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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

And This Is Love...

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    So often we forget that the Gospel's foundation is relationship. Even if we understand that fact, we go about our relating in such a righteous manner that the entire purpose of interaction is lost. 

     The foundation to relationship is understanding and accepting the other person. When you make friends, you do not brush people off, telling them to come back to you once they attain perfection. Instead, you interact with them at their level; knowing them is your highest goal. Only once you have relational trust  can you begin to work through the personal flaws, yours especially.
   
     We cannot continue to disown souls merely because they fail to agree with us.
   
     We need to realize that friendship is not an endorsement of that person's mistakes [nor is their friendship a conciliation to your shortcomings either], but it is instead the first step in beginning to pour out love upon someone. Love is patient, love is kind, love keeps no record of wrongs.

     When we throw out the cliché that Christ was "counter-culture," and so we must be the same, I believe we forget what culture he was counter to. Christ did not come to be religiously conceited, joining the religious leaders in their holy, pontificating disapproval, shunning  the lowlifes who pursued their own lifestyles. It was these lowlifes that Christ made his friends and eventually followers and closest disciples.  Never once did he endorse their mistakes nor approve of their misguided living, yet he stoutly defended them from the religious and social furor so often directed at "the sinners." What an example of love we  miss in the actions of Christ! In the end, it was nothing he ordered them to do or convicted them of that persuaded them of his offered salvation - it was instead his constant service and willingness to sacrifice that brought them to his side. No man hath greater love than this that he lay down his life for his friends.

     His friends were the least of these.

     So what am I driving at? My question is, why we are more likely to invite someone from a bar to church than to let an open homosexual in at the door? Where do we derive the right to befriend or maintain fellowship with someone who cheated on their spouse or involved with pornography, yet deny a gay or lesbian any semblance of relationship?  What have we done to attempt to find common ground with those whom with we disagree? Or have we forgotten that  those faces belong to people too?

     We seem to have this notion that loving a person requires overlooking their wrong. And so, homosexuality and other sins remain unlovable because they appear so offensive. But loving a person is more than ignoring their flaws; it is accepting a person despite them. If we are to even approach culture, we must live with this sort of love.

     We cannot hope to persuade the world otherwise unless the world trusts us first. As it stands, the Church is not seen as trustworthy. Instead, it is viewed as a homophobic, anti-progressive, conservative base rife with stereotypes and fried chicken. Is this what is true? Yes, we differ from popular opinion and disagree with much of secular thought; however, we have allowed our disagreements to widen the already existing rift between the Church and the Culture. We have forgotten that a similar rift - the eternal separation between God and humanity - was bridged through the love of one man, Christ. Let us minister with that self-same love and bridge this modern, ever widening gap. Let us offer more to culture than a repeated condemnation. Let us work to find common ground upon which to build relationships.


     My brother and I have had our disagreements over the years. I was more often than not the overbearing, self-righteous firstborn, burdened with the maintenance of holiness and personal image. I saw him as the wayward sibling with whom I had been tasked to bring back to the sheepfold. For every flaw he counted in me, I would count twice as many in him, and remind him  to boot. And so, we tolerated each other, suspiciously watching the other's action, each convinced the other was wrong. In all those years, we had little affect in our attempts to conform the other to our standards.

     The day came however when I was to leave for college. We loved each other dearly, brothers in battle, comrades in life to the last. Yet that same suspicion remained. The separation of our lives for the next weeks effected a change though.  The suspicion passed away and was replaced by an irrepressible sense of honor. That Christmas was the first time we ever discussed life openly or considered the other's advice.  We replaced what had been a begrudging existence of disagreement with a grateful relationship of love. We loved each other as equals who cared rather than as disapproving competition.

     As I did for so many years, so we too as Christians have forgotten who our brothers really are, and we have forgotten how to love them. When you look into the eyes of a stranger on the street, you look into the eyes of your brother. When you gaze upon a crowd, you gaze upon a gathering of brethren. When you pass by a searching soul, you pass by a soul kindred to your own. 

