Are we a World without a Conscience?

I sometimes think that mankind has progressed so far and then I read an article titled "Factory workers in China: A Pyrrhic victory for a world that lost its conscience". Sigh. The look on the woman in this image speaks volumes.
Here is a clip from the article:
As much as I would like to believe that costs are going to increase due to the possibility of human rights conditions improving in China, the reality is that from a systemic perspective, that nation is such a long way off from improving the lives of its people to the level of a Westernized nation that it will likely take decades before we will ever see an economic impact on the supply chain.

That’s great for companies like Apple, but it sucks for the human beings that feed our thirst for electronic gadgets. Better work conditions are only part of the variables linked to overall costs of the goods being produced. Wages, benefits and and working hours do factor into the overall picture but these are more than offset by tax advantages and reduced regulatory costs imposed by the Chinese government as well as the price of energy and other raw materials that are needed to produce durable goods in that country.

One only has to look at the overall picture in China to fully understand the magnitude of the human rights problem and why it is unlikely to abate anytime soon. The vast majority of Chinese — hundreds of millions of them — not only work in conditions that most of us would consider barbaric but their living conditions make many of the people in our own country living in near poverty look like they are living in comparative luxury.
Hard to know how to respond to an article like this without going to dark places. One response is a bit of moral outrage and a vow to boycott everything made in China. Yet most everything we buy has some connection to that country across the sea. Another response is apathy and indifference. Like simply not thinking about it changes anything.

I am not sure that the world has ever had a global conscience. We all seem to want a "great bargain" when we buy stuff. And we all seem to have an unquenchable desire for bigger, better and more stuff. So I am wondering how we should respond to reports like the one that I excerpted from. Are we really a world without a conscience?

Should Everyone have Dental Insurance?

A few weeks ago a dentist friend of mine had a free dental Saturday for children. So my interested was peaked this morning when I read a Kansas City Star article titled "Free dental clinic draws 1,100 patients — and turns away more". Here is the way that it starts:
Mike Faulkner had a couple of teeth that had been hurting him for years. So when he learned about the giant two-day free dental clinic in Kansas City, Kan., he got there bright and early — 3:30 Friday morning. None too soon. The doors to the Kansas Mission of Mercy clinic weren’t scheduled to open until two hours later, but people from as far away as the Colorado border had begun arriving before 8 Thursday night. Traffic was tied up, and the parking lot at the vacant Walmart where the clinic is being held was packed tighter than you’d expect on Black Friday. Organizers let people in early to spend the night indoors. The Salvation Army served breakfast. And by 6 a.m. – before the first patient even sat in a dental chair – all 1,100 slots for the day were filled and people were being turned away.
If the story had not been prefaced in that way I might have thought that I was reading about a medical mission to someplace like Haiti. The stories of hurting people in the article (suggest you read it here) breaks my heart. Some may think that this is the appropriate way for poorer people to get health care but I wonder if it is merely a symptomatic of a health care system run by insurance companies. Not sure what it is but something just seems wrong.

Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012

Anthony Shadid, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent died on Thursday at age 43 of an asthma attack in Syria. Following are a few words from a fellow journalist who knew him.

"He was the very best that our profession produces. He was somebody who had a genuine inner passion for the story. He had an understanding of Arab culture; he spoke Arabic beautifully. I can remember we lived together in the same house for a time in Baghdad, and his interest in people...he loved to go to a coffee shop and just sit and talk to people and listen to what they were thinking and seeing the changes in their lives...He was a rare man who just breathed the story in whole and was able to share it with readers. It's a terrible loss for our profession, and it's a reminder of why great journalists like Anthony Shadid make the world better in an important way." -David Ignatius, Washington Post

Please join me in prayer for Anthony's family and friends. And for all those who daily risk much to keep us informed.

When Good Things are be Bad

If you have frequented my blog in the past you may have gotten the impression that I eat bacon every day. Not so! Twice a week I partake of the nectar of life. And on occasion I have noshed on a twinkie.

Yet I have to say that this image simply grosses me out. Some things are fabulous by themselves but are simply never meant to be combined with other good things. The beauty of a rose stands on its own.

Remember this if you put anchovies on your pizza!

Is Faith another word for Courage?

