Don’t Touch That Ball!

Claudia Our niece Claudia is in Miami, getting ready for the Orange Bowl. She is a manager for the Jayhawks football team.

The last time the Jawhawks made it to the Orange Bowl was 1969, so this is a big event. Claudias sisters and her mom and dad will be joining her for the game.

Claudia is working her way through school; she plans to become a sports journalist, last I heard. Students have a way of changing majors, but I’m sure she will continue to follow her interests in sports and literature. Coach Mangino caught her sitting in the grass, leaning on the goalpost, and reading a book recently during a lull in practice. He congratulated her on her love for reading.

My only advice to Claudia is “Don’t touch that ball!”

Did you see the Holiday Bowl the other day between Texas and Arizona State? Chris Jessie, stepson of Texas Coach Mack Brown, is a team manager like Claudia. Chris got so caught up in the game that when a ball came bouncing toward him he reached out to catch it–then realizing it was still in play, he jerked his hands back. He swears he didn’t touch it, but from the referee’s vantage point it was interference–and cost his team a touchdown. (more here)

Texas managed to win the game, so he can go home and expect nothing more than a little teasing and unexpected fame. Had the game ended otherwise he might have had to move to another state.

So Claudia, enjoy the game–but please don’t touch the ball!

A Setback

Benazir Bhutto As far as I can tell, God’s favorite project is the human race.  I’m sure there are plenty of other things in the universe that interest him, but according to the testimonies of people who had an encounter with God, he has a personal investment in what happens on earth.  His project is that trying to save the human race from its own stupidity and meanness.

The murder of Benazir Bhutto must grieve God deeply.  First, because he cares for her as he does for all individuals.  But more than that, she represented hope for her country, for the Muslim world, and maybe for the whole human race.

She might have brought peace and prosperity to her own country.   She might have been able to reconcile feuding factions.  She might have shown other middle eastern cultures what Islam with a human face might look like, a moderate form of Islam compatible with the modern world, a spiritual force for peace.

Benazir Bhutto’s murder cannot be Gods will, because he has expressly presented his opinion on the topic of murder: he is against it.

Covenant is the primary term used in the Bible to describe God’s relationship with  humans.    The covenant is God’s pledge of faithfulness to his creation; and it is expressed in two forms.  The first is the universal covenant God made with all life.  It is his pledge to preserve life on the earth and his demand of humans to respect life.  All people, in fact all life forms, are bound to God by this covenant, whether they recognize it or not.

The second form the covenant takes is a personal relationship.  This is very important, and I will have more to say about it later.  But right now, I want to stress God’s concern for all people regardless of religion or nationality.  God desires freedom, opportunity, human rights, the opportunity to thrive for all people.  For this reason, the murder of Benazir Bhutto was a setback for God.

A Prayer from Bonhoeffer

I have begun posting over at Wellspring Bonhoeffer’s prayers he wrote in prison. The first was composed for Christmas, 1943, his first Christmas in prison. It is a Morning Prayer, one of a series written for himself and his fellow prisoners (at Wellspring, here).

Tomorrow I will write my thoughts about today’s tragic news.

Christmas Letter Concluded

We were snowed in a few days before Christmas, and I wasn’t able to get to my computer to complete the Christmas letter.  The thoughts are still worth reading even a couple days late.  View the second post below.

Christmas Letter continued . . .

I’m going to keep adding a brief paragraph a day to the Bonhoeffer Christmas letter. Each thought makes a good thought for the day, so be patient and enjoy it a little at a time. But keep coming back to the post below this one.

Bonhoeffer Christmas Letter

I have returned to posting excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters on my Theological German blog, so I will share a few translations of the selections. The first is from a Christmas letter to his parents, written December 17, 1943.

Dietrich had been held for several months with no formal charges being made. He assumed he was being held on suspicion of a relatively minor charge and would be released soon. In several earlier letters he had expressed the hope of being free by Christmas to celebrate the holiday with his family and close friends.

By the time he writes this letter, he has given up on the hope of being free for Christmas.

Dear parents,

Above all, you must not think that I will let myself sink into depression during this lonely Christmas. It will take its own special place in a series of very different Christmases that I have celebrated in Spain, in America, in England, and I want in later years to be able to think back on these days not with shame but with a special pride. That is the only thing that no one can take from me.