     But do you seek to bring these searching brothers an answer? Then you must first love. For without love, there is no life to be given.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Time to Talk? [North Korea Throwdown]

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North Korea still remains skeptical of
US diplomatic attempts.
               After dominating headlines for the last month, North Korea has hinted that it may be willing to bring an end to its nuclear brinkmanship and begin a new round of talks with the United States. Pyongyang issued a detailed statement this past week outlining its terms for the dialogue, including demands that the US cease its “nuclear war practice” and annual war games with South Korea and rescind the stringent sanctions against North Korea’s economy.
               “They should take measures of retracting the U.N. Security Council’s ‘resolutions on sanctions’ cooked up under absurd pretexts,” the Policy Department of the National Defense Commission, North Korea’s highest governing body, said in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency. “They should give formal assurances before the world that they would not stage again such nuclear war drills to threaten or blackmail [the North].”
                In response, a South Korean defense ministry official requesting anonymity stated “The tensions should gradually decrease from here, but we cannot lose ourselves to complacency. We do still have to be prepared for any provocations.” Nevertheless, as US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said during his recent visit to the peninsula, “...our preference would be to get to talks.”

                The only question remaining is what will the talks focus on?

Diplomatic Disasters
                World diplomacy with North Korea has a long and troubled past, plagued by the fact that US and international officials are completely unsure of the nation’s political status. Forced to use a fuzzy interpretation of state propaganda and gathered intelligence as a barometer, US diplomats have often missed key opportunities to get through to either of the Kim Jong’s. In the past, the US mantra has been to stop the North Korean nuclear program and to guarantee South Korea protection should Northern threats be actualized. However, if the US enters this new set of talks with the same mindset, the only item that will be guaranteed is a continuation of the vicious cycle of threats and provocation.
                Now that North Korea has a nuclear weapon, as well as the ability to launch such warheads globally coming in the near future, the US cannot afford to continue to treat North Korea as a misbehaving child but instead must look upon them as a viable threat. With that in mind, US diplomats need to recognize the fact that the current diplomatic stance only makes Kim Jong Un feel more threatened than reassured.

Ready for Reform
                Were Kim Jong Un reassured, the world might begin to see North Korea open up to more western thought and technology. Kim Jong Un has discussed improving North Korea’s dying economy and has hinted that the nation may move in the direction of reforms [however slight]. This fact was evidenced by the recent visit of Google CEO Eric Schmidt to Pyongyang, showing that Un may be ready to allow new development in North Korea.
                However, Charles Armstrong, Director of Korean Research at Columbia University, believes that any hope of change will be stifled by the current US approach to North Korean relations. “The dilemma, though, is that North Korea can only embark on serious reform from a condition of what it considers absolute security,” Armstrong notes in an op-ed for CNN. “Unfortunately, the quest for security and the desire for economic improvement have been in contradiction for some time. A genuine opening could unleash political and social changes...while the path of security through nuclear deterrence and missiles have led time and again to confrontation and renewed isolation.”

                The old adage states “Do not attempt to reason with a fool. He will only drag you down to his level and beat you over the head with his ignorance.” Call it nationalistic, but North Korea has been foolhardy in its recent provocation of the US. As history has shown, you cannot beat the ignorance of out of the communist political system, but instead, you can speak a language that they do understand: money. Only by providing  strong incentives instead of punishments, obtainable rewards instead of sanctions, and deliberate reassurance instead of threats in kind, will the US and the rest of the world slowly lure North Korea down the path of peace.



Sources:




-Charles Armstrong, “Why Sticks don’t work with North Korea,” January 25, 2013, http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/25/why-sticks-dont-work-with-north-korea/

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Under Pressure...

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Found this article online, and thought it was brilliant.

Enjoy.

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By Noah Lotte

                For the politicians on Capitol Hill, I have yet another issue to bring to the table. I realize that you are extremely busy debating immigration and soundly arguing over gun control, however, recent events beg your attention elsewhere. To my fellow Americans, I recognize that we all struggle to meet our mortgage payments, much less figure out how much in taxes we actually do owe the government, but the time has come for us to recognize the newest threat to our liberties and freedoms.
                I have been deeply saddened the last week, praying for the families of those killed and maimed by the dual explosions at the Boston Marathon.  I dearly hope that this atrocity will never be forgotten and shall never be repeated. We must do our utmost to prevent such a bombing from ever occurring in the future. Examining the sequence of events that brought about the attack, it is clear what course of action we must take.
                For the sake of our liberties and our national security, I believe that legislation must be passed to ban the use and sale of pressure cookers. It was these everyday items that were used in the bombings, and had the terrorists been unable to access the cookers, these attacks could have well been prevented.  We must remove these tools of destruction from our homes and from our society. There will always be groups opposed to such legislation, but we cannot afford to let our political opinion stand in the way of safety. At the very least, we must require extensive background checks for anyone attempting to purchase a pressure cooker. Allowing a pressure cooker to fall into the wrong hands will only have the same consequences as those in Boston. It is our added civic duty to ensure that crazy aunt Matilda cannot unrestrictedly use pressure cookers as well.  Recognize we have just as much a duty to protect that nation as the government.
                In addition to background checks, we must also work to limit the amount of atmospheres pressure cookers can withstand. Currently, the average pressure cooker allows the user to build the pressure up to dangerous levels, as evidenced by the numerous pressure cooker accidents that have occurred in the last decade. Were we to limit the amount of pressure per cooker, we will reduce the potential devastation wreaked by accidental and purposeful explosions.
                My fellow countrymen, if I were the president and I knew this legislation would save one life, I would pass it. If I knew it would save a hundred lives, I would pass it.  But simply knowing the enormous danger that the unregulated use and purchase of pressure cookers poses to our society’s safety is enough.  We cannot afford to live in the past where these so-called “useful” items are freely accessible to anyone—if we are unsafe now, we may never have a future.
                Let us all put our signatures to this legislation and with our pressure protect the nation for our children.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wanted: Mars Settlers...

