it all ended well because I got to visit with her and also eat while we waited for the VP to arrive. For Cheney's speech, I was able to sneak up to the front of the line just next to the Congressman's family. His speech was filled with mostly boilerplate on the economy and the war on terror but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I will say though, Cheney looks even more serious in person than he does on camera. After Cheney spoke, Congressman Walberg addressed the crowd and he was very good. As a former preacher, he has an impressive way of communicating to his audience.

All in all it was a very fun day and I am glad I was able to see the Vice President and help out Congressman Walberg.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Politics of Hope?

I just read an article which contains the content of one Dr. Jeremiah Wrights speeches given at Howard University in 2006. For those who don't know who he is, Wright is the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and also the spiritual mentor of Barack Obama. In fact, Dr. Wright married Barack and his wife Michelle.

The speech in the article illustrates Dr. Wright's disdain for America or more accurately white America. It is filled with hate and wild conspiracies that would almost be comical except that he apparently believes them. For instance here are a couple quotes: (The we he refers to is America)
  1. "Racism is alive and well. Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run..... no black woman can ever be considered for anything outside what she can give with her body"
  2. "We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns, and the training of professional killers"
  3. "We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God"
  4. "We started the AIDS virus, and now that it is out of control, we still put more money in the military than in medicine"
These quotes draw a pretty ugly picture of Dr. Wright's view of America. But why should we care what Dr Wright says? His words are important because of his close relationship with Obama. How can Obama legitimately claim to be about hope and civil discourse when one of his closest associates is filled with bigotry and hatred? I am not saying that Obama agrees with all Wright's comments but his relationship at least implies a passive agreement in principle.

I have never seen an article or story where Obama explicitly takes Dr. Wright to task for his vile comments. He usually just says blandly that they disagree on some things but he never says specifically what those disagreements are. I don't know any sensible person who attends a church without sharing at least a majority of the opinions of their pastor. In fact, right or wrong, most people I know leave a church as soon as they hear one or two things they disagree with from the pulpit.

I find it difficult to accept that Obama is being honest when says he doesn't agree with Dr. Wright. Their views probably diverge in some areas but are we really to presume that listening to his teachings for 20 years has not influenced Obama's politics? The fact that Obama continues to attend his church and study under his teachings says more to me than some generic comments about their supposed disagreements.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Michigan Roads

Ok, I have just about enough of the crappy roads here in Michigan. The potholes this year are ridiculous. Downtown Beirut has better roads than we do. I was on my way home this morning along Mt Hope Rd and I seriously felt like I was off roading because the terrain was so bumpy. But unfortunately, I am not sure anybody has the political will to do anything to fix them. The other day driving in the capitol parking lot, I hit a huge hole and figured if the politicians can't even keep their own parking lot smooth, what hope is there for the rest of us. The problem is that for the past decade we have borrowed money as a state to finance new road projects. This works well during election years and helped jump start many needed projects. However, now we are stuck paying the bill. This coupled with a reduction in the amount of gas tax has lead to less repairs and maintenance and ultimately many more potholes. One solution being thrown around is to raise the gas tax since that is the primary means of revenue for the roads. Personally, I am all for it and with the way gas prices fluctuate nobody would know the difference. I mean gas just jumped up 30 cents this week. What would an additional 10 cents in tax matter? But I realize I am in the minority and that passing any tax, especially a gas tax in an election year is not possible. So I guess I will have to put up with the potholes a while longer or until the state comes up with some new money to fix them.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Advice for McCain

By Tuesday, Hilary Clinton will be done and we will finally have our match up in the fall election. McCain versus Obama is a very intriguing race. While the common wisdom is that 2008 will be a Democratic year, I am convinced that McCain has a very real opportunity to win in the fall. Here is how he can do it.

All elections are decided by one of three factors: personality, ideology and competence. Obviously Obama has a big advantage in terms of personality. That is why he is winning the democratic primary. Let's face it, Hillary's cold and sour personality was no match for him. In fact, it's a testament to her grit and determination that she has lasted as long as she has. To counter Obama's charm and personality he needs to focus on his own personal narrative of courage, patriotism and independence as a contrast to Obama. But if the race is predominantly about personality McCain loses.

McCain also needs to avoid the mistake of making this year's race about ideology. It will be tempting to do this because of Obama's extremely liberal record and because he'll see this as a way to make amends with the conservative base. McCain has already demonstrated he can win without appeasing conservatives in the primary so why should he go there in the general election. Besides, Obama comes across as post partisan regardless of his liberal record. Candidates should play to their strengths and McCain's strength is not being a partisan ideologue. The majority of the country is not liberal or conservative but somewhere in the middle which is where McCain is. He should stay there.