I don’t need to tell you how great my longing for freedom and for all of you is. But you have for so many decades provided us with Christmases so incomparably beautiful, that the grateful memories of them are strong enough to outshine even a dark Christmas.

From a Christian point of view, a Christmas in a prison cell is no special problem. It will probably be celebrated here in this house more sincerely and with more meaning than outside where the holiday is observed in name only. Misery, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something entirely different in the eyes of God than in the judgment of men.

That God turns directly toward the place where men are careful to turn away; that Christ was born in a stable because he found no room in the Inn—a prisoner grasps that better than someone else. For him it really is a joyous message, and because he believes it, he knows that he has been placed in the Christian fellowship that breaks all the bounds of time and space; and the months in prison lose their importance.

On Holy Evening (Christmas Eve) I will be thinking of all of you very much, and I would very much like for you to believe that I will have a few beautiful hours and my troubles will certainly not overcome me.

If one thinks of the terrors that have recently come to so many people [with the heavy allied fire bombings] in Berlin, then one first becomes conscious of how much we still have for which to be thankful. Overall, it will surely be a very silent Christmas, and the children will still be thinking back on it for a long time to come. And maybe in this way it becomes clear to many what Christmas really is. . .

Your Dietrich

Your Voice Matters

The worldwide outcry over the barbaric sentence imposed by a Saudi judge on a woman known as “the Qatif Girl” has made a difference. King Abdullah has “pardoned” the victim (whose sentence was more than doubled when she spoke out) as an act of benevolence and good will in preparation for the Haj (more here).

Although the Saudis protested that they resented outside interference, they eventually did cave to the pressure. This is good news for one woman who was twice victimized, and it is reason to celebrate. Your voice matters, small steps can make a difference.

But still, it is a victory for one woman only. King Abdullah also proclaimed that the original sentence was just. The problem is other victims will continue to be abused unless an outcry is made in each individual case:

Fawziya al-Oyouni, a woman’s rights activist, welcomed the Qatif Girl’s pardon, but said more was needed. “We don’t want to rely simply on pardons. We need harsher sentences for the guilty parties and we want to feel safe,” she said, citing another rape case this month (here).

That means we will need to continue to raise our voices and take what small steps we can every time we learn of similar cases.

The woman still is in danger “honor killing” by her brother or some other family member (here).

(See previous post here.)

My One Book List

1. One book that changed your life: 
In His Steps
by Charles Sheldon.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:

The Inferno by Dante Alleghieri

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:

Oxford Classical Texts edition of Homer, Iliad and Odyssey.

4. One book that made you laugh:

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

5. One book that made you cry:

The Source of Life by Jürgen Moltmann–the first chapter relating his experience as a prisoner of war in WWII. I read it about the time news of Abu Graibs came out; and Moltmann’s description of how he was treated with kindness and dignity by the Allied Forces made me weep for our nation.

6. One book that you wish had been written:
1968-1999 The Peace Years; ed by Robert Kennedy, with chapters by Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and John Lennon.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:

Medea by Euripedes.

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Jacob’s Tears by Mary Douglas.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Purgatorio and Paradiso by Dante.

Mark

Small Steps

What can one person do? I don’t have any delusions that I can change the world. What I can do is make small choices every day that allow me to live with my conscience. I can take small steps in the direction of the change I would like to see. I don’t have to be perfect, I don’t have to do everything, I just have to do something.

Due to financial constraints, I don’t have the most fuel-efficient vehicle possible. That’s not all, I have to commute to work. So I do what I can. I walk to the local grocery store, bank, post office, etc. I try to limit my driving, as far as possible to my daily commute to work.

A couple years ago I came up with a plan to cut my commute in half by loading a bike in my car and parking and riding the last half of the way. The first day I tried it, it worked fine. The second day I saw one of my neighbors walking and stopped to give him a ride. We ended up car pooling for the next two years; so I still effectively cut my fuel-consumption per person in half.

Some young people who live under the medieval law of the oil kingdoms are speaking out online. Look at these sites: Improvisations and Saudi Jeans. Maybe they will make a difference.

My daughter sent me a notice of a small step we can all take to do something about poverty:

Hello!

Hi!

