Dodge to Liberal

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When I was a kid both sets of my grandparents lived on farms, and I assumed everyone’s grandparents lived on farms. So natural I assumed everyone had seen farm animals. I thought it was comical when I went to the zoo and saw a section of farm animals. I thought, “You come to a zoo to see zebras, lions and tigers. If you want to see chickens, ducks, pigs, and cows, you just go to your grandparents farm.”

Then my parents told me there were people in big cities like New York who had never seen chickens, pigs, and cows. How strange, I thought.

Some of you who live in mountainous states are familiar with scenic overlooks. I remember traveling through the Shenandoah Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains a few years ago. We stopped at all the scenic overlooks; some of the views were breathtaking.

We do have some breathtaking views in Kansas, especially in the flint hills where I live. National Geographic did a beautiful spread in April. Out by Dodge City, it’s not exactly the view that takes your breath away.

When we drove through Dodge last year, I was surprised to see the scenic overlook sign (above). Then I remembered the culturally deprived New Yorkers who have never seen cows. I imagined a family driving through and stopping at the scenic overlook. The dad says, “Kids, behind us is the saloon where Marshal Dillon visited with Miss Kitty, and in front of us–those are cows; thousands and thousands of cows.”

(Go to Part III)

Fossil Fuel is Dead

windfarm-shrunk.jpgSome of my best friends are unbelievers or skeptics. They point out that there are scientists who are unconvinced; they believe the jury is still out; or they say there is just not enough evidence. They don’t believe in global warming.

Well, some of my friends are now reluctantly admitting that it is warming up–they’ve seen pictures of the poor polar bears’ homes melting right underneath their feet. So now they say, “alright, it’s warming; but it’s not our fault; it’s just a normal cycle.”

My daughter convinced me over a year ago. She reviewed a review of 1000 scientific studies that say global warming is a fact, and we are responsible (click here to see her review).

I do understand that the science of climate study is incredibly complex. In fact that’s where the expression “the butterfly effect” comes from. It’s not that anyone literally believes that a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a tsunami; it’s just that the mathematical calculations are so complex that a tiny variation early in the equations could have tremendous ramifications later on.

So what is a non-scientist to do? I look at it two ways: first, I have a basic trust that, if there is no other hidden motive, we should probably trust the scientists. Or to put it another way, all I can do is trust the majority of scientists, after ruling out those who may have a vested interest.

That’s why (apart from a couple of experiments in junior high) I never took up smoking. For over thirty years the tobacco companies had their experts who said, “the jury is still out, there is no evidence to prove that smoking causes cancer.” I thought it best to rule out the scientists who worked for the tobacco companies and follow the findings of the majority of other scientists. I’m glad I did, because as my brother recently told me, “Most men our age who smoke are having breathing problems.”

The other way I look at it is in terms of Pascal’s wager. The global warming version of it is this: If those who are warning about global warning are right–and if we don’t listen, we are (to quote some of my old friends) in deep frijoles, up that well-known creek without a paddle, in a world of hurt.

But what if we do take action to forfend the danger that brother Al is warning us about, and it turns out he was wrong? In that case we will have done the following:

We will have eliminated our dependence on oil from unstable countries ruled by the world’s worst despots. We will have stopped funding terrorists. We will have developed new technologies and new industries. We will have revitalized our economy and improved our quality of life.

Maybe we will drive less and walk more. In that case we will improve our health. If we do these things, and it turns out that Al Gore’s Nobel prize was undeserved; that he was wrong, or hypocritical (living in a big house and driving an SUV), well we will still owe him a debt of gratitude.

Last week the health and environment department in my state ruled against two new big coal burning electrical plants. Some of the friends of big coal are hopping mad. They are setting their hopes on the dead industry of the past; not on the new opportunities of the future.

Letter from Prison Dec 21, 1943

(I have copied this letter from “Wellspring.” If you wish to read more, check Wellspring about once a week. Click on the link above, or in the blogroll on the right.)

Eberhard Bethge was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s best friend. He had been a student at the Seminary in Finkenwald. During Bonhoeffer’s time in prison Bethge married Bonhoeffer’s niece Renate. The couple named their first child Dietrich. Most of the letters are addressed to Bethge, who collected and edited them.

Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment in Tegel was somewhat like the apostle Paul’s imprisonment, in that he had some liberty to read and write. The guards treated him with respect, at first because of his family connections and later because they came to admire him personally, as did the other prisoners. Some of the letters passed through censors; others were smuggled out, sometimes with the cooperation of prison guards.

The German title of the Letters and Papers from Prison is Widerstand und Ergebung, which means “Resistance and Submission.” The title was inspired by this passage in a letter Bonhoeffer wrote to Bethge on February 21, 1944.