Love the idea encapsulated in this image. Read this today:

     "Courage is the commitment to begin without any guarantee of success." -Goethe

I think that one could substitute faith for courage in these quotes and be on safe ground. What do you think? Is faith another word for courage?

Are there really two American Dreams?

Always interesting to read about a pop theologian who is reading one of the books by my pastor Adam Hamilton. Such was the case when I came across Brian McLaren's Naked Theology blog post titled "The Beloved Community vs. the Beloved Economy". Here is a clip from it:
Over the weekend, I was reading Adam Hamilton's book, and I couldn't help but notice what he said about there being two versions of the American Dream. One, of course, was Dr. King's dream of beloved community, of racial equality, of justice and peace and character and solidarity. It was a dream about a quality of life. The other was what we might call the Wall Street version, the dream of getting more and more stuff, faster and faster, with less and less effort—what we might call a style of life. ... So, here we are as a nation, caught between two American Dreams: Beloved Community and Beloved Economy. Here we are, torn between two pursuits—a spiritual quality of life and a materialistic style of life.
Interesting how he contrasts quality of life with style of life calling one spiritual and one materialistic. Causes me to ponder which dream I embrace the most and whether the two are really at odds with each other. I wonder if there is a moderate middle ground that embraces both dreams? Is it possible that the contrast is not that sharp? Can one own a large home and still care about the ideals of the Beloved Community? Is it possible for a person to value racial equality and still make a lot of money on Wall Street?

I think that it is possible but maybe not in the ways that we imagine. Because we all lose if those who fly the banner of the Beloved Community declare war on those who fly the Beloved Economy flag. And those who embrace the Beloved Economy can find themselves existing in a sad place if they reject the principles of the Beloved Community. So I suggest to you that there are really not two American Dreams because each dream needs each other. One dream without the other becomes a nightmare.

Why are Americans so Partisan?

I think that the quote in this image could be applied to either side of the political spectrum. I am not sure that America is any more partisan than it has always been but it does seem that our differences have been magnified by the media - both the public and social varieties. Reading Facebook this morning I was appalled by the judgmentalism expressed in comments that some made about the death of Whitney Houston. People often accuse religious folks of being judgmental but I think that unbelievers are even more self-righteous.

Yet the question about our partisanship is a puzzling one. In many respects our culture has become more accepting of diverse gender and ethnic perspectives. But I think that the incessant bickering in DC and the inability to work together for the good of the nation speaks to a systematic brokenness in our country. Years ago it the words 'moderate' and 'compromise' were good words. These days they are portrayed in the most pejorative light. I believe that we are at a proverbial crossroads and the way forward may be the road less taken. At least I hope it is. A nation divided against itself can not stand.

When Every Day is Saturday

The image below cracks me up - hits a little too close to home as I sit blogging today. :)

I retired in 2008. Here are a few things I have noticed since then.

  1. Getting up early often means I went to bed early.
  2. Going out for lunch is sometimes the motive for #1.
  3. Every day seems like Saturday.
  4. Don't have to go outside when it is snowing.
  5. Like sweat pants more than I ever imagined.
  6. Retirement plans are just plans.
  7. Sometimes I like to talk to telemarketers.
  8. Rarely need to wear long pants in the summer time.
  9. Blogging sometimes seems like a job.
  10. Food  is sometimes a bit of a challenge.
  11. Slippers are more comfortable that Nikes.
  12. Discovered that I am a political junkie.
  13. Freedom to do what you want doesn't mean you will.

Always looked forward to retiring but had very different ideas about it. See number 6!  :)

Coffee is Good for Us?!

I have been drinking coffee for over 40 years. I began sucking down the hot stuff when I worked off Wall Street when I was 18. Since then I have had it with cream and without - but I have always scooped a few spoons of sugar into the mug. These days I leave out the cream and save it for the occasional caffè latte.