I just made a loan to someone in the developing world using a revolutionary new website called Kiva.

You can go to Kiva’s website and lend to someone in the developing world who needs a loan for their business – like raising goats, selling vegetables at market or making bricks. Each loan has a picture of the entrepreneur, a description of their business and how they plan to use the loan so you know exactly how your money is being spent – and you get updates letting you know how the business is going. The best part is, when the entrepreneur pays back their loan you get your money back – and Kiva’s loans are managed by microfinance institutions on the ground who have a lot of experience doing this, so you can trust that your money is being handled responsibly.

I just made a loan to an entrepreneur named Hayom Ayomov in Tajikistan. They still need another $625.00 to complete their loan request of $725.00 (you can loan as little as $25.00!). Help me get this business off the ground by clicking on the link below to make a loan to Hayom Ayomov too:

http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=businesses&action=about&id=26329&_isc=c4eb211c-f844-102a-bc82-f9ce1a1a31a9

It’s finally easy to actually do something about poverty – using Kiva I know exactly who my money is loaned to and what they’re using it for. And most of all, I know that I’m helping them build a sustainable business that will provide income to feed, clothe, house and educate their family long after my loan is paid back.

Join me in changing the world – one loan at a time.

Thanks!

———————————————————

What others are saying about www.Kiva.org:’Revolutionising how donors and lenders in the US are connecting with small entrepreneurs in developing countries.’
— BBC

‘If you’ve got 25 bucks, a PC and a PayPal account, you’ve now got the wherewithal to be an international financier.’
— CNN Money

‘Smaller investors can make loans of as little as $25 to specific individual entrepreneurs through a service launched last fall by Kiva.org.’
The Wall Street Journal

‘An inexpensive feel-good investment opportunity…All loaned funds go directly to the applicants, and most loans are repaid in full.’
Entrepreneur Magazine

A Little Help from My Friends

Here are a few “One Book” picks from some of my friends, and some of my friends’ friends. What are yours?

Zvaigznite’s books (artist)

1. One book that changed your life: Rachel and her Children by Jonathan Kozol
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Complete works of Anthony Trollop

4. One book that made you laugh: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa
5. One book that made you cry:
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

6. One book that you wish had been written: The Autobiography of Andre Sedriks
7. One book that you wish had never been written: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
8. One book you’re currently reading: Sweet Revenge by Diane Mott Davidson
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: War and Peace by Tolstoy

Bill’s Books (former chess champion, cure for cancer researcher)

1. One book that changed your life: 1, 2. 3, Infinity by George Gamow
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Nature of the Chemical Bond by Linus Pauling
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: A water resource management book
4. One book that made you laugh: Anything by Mark Twain

5. One book that made you cry: The last Harry Potter
6. One book that you wish had been written A book in the manner of Faraday that teaches modern science to kids.
7. One book that you wish had never been written: The Old Testament
8. One book you’re currently reading:
Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Huck Finn by Mark Twain — I’ like to read this again

Carlos’s books (clinical psychologist)

1. One book that changed your life: Clinical Series on Self Psychology by Heinz Kohut
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: The Intersubjective Perspective by Robert Stolorow
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: The Complete Works of Western and Eastern Religions and Spirituality
4. One book that made you laugh: The last Harry Potter
5. One book that made you cry: A Prayer for Own Meany by John Irving
6. One book that you wish had been written: A seminal book on addressing the integration of neurobiology and psycho-analytic theory

7. One book that you wish had never been written: All Nazi Propaganda books and communist propaganda books
8. One book you’re currently reading: Retire on Less than You Think by Fred Brock
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Joanne’s books (grandmother)

1. One book that changed your life: The Enneagrams
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: The Blind Heart by Storm Jameson
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: The plays of Eugene O’Neil
4. One book that made you laugh: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
5. One book that made you cry: Can’t recall
6. One book that you wish had been written: The Walter Family Genealogy
7. One book that you wish had never been written: Charles Manson: Music, Mayhem, Murder
8. One book you’re currently reading: Dangerous Admissions by Jane O’Connor
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

The Clinton Hate Meme

(Warning: Some of what follows makes for unpleasant and disturbing reading. If you are faint-hearted, scroll down to the “One Book” post.]