What McCain needs to do is make the election about experience and competence. Not just competence in running government but a demonstrated record of accomplishing the bi-partisan change that Obama claims to represent. Unlike Hillary's 35 years of "experience" McCain has a real record of results so I think his argument will work better than hers did in the primary. He can honestly claim success working across the aisle and standing up to members of his own party to do what he considered the right thing. While Obama talks the talk, McCain has walked the walk.

McCain needs to hammer away that Obama has never actually demonstrated any success working with Republicans on major issues or been willing to fight his own party. This approach will help peal away the independents who are yearning for change in Washington. McCain can say he was delivering change while Obama was still making speeches in inner city Chicago. This also allows him to turn his age into a benefit instead of a negative. He can say that he knows how Washington works and has the relationships needed to effect change while Obama doesn't because of his youth and inexperience. McCain's message should be who do you trust to deliver change? If he effectively makes this case, McCain will win easily in November.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

People that bug me

I woke up in a grumpy mood this morning and decided to vent. Enjoy my latest rant and be thankful I kept it to only celebrities.

Matt Millen - One wonders how he keeps his job. The man reeks of incompetence and manages the Lions like a 12 year old managing a fantasy football team. And while I am a Steelers fan, I do get stuck having to watch the results of his poor decision making every week thanks to the NFL's outdated regional TV coverage. If Nancy Pelosi and others were truly interested in stopping torture they should consider banning the Lions from TV.

Michael Jordan -Has there ever been a more over hyped and yes overrated player than Michael Jordan. I get nauseous every time I see a story about him being the greatest athlete of all time. He wasn't even the greatest NBA player of all time. Yet thanks to Nike and NBC most people are brainwashed into thinking he was better than he really was. To sum up my dislike for him, I passionately cheer against the Bobcats simply because he is part owner.

Katie Couric - For those of you who still believe that media is fair and unbiased, I present Katie Couric as a living argument against you. I will never understand why CBS turned over their news coverage to her as she has taken what was already a tainted product (thank you Dan Rather) and turned into a joke. She was fine I guess doing morning talk about recipes and hair salons but she is hardly a serious journalist and America knows it. I predict she will be off the air within the year and all I can say is good night and good riddance.

Lou Holtz - I hate Notre Dame football and Lou Holtz is their embodiment. I never thought he was a great coach but ironically, he is actually worse on ESPN. It's almost embarrassing to hear him reveal how little he knows about college football. I especially laughed this year as he would predict Notre Dame to surprise us and win week after week. Good call Lou. Most shocking of all is that people pay money to hear him give a motivational speech. The only thing motivating would be hearing him resign from ESPN.

Barbara Streisand - If there one thing more pretentious than Notre Dame football, it is Barbara. Growing up I never understood what her appeal was. Her movies are boring and her singing is mediocre. She essentially has no fans under age 60 and yet she still feels compelled to act like a prima donna and give us her unsolicited political commentary. Just keep it to yourself.

Hillary Clinton - Watching her lose in the primary is bitter sweet. I am enjoying watching her lose but part of me wanted a Republican to drive the final stake through her heart. She is cold, calculating, corrupt and cynical. I could go on with additional C words but I'll stop while I am ahead. Tuesday can't come soon enough so we can finally get her and her husband off center stage and "move on".

Mike Murdock - Some of you might be saying who. Well he is one of those greedy, blood sucking TV evangelists on Sunday morning. Every week after watching Chris Matthews I come across his show where is asking people to send in $1000 dollars as seeds of faith and promising them a great return on their investment. I guess it works, but only for him as he lives in a mansion while those sending the money never see a dime. I pray that he will drop dead in the middle of his of show and be revealed as the hustler that he really is.

Jesse Jackson - Speaking of hustlers, Jackson is the personification of everything white America dislikes about black people. He tries to guilt and intimidate white people by threatening them with charges of racism. Worse yet he plays to the fears and victim hood of black people by offering them empty promises and countless scapegoats to blame for their problems. How hard must it be for him to see Obama succeed? I thought the only way black people rose to the top in this country was through Jackson's blessings and government intervention. Apparently not. Hopefully Obama's rise will bring in new black leadership.

Paris Hilton - Does anybody embody what's wrong with America more than Paris. She is a spoiled no talent hack who came to fame via Internet porn. And yet the media and public seems to care about her. Maybe that says more about us than her. Oh and her dumb blond routine is annoying. At least when Jessica Simpson does it she looks good.
Dr. Phil - Who knew you could make so much fame and fortune by issuing empty platitudes and fortune cookie wisdom. But I guess there really are enough suckers out there who think he can help solve their problems. People, if you are watching Dr. Phil, that is your problem. His advice is condescending and useless like "don't dream it, do it". Give me a break. He is basically just a better looking reincarnation of Dr. Laura.