So I was intrigued recently by an article in the Kansas Star titled "The many health perks of coffee". The piece highlights the musings about coffee by cardiologist James O’Keefe, a doc who specializes in heart disease prevention. Here are a few benefits that he sees for those of us who drink the dark stuff:
  • Moderate weight reduction. That’s due to the metabolic boost, plus a lot of people drink coffee as a substitute for beverages with calories. “A big part of what I like about coffee is it has no calories,” O’Keefe says. “Clearly, the increased consumption of sugary and high-calorie beverages is playing a major role in the obesity epidemic.”
  • Prevention or delay of Type 2 diabetes. Coffee-drinking, even fewer than two cups a day, was associated with a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, and four to six cups a day resulted in a “significantly reduced” risk. Decaffeinated coffee offered some risk reduction.
    It could be the chlorogenic acid in coffee that’s responsible for improving glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, O’Keefe says. (Better insulin sensitivity means lower blood sugar levels.)
  • Lower risk of several neurological problems, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, dementia and depression. In several studies tracking neurologic effects, caffeine in coffee seemed to be one of the important ingredients. Increased caffeine was related to lower Parkinson’s risk. Three to five cups of coffee a day for middle-aged study participants was associated with a 65 percent decrease in the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Authors of a recent study of more than 50,000 women concluded that the risk of depression decreased with an increase in caffeinated coffee drinking. “This is the scientific data that’s the most compelling and fascinating to me,” O’Keefe says.
O’Keefe's commentary is balanced out a bit by reports that scientists view coffee as habit forming, sleep depriving, calcium draining and bad for pregnant women. But I suspect that folks who love the brown stuff (and show images of it on their blogs) are focusing more on the positives than the negatives. What do you think?

50/50 | ★★★★★★★★

Ann and I watched this heartwarming flick last week. I think that it is an amazing treatment of a difficult topic but struggle to find the words to describe it. So I was glad to find a great review of it on Netflix. Here is a clip from it.

50/50 is a wonderfully honest look at early adult illness that, while funny, never strays from the truth of the subject matter. The film is written by a man named Will Reiser who based the movie off his own experiences with being cancer stricken in his 20's. This is a no frill look at the realities of the illness without trying to tug at anybody's heart strings. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is wonderful as a man who is angered and in disbelief about his cancer diagnosis and whose friends respond the only way they know how to at such an early age- with humor, marijuana and attempt to help him get lots of pity sex. Seth Rogen represents those friends and while he's still his standard Seth Rogen self, the film does a wonderful job of adapting Rogen's style to the most serious subject matter and letting his larger than life gregariousness take a back seat to Levitt's inner turmoil as he deals with a girlfriend (Bryce Roberts) who isn't prepared to take care of a sick spouse, a Hospital assigned social worker who is brand new in her job (Anna Kendrick in a performance that is sadly nearly identical to her role from 'Up in the Air') and an overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston) who won't leave him alone despite Levitt's desire to manage things on his own. Apart from the comedy, which is spot on and not distasteful, much of the medical jargon and Hospital scenes are scarily accurate, which makes sense given that the writer recently went through the events depicted in the film.

Be advised that the language is 'R' rated and there is a risque scene. On a scale of ten I give it ★★★★★★★★.

Are Hybrids Worth the Money?

Have you heard about the Honda owner that sued the car maker because she did not experience the promised gas mileage for her Hybrid Civic Sedan. Here is a clip from Automobile Magazine that describes it:
Heather Peters made headlines last month when she took American Honda to California Small Claims Court. She accused the automaker of making false claims in regards to the fuel economy of her 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. And she won.

According to, Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan yesterday ruled in Peter’s favor, and awarded her $9867. Peters originally sought the $10,000 maximum allowed in a California small claim court ruling to make up for the extra costs she allegedly spent on fuel. She bought her Civic when it was advertised to achieve up to 50 mpg. Since then, a number of issues — reportedly stemming from a faulty battery — have caused her vehicle to rely more on the gasoline engine, which in turn has lowered her average fuel economy to no more than 30 mpg.

“It is a victory for Civic Hybrid owners and consumers everywhere,” Peters said.
“Sometimes big justice comes in small packages.”
Wonder if other non-Honda Hybrid owners have similar experiences? Makes you think twice about going green.

The news also got me to thinking about the promised gas mileage of the cars that I have purchased. Makes me wonder if I should have taken the mileage claims a bit more serious. I know that my city mileage has always been pretty bad.

Have you ever experienced a wide disparity in the promised and experienced mileage figures?

Should Churches look most like Schools? Really?