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     How is that midlife crisis treating you? Highschoolers--tired of school? Well, the good news is that there might be a way to escape from it all. The bad news? It will take the rest of your life.
      Not-for-profit Netherlands organization, Mars One, sent out a casting call last Monday for any and all volunteers for a decades long trip to Mars. Participants will also star in the consequent reality tv show, "Stars on a Planet." Mars One is looking for truly anyone: no prior experience as an astronaut or a degree in science required. Simply make a video stating why you should be shipped to Mars, and send it in. Great stuff, right?
      As of so far, the organization has received over 10,000 entries, from out of which the board of directors hopes to select 24 lucky [or unlucky depending how you see it] individuals. Mars One hopes to launch the first crew of four by 2023, with subsequent launches of four man teams every two years after.
       Money could be a problem though. Sending stuff into space has never exactly been cheap, much less getting humanity to Mars. Director and co-founder Bas Landsorp says he hopes the $25 application fee will waive some of that cost, though he notes that there is still much more fundraising to do. The accounting department estimates that final costs will be upwards of $6 billion. [sounds great. I'll send in the billion I found in the gutter the other day.]
      Props to private organizations [SpaceOne included] for showing explorative initiative. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Finish...

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Physics tonight. And a poem.

Finish.
What are you fleeing?
Running as if the Devil was right behind.
Kicking up little spurts of gravel,
In the recess of your mind.

Starburst, fireworks
Your breath comes heavy and hot.
Always looking for that finish tape
But never able to stop.

Going in circles
I can't seem to keep a straight line.
Running through the dark
Chasing the setting sun.
Twisting through the violent maze
God, when can I be done?

Colors burst, fireworks
Dead ends again and again.
The tar bubbles in the heat as I flee
My feet are black with stain.

Throw me down on the headshrink's couch
Drug me out with gin.
I'll still keep running, pounding on.
Flying forward, but I'll never win.

Blood burst, fireworks
Voices tell me to carry on
Gasping out my fleeting breath,
God, let me see the dawn.

Yes, to God I cry out my soul--
How dare He answer me not.
If He truly cared, loved at all,
He'd grant me peace to stop.

Rain burst, fireworks
Washes away the blood from my eyes
All this time, running the wrong way--
"It is finished," the dying man sighs

I take a step, and then I stop
Hope pouring into my veins.
Oh, this is peace, this is rest--
Letting go in my last death strains.

Lifeburst, fireworks
In death there's life I've found.
Not a grave but true paradise,
Now unchains me from the ground.

I began to walk, and then I run
Not from a fear but joy.
I've learned now its not a race
Not to a point, but to a grace
Not through a line, but through a grave
Now all a celebration of joy.

Starburst. Firework.
Breathe in. Love. Breathe out.
Sunrise, sunset--I see it all.
Fear? Its what I live without.

[all the times you ran away, love pursued you even more]

Friday, March 29, 2013

You say let it go...

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      "I'm sorry. How could you ever forgive me?"
      Its a phrase that is always hard to say to a friend, and even harder to hear from one. Its a statement of complete remorse that painfully stitches up the wounds of a wrong.
       Forgiveness.
       Its tough to ask for and sometimes an enormous challenge to give to someone. We often hold on so tightly to our grudges against our siblings, against the world, stewing in the anger or frustration that we believe to be so righteous.

      But let it go.