Richard Dawkins created the meme–or at least the word and the concept. Dawkins is a geneticist by trade. His first bestseller is called The Selfish Gene. He believed that this one concept can explain all the diversity of life. The gene is basically selfish–it’s only desire is to preserve its structure by replicating itself. Of course, the gene doesn’t know that it is selfish. What he means basically is that those genes that replicate themselves are the ones that survive; and those that don’t, don’t. Genes which cause behavior that leads to the replication of the gene are the genes that survive.

Even altruism, for example a vixen who risks her life to save her kits from a fire, is just an example of the selfish gene in action. The vixen is being impelled by her selfish genes. They don’t really care about her or the kits, they just want to copy themselves, on to eternity if possible.

Dawkins noticed a curious similarity of behavioral and cultural traits to the behavior of genes. Cultural artifacts–things like language (including its elements, such as individual words, grammatical patterns), traditions, customs, beliefs are memes. They are not literally passed on by mechanical reproduction like genes are; but they they do continue to replicate and survive.

Many memes survive because they are advantageous to their bearers. For example, patriotism has had a value in preserving groups of people from their enemies. Some memes, however, are like viruses or parasites. They survive with remarkable tenacity in spite of the ways they harm their hosts.

I lived across the river from Arkansas during the Clinton years. I was surrounded mostly by Christians, which meant (of course) conservative Republicans–even in a traditionally democratic region of the country. Politics is a rough sport, and people can have passionate opinions. I can understand people taking a stand on issues; I can understand believing that character is important. What I never understood was the level of vitriolic and irrational hatred of the Clintons. It became a self-replicating meme that survives to this day.

Bill Clinton had a distant relative who was raped by a thug named Wayne Dumond. So great was the hatred of the Clintons, that when Dumond was convicted of the crime, many people believed Dumond was innocent and had been railroaded due to the influence of the president. “The enemy of my enemy is my hero.” Dumond had earlier confessed to two sexual assaults and participation in a murder. Nevertheless, he became the hero of the Clinton haters.

Dumond himself was the victim of a brutal assault (many believe) by friends of the local sheriff under the Arkansas version of Sharia law. He was beaten and castrated. The sheriff had his testicles collected and packed in a pickle jar filled with formaldehyde; and he then displayed the specimen in his office. Many assumed the vigilantes were avenging the attack on the seventeen-year-old cheerleader; but it may have been more because he had threatened to expose corruption in the sheriff’s office.

Dumond was convicted of the rape and sentenced to life plus twenty years. Some Arkansans take things pretty literally, so I assume they would have kept Dumond’s rotting corpse in jail for twenty years after he expired from natural causes.

The conservative Republicans and conservative Baptists evidently pressured the new governor, Mike Huckabee, into freeing their persecuted hero, Wayne Dumond. Huckabee turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the mother of one of Dumond’s victims. She warned him that he would attack again, and not leave a witness to testify this time. The governor withdrew plans to pardon Dumond by direct action; but members of the parole board have testified that they were pressured to do the governor’s bidding.

Many sociologists believe rape is a hate crime motivated more by rage and the desire to dominate and humiliate, than by lust. In that sense, there is no real way to disarm a rapist. Dumond did attack again shortly after being released. He murdered a woman in Missouri.

Politics is a rough sport. Maybe Governor Huckabee made an honest mistake. But if a rising candidate can be derailed by an irrationally exuberant shout, it’s only fair that Reverend Huckabee be called to account for his tragic intervention to free a dangerous predator. The governor’s tragic mistake may have been fueled by the irrational hatred of Bill and Hillary Clinton which captured that segment of the political spectrum that has always prided itself in law and order, and family values.

[More details in the Arkansas Times]

One Book

Benjamin Meyers started this a year ago. What would your selection be in the following categories? I will post mine later.  Here are his:

1. One book that changed your life:
Augustine, Confessions (398 CE)

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:

Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda (1988)

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:

John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)

4. One book that made you laugh:

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1952)

5. One book that made you cry:

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief (2005)

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics V/1

7. One book that you wish had never been written:

Cornelius Van Til, The New Modernism: An Appraisal of the Theology of Barth and Brunner (1946)

8. One book you’re currently reading:
John Updike, In the Beauty of the Lilies (1996)

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2006)