Donald Miller, the author of "Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality", wrote a compelling article that appeared in titled "Who Should Lead the Church--Plumbers or Scholars?" Here are a few clips from it replete with my comments:
"The church in America is led by scholars. Essentially, the church is a robust school system created around a framework of lectures and discussions and study. We assume this is the way it's supposed to be because this is all we have ever known. I think the scholars have done a good job, but they've also recreated the church in their own image. Churches are essentially schools. They look like schools with lecture halls, classrooms, cafeterias, and each new church program is basically a teaching program."
I find Miller's comparison of churches with schools to be very insightful. It explains why many Christians seem to think the Faith is all about the head and not the heart.
Church divisions are almost exclusively academic divisions. The reason I don't understand my Lutheran neighbor is because a couple of academics got into a fight hundreds of years ago. And the rest of the church followed them because, well, they were our leaders. So now we are divided under divisions caused by arguments a laboring leadership might never have noticed or cared about.
The influence of scholars and quazi-intellectuals on church splits has been so devastating. It is like these theologians believe that Christianity is all about the head and not the heart.
So why are we led by teachers? After all, the church and the school system are the only institutions in our culture led purely by academics. Well, the reason is the printing press. The government once controlled the church, but that ended when the printing press was invented and people could read the Bible for themselves. And the scholars were the only people who could read, so they got the job of church leadership by default. So church leadership went from fishermen, to government workers, to scholars.
These changes over time seem to be so subtle but in hindsight they make so much sense. Pastors these days are simply fitting into the mold set for them centuries ago. They seem to be attracted into ministry because of a love of books and study rather than a compassionate love of people.
Let me ask you this: Aren't you a little tired of scholars and pseudo-scholars fighting about doctrine? Is it worth it that you are divided against other denominations because scholars picked up their ball and stomped off the playground? If you are tired, then be the church. I'm not kidding; you don't know everything, but you know enough.
Miller's last appeal hits to the heart, not the head, of the faith. Unity is a heart issue - we will never unite in an intellectual sense. Yet I think that we can unite together in ministry when we shed our scholarly focused heritage and take up Jesus' command to love as He loves.

Is God your Cosmic Vending Machine?

I read that title phrase, "Cosmic Vending Machine", in a Fox News article that asks the question "Is it OK to pray for your team to win Super Bowl 2012?" Here is a clip from it:
A kind of religious transaction where he gives God the glory and God gives touchdowns. Or victories. Or Super Bowls. A fair exchange?

God ends up becoming a cosmic vending machine.

Everything is well and good until Jesus makes you fumble.
We love to think God takes our side. Roots for our teams. It’s part of our American DNA.

To paraphrase Anne Lamott: You know you’ve created God in your own image when God roots for all the same teams you root for (I’m looking at you Yankee and Cowboy fans).

Here’s my short answer. Based on Christian scripture and practical experience, the purpose of prayer is for God to win. Not for you to win. Or your favorite team. Even if you are from Cleveland—though if anyone has a shot, God just might be rooting for you, Cleveland.

Millions of people all over the world will tune into the Super Bowl tonight.

God’s probably not concerned with who wins the Super Bowl. God’s consumed by working on behalf of the usher who can’t figure out how to pay his chemo bill. Or the player going through a divorce. Or the assistant coach who lost his son to suicide. Or the trainer wrestling a gambling addiction. Or the recent immigrant, trying to pay one more bill by cleaning up the confetti that falls in Lucas Oil stadium.

God sees the whole stadium, not the final score.
I love that last statement. I think that we all know how foolish it is to pray for our team to win but I wonder how many of us think about praying for those who hurt the most? Maybe we will if we can see God as more than a Cosmic Vending Machine who exists to help us win Super Bowls?

Ben Gazzara, 1930-2012

I was saddened to read that Mr Gazzara died yesterday of pancreatic cancer. One of my favorite movies was the courtroom flick “Anatomy of a Murder” that starred him and Jimmy Stewart. Also remember QB VII, a 70s miniseries that he starred in. Here is a revealing clip from a 1998 interview with Charlie Rose:

“When I became hot, so to speak, in the theater, I got a lot of offers.”
“I won’t tell you the pictures I turned down because you would say, ‘You are a fool.’ And I was a fool.”