     Oftentimes we focus so much on Easter Sunday, but we sometimes fail to recognize the magnitude of what happened today almost 2,000 years ago. See, today was the day that Christ died, the day that His blood poured out of His body satisfying God's demand for a righteous sacrifice for the sins of humanity. The price of man's sin had to be paid--and that price was death.
       A death that Christ gave Himself to willingly.
       Because of that death, the cost of every sin of the world--past, present, future--was fully paid. The ledgers of debt were cleared, the negative balance was erased. And every sin--past, present, and future--was forgiven.
       This is a fact that we so often overlook--that everyone has been fully and completely forgiven. You don't have to belong to a megachurch; you don't have to sing in the choir; you don't have to be the perfect father, mother, or sibling; you don't have to have a clean record; you don't have to be straight.
        It has all been forgiven.
       When I step out my front door, I sometimes can't help but look at the world with a skeptical eye, writing it off in my mind as a total, decadent, twisted loss. I turn and look into the mirror of my circle of friends and family, and see us as so much better than the world, those very special few who have a message of righteousness and love to bestow to those we choose. But I forget that Christians all were forgiven just as much as the rest of the world. We've just chosen to recognize the fact. But the fact that we ignore was that Good Friday wasn't about creating elitists, but about destroying the barrier between us and God's love.
      When Christ walked the earth, He didn't selectively pick and choose the righteous rulers to become His comrades; He spent His time and ate His meals with fishermen, with tax collectors, with prostitutes. His love was for the scum of society, the people that the righteous looked upon with repugnance. And when He died, He forgave them all. Even against the soldiers who provided His cruel and painful death, He refused to hold a grudge. "Father, forgive them."

      I firmly believe that you cannot be a Christian if you do not accept Christ's love for you. I firmly believe that you cannot be a Christian and refuse to share Christ's love for the entire world. Yes, God is just; consequences will come for where we all have abandoned Christ in our lives; but we get hung up on proclaiming God's great wrath and justice and forget to explain that every single one of us has been forgiven. We can't selectively choose to discriminate against people just because their sins stand out more or smell worse than the sins of the person next to them. We cannot shut the doors to the Church simply because someone has tried to find love in drugs, alcohol, pornography, or homosexuality.
       We so often urge unbelievers to not waste the gift of forgiveness that Christ's death provides, but I think it is often we who waste this gift by forgetting that every person is loved and is forgiven by Christ. We write the person off as a total loss, failing to see the forgiven soul under the sinful flesh.

        Friends, do not forget the reason for Christ's sacrifice.

       It is hard to forgive someone, yes. My brother? Its hard. Myself? Doubly hard. The world? The challenge of a lifetime.
     
But it all has been forgiven by Christ. Shall we do the same?

[You say let it go]

When you feel like you're damaged goods, broken by your past or by your life, remember: every fiber of your being is loved, and every wrong deed in your history was washed away by the crimson sacrifice of Christ today.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

DEFCON 1: Teddy Bears

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        A military court in Belarus has sentenced one of its border guards to two years in prison for failing to protect the country from an invasion by foreign teddy bears last July.
            No guys, it’s not April yet.

The invading teddies parachuted into the capital city of Minsk and other outlying areas, carrying placards protesting Belarusian human rights abuses.
While initially a publicity campaign carried out by a Swedish advertisement agency seeking to show solidarity for pro-democracy groups, the stunt has morphed into an all-out diplomatic war between Sweden and Belarus. In response to the plane drop, Belarus withdrew its ambassador from Sweden, and president Alexander Lukashenko issued a state memo declaring that any further “teddy-planes” would be shot down.
And in the midst of all of this, the border guard who failed to report the plane in a timely manner has become a scapegoat.

Not So Cuddly
            You may ask yourself, what kind of nation would so blatantly show hate for teddy bears? Unfortunately for the teddies, Belarus is a prime suspect. For the last few years, Belarus has been ranked by Amnesty International as one of the most dangerous nations with respect to human rights. As the CIA World Factbook notes, Belarus “while a republic in name is in fact an authoritarian dictatorship” ruthlessly ruled by Alexander Lukashenko.
 In recent years, the regime’s human rights violations have steadily increased, from the unwarranted arrest of more than 600 political activists and presidential candidates at a rally to strict sanctions against Jewish and LBGT communities. The US State Department classifies Belarus as a rogue nation, detailing the government as “a brutal, authoritarian dictatorship that blatantly ignores human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Surprisingly, Belarus is often left off the list as one of the most restrictive nations in the world. However, these teddy bears may have just saved the day—bringing the plight of Belarusians back into the spotlight.