Some background information: Michael Kohlhass is a classic of German Literature, based on the life of a man who lived in the time of Martin Luther (Click on the link to learn more about Michael Kohlhass). Bonhoeffer spent a short time in Barcelona as a pastor before the war; but his knowledge of Don Quixote was probably part of his general education. Martin Buber’s famous book “I and You” (or I and Thou in some English translations; Ich und Du in German, published 1921) described the difference between personal “I-You” relationships and impersonal “I-It” encounters.

February 21, 1944, from Tegel to Eberhard Bethge (an excerpt)

I have often wondered about this: where is the boundary between necessary resistance against “Fate” and equally necessary submission? Don Quixote is the symbol for continuing resistance to the point of absurdity, even insanity—like Michael Kohlhass, who by pressing his claim to justice became a criminal . . . with both men, resistance in the end lost any real meaning and evaporated into a theoretical fantasy; Sancho Pansa is the representative of a full and clever submission to the given circumstances.

I think we must venture what is great and individual, and at the same time do what is natural and generally necessary. We must oppose “Fate” (I find the neuter gender of the word important) with the same determination as we submit to it when the occasion requires that.

Only after this twofold process can one speak of divine “Guidance.” God meets us no longer as “You” but is shrouded in “It” and my question goes to this point: how can we find the “You” in this “It” (”Fate”). In other words, how can “Guidance” come out of “Fate”?

The boundary between resistance and submission cannot be defined according to an abstract principle; but both must exist, and both must be moved by determination.

Faith demands this flexible, living approach. Only so can we make it through each present situation and make it fruitful.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You have probably heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer before–even Richard Dawkins, who doesn’t read theology, knows about him. Bonhoeffer was a member of the Confessing Church in Germany during the Nazi’s rise to power. The Confessing church refused to acknowledge any “Führer” other than Jesus Christ.

One of Bonhoeffer’s early books, the Cost of Discipleship is still popular today. In it he complained of a kind of cheap grace that appealed to God’s mercy as an excuse for complacency and compromise. The book is an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and some other passages in the Bible.

Bonhoeffer was a pacifist. He had spent some time in New York, as a visiting scholar. He was impressed with the African American Christians’ struggle for freedom. He was also impressed by the teachings of Ghandi, and had plans to travel to India. Had he lived he might have joined Dr. King in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Although Bonhoeffer was committed to nonviolence, he came to the conclusion that if a madman is driving a car through a crowd of people, a Christian has the obligation, not only to comfort the victims, but to stop the madman.

He joined a group that conspired to assassinate Germany’s mad Führer. He worked as a sort of double agent for the German intelligence, while working with the resistance.

I belong to a group called “Wellspring,” that meets out on Judd and Nancy’s farm. We currently have chosen to read Cost of Discipleship together over the next couple months. Wellspring has just started its own blog, and–I have begun posting my translations of the reading selections from the letters.

I am going to post the first selection here in a couple of days. After that, you can check the “Blogroll,” and click on Wellspring if you want to continue reading the Bonhoeffer selections.

Recruiting Terrorists (and happier news)



We don’t (ever call it) torture!
The policy of “harsh interrogation techniques” is a recruiting tool for terrorists. How can we American’s appeal to God to protect us and defend us when we use barbaric techniques against individuals we have “detained”?

David Allen Black, professor of NT and Greek, refers to a link here discussing water boarding.   Professor Black’s site is here.



In happier news, our niece Melissa is doing splendidly in the Special Olympics in Shanghai, China. If you didn’t look last week, click here for a video of Melissa in training. She’s a Kansas City Star!

Free Burma or China-Free?

Next week I’ll finish the post I started last week, but right now there is something more timely.

We American Christians need to support the Buddhist monks in Burma, in their struggle for freedom. (See the “News” page) President Bush is calling for international pressure, especially from China, to pressure the military dictatorship to respect human rights. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with the president on this issue.

By the way, since evidently the pro-democracy advocates prefer to call their country Burma, I don’t think we should use the name that the dictators chose for the country.

This may not seem directly related, but it has a bearing. Sonja and I are justifiably proud of our niece Melissa, who is representing our state right now in the Special Olympics in China. See video here. The doors opened by Richard Nixon allow the kind of relationship where we can talk to China.

China buys oil and natural gas from Burma and supplies the generals with weapons. Chinese guns are killing peaceful demonstrators.

Another issue that does not seem connected, but may be: Last week the Mattel toy company issued an official apology to China for criticizing their factories for producing dangerous toys. Mattel said, the fault was their design, not negligence by the manufacturers or the government inspectors, that resulted in children’s toys being painted with lead paint. (See also the prior post “Fido’s Revenge)

There was once a time when another government thought we couldn’t do without their tea; but a grass-roots movement proved them wrong. I’m suggesting that we use our good relations with China and their desire for prestige in the eyes of the world with the upcoming summer Olympics to entice them to use their influence for good. If that doesn’t work, I would hope there would be a grass-roots movement to look for products made elsewhere.

A while back I bought a toy for the child of a friend. It was not imported from half-way around the world, and had no lead paint. It was made of wood by a local craftsman, and sold at a local fair.