I have a faint memory of “Run for Your Life,” a TV drama in the late 60s, but don't really remember much of his acting work. Seems like he played a lot of bad guys. Please join me in prayer for his family.

LBJ || thinking, voting, the presidency, etc.

If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking.

A man without a vote is man without protection.

A President's hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right.

Greater love hath no man than to attend the Episcopal Church with his wife.

I believe the destiny of your generation - and your nation - is a rendezvous with excellence.

I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help - and God's.

I'd rather give my life than be afraid to give it.

I'm the only president you've got.

I'm tired. I'm tired of feeling rejected by the American people. I'm tired of waking up in the middle of the night worrying about the war.

I report to you that our country is challenged at home and abroad: that it is our will that is being tried and not our strength; our sense of purpose and not our ability to achieve a better America.

Theodicy 101

Theodicy is a word that gets kicked around every now and then when bad things happen like the Tsunami in Japan or the earthquake in Haiti. A few words about it from Wikipedia:
Theodicy (from Greek theos - "god" + dike - "justice") is the theological and philosophical studying of the nature of God, in the face of evil in the world. Traditionally, theodicies attempt to resolve the evidential problem of evil and reconcile God's traditional characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence and omniscience (all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing) with the occurrence of evil in the world. Although such arguments have existed for centuries, the term theodicy was coined in 1710 by Germany philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in his work, Théodicée.
Here are a few of the theodicies proffered over the centuries:
  • Leibniz attempted to demonstrate that the evil in the world does not conflict with the goodness of God and that, notwithstanding its many evils, the world is the best of all possible worlds. His view was that since Scripture clearly asserts both the perfection of God and the presence of evil, we must take up an attitude of acceptance in the face of their coexistence.
  • Augustine argued that evil exists as a result of free will of either humans or angels and, as a result, all evil is either sin or the punishment of sin. Aquinas agreed with Augustine and suggested that evil must exist for the appreciation of goodness: if there is no suffering, freedom from suffering cannot be truly appreciated.
  • Irenaeus argued that human creation was split into two parts: humans were made first in the image, the like likeness, of God. The image of God consists of having the potential to achieve moral perfection, whereas the likeness of God is the achievement of that perfection. To achieve moral perfection, Irenaeus suggested that humans must have free will. Therefore, evil exists to allow humans to develop as moral agents.
I tend to settle in on the Augustinian view yet I do see some merit in the idea that evil might be necessary to contrast with goodness and help us grow as human beings. My concern in all these views is how God is sometimes suggested to be the author of evil and when bad things happen he is blamed for the pain. What do you think?

Has love or pain changed you more?

Joyce at "From This Side of the Pond" used one of my past questions (#2 below) in her Wednesday Hodgepodge post today. If you want to participate or read others' answers check out her blog. Here are the questions with my answers.

1. It's that most wonderful time of the season! Do you complete your own returns or farm that job out to the professionals?
My wife Ann does our taxes using Web Turbo Tax and I edit and review.
2. Which do you think has changed you more - love or pain?
Pain came into my life very early and made me bitter. Love came in about five years later and turned my world upside down. Fifteen years later pain hit again and made me more compassionate. Five years later love came in and wowed me to the core. Since then I think that my life has been changed more by pain than love. But I am open to love rocking my world in a major way. :)
3. Tangerine Tango has been named color of the year for 2012. Your thoughts? Would I find this color anywhere in your house? How about in your closet? If not, will you be adding this color to your life in some way in 2012?
I bought a yellow Chiefs cap last year. Don't see tangerine invading my life in 2012.
4. Are you a collector? What do you collect and does it get admired, used, and/or dusted regularly?
I am not a collector.
5. February is National Heart Month...besides a green salad what is one tasty heart healthy dish you like to prepare?
I like salmon but tend to eat it with a loaded baked potato.
6. When was the last time you had car trouble?
Last month I replaced my 11 month old battery. Odd because the battery had a 5 year warranty.
7. Have you been more demanding on yourself lately or less?
Less. Retirement has given me perspective about priorities.
8. Insert your own random thought here.
Why be something to everybody when you can be everything to somebody? -GK Chesterton
If you want to participate or read others' answers check out Wednesday Hodgepodge.