Wednesday, March 26, 2003

i'm a liberal

Consider the following points:
  • I've been a registered Democrat since I turned 18.
  • Although I voted against Gore in 2000, and against Clinton in 1996, I can honestly say I've never thought the Republicans put up a viable candidate either time. Unfortunately, no one else did either.
  • I've been a professional journalist for seven years, and frequently have been criticized by the local Republicans for favoring Democrats.
  • I have problems with tax cuts that target the rich.
  • I oppose the war in Iraq.
  • I listen to NPR.
  • I see no problem with gay and unmarried heterosexual couples getting the same benefits from employers that married heterosexual couples get from their employers.
  • I think newspapers generally do a good job at being fair.
  • I think hate crime legislation should include gays and lesbians; actually, I think it should be expanded to include any crime where hate based on "otherness" was a motivating factor.
  • I view deficit spending as irresponsible.
  • When I taught science at a Christian school, I made sure my students understood evolutionary theory.
  • I believe that the poor and disenfranchised have a special place in the economy of God and that it is incumbent on those of us with wealth to take care of those in need.
  • I view unregulated capitalism as a bad thing that leads to the aggregation of wealth and power in the hands of a select few while leaving the masses exploited, poor and powerless.
  • I'm all for racial integration and interracial marriage.
  • I would say that many social ills exist because the church has failed to live up to its calling.
  • I oppose drilling for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and would like to see more done to develop alternative fuel sources.
  • Bush has really embarassed me as an American with his environmental record, rejecting the Kyoto Protocol; with his unilateral approach to foreign policy; and his strong pro-industry stand on just about everything.
  • I not only eat organic food, I grow my own organic vegetables.
  • I would have bought a hybrid car last week if we could have afforded it.
  • Lastly, as a liberal, I accept wholeheartedly the creed "It's all my fault."

Monday, March 24, 2003

academy awards highlight

Show's host injured by CGI-driven character gone bad
By Jocko Grinn

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (Grinn News Service) -- Disaster struck the Academy Awards last night when Chris Cooper, winner of the Best Supporting Actor award, was strangled as he accepted the award.

"Sweet Mother of Pearl!" host Steve Martin cried as a small manlike creature leapt up and tore the statuette from his hands, biting off one of Martin's fingers in the process.

"It's ours, ours!" the creature cried before scurrying across the stage and out the door. "Our Precious-ss!"

Security footage shows the creature is manlike with overlarge feet, large blue eyes, and a single lock of hair that hangs from its head. Security guards tried to stop the intruder as it left the building but said they were unable to, due to its prodigious strength.

Guards added that the creature's eyes glow in the dark and that it made a retching noise as it talked that sounded like "column."

"We think it's a disgruntled writer for 'Variety' magazine," said Los Angeles Police detective Brick d'Fortunato.

Anthony Serkis, who made a name for himself as Gollum in last year's "The Two Towers" was not available for comment.

In the meantime, officials continue their manhunt for the creature, which they consider likely either to fall into a volcano or to be cast in Ernest Borgnine's role in a remake of the 1970s horror film "The Devil's Rain."

"Either way, it's a bad way to go," said D'Fortunato. "Personally, I'd take the volcano."

Martin was listed as being in stable condition, although nurses at the hospital report he keeps cradling his hand and moaning, "It's gone."

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Gulf War II: Day 5

Chirac tells Bush: Give us back the Statue of Liberty
By Jocquo Le Grinne

(Grinn News Service) -- Tensions between France and the United States continued to deepen Saturday as U.S. officials heightened their restrictions on French terminology and France asked for the immediate return of the Statue of Liberty.

The latest actions reflect a widening rift between the two nations, begun when Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, ordered the word "french" dropped from menu items served to members of the U.S. House of Representatives March 11, because France would not back a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

At the time, French officials downplayed the significance of the change, noting that french fries come from Belgium.

But by March 19, French officials had changed their tune, and it wasn't "Frere Jacques."

"It has come to our attention that many English words are derived from the French language owing to the Norman conquest of 1044," a letter from French President "Blaque Jacques" Chirac stated. "Such use is expressly not authorized, and request is made forthwith for you to remove all French influences from American English, or we will be forced to seek legal action against you."

The letter also stressed the deep love France has for America, and expressed a desire that the two peoples continue to walk forward in harmony once America realizes its idiocy, stops being so arrogant, and removes its head from its posterior.

Chirac's letter triggered an avalanche as the American Kennel Club renamed the French poodle breed to the Liberty poodle — making it an even more annoying breed than before — and American pet stores began refusing to sell frogs.

Under the direction of Homeland Security Adviser Tom Ridge, the FBI and CIA began investigating for suspicious activity some 10,000 Americans on Thursday who still play the French horn and prefer French bread to Italian and prefer French wine to German beer.

France retaliated by ordering its embassies to pretend not to know English when answering the phone or communicating with American officials. The reprisal ultimately was deemed ineffective as American dignitaries were unable to detect a change in policy.

Relations continued to deteriorate when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said if it hadn't been for the United States, France would be a part of Germany. France responded by ceding its sovereignty to Germany and asking the German military to resume the occupation it ended when driven out by Allied forces near the end of World War II.

By Friday, relations between the two nations were at their lowest since a first-season "Simpsons" episode in 1990 sent Bart Simpson to France and revealed the secret role antifreeze plays in French winemaking.

Chirac's request that the United States return the Statue of Liberty, given by the French in 1884, came late Saturday, after President Bush accused the French textile industry of supplying Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with a steady supply of berets during the past 12 years, despite an official trade embargo with Iraq.

"If they want the Statue of Liberty, I say we should make them take back the entire Louisiana Territory and all the Democrats who live there," DeLay retorted during discussion on the House floor. "And we want a refund, with interest."

Chirac agreed to take title to states in the former Louisiana territory at France's first convenience, but insisted his nation would pay no money for the land until it was restored to its pre-American state.

"It was bought from the Emperor Napoleon under duress anyway," Chirac said.

In a strongly worded resolution, the United Nations warned France and the United States to start behaving nicely or risk another strongly worded resolution.

Saturday, March 22, 2003


I've gone from believing in a pre-Trib Rapture to not believing in a Rapture at all. The entire doctrine is relatively recent -- it stems from "revelations" and visions a woman in Scotland had in the 19th century, and connects verses that have very little bearing on one another.

If this really were the "blessed hope of the Church," as Assembly of God doctrine holds, I think Jesus or one of the New Testament writers would have talked about it at more length. The closest we get is Paul's "We shall not all die" passage in 1 Thessalonians, but that seems to me like a Second Coming passage, not a "Last train out of here" passage.

Saying you don't buy into the escapism of the Rapture and consider it a phony-baloney doctrine is like professing to be a liberal in an evangelical church. It's enough to get you run out of many churches and to get people praying for your eternal soul.

You should have been there when I told my students several years ago that Jesus probably had zits when he was their age. And when I said he probably hit himself on the thumb with his hammer from time to time, even as an adult ... woo-HOO! Not knowing Aramaic, I have no idea what he would have said. I don't doubt the equivalent of a few four-letter words could have been in there. (One only wonders what they would have thought if I had said that Jesus probably was a social drinker.)

I've watched the fascination and cultic devotion the "Left Behind" books have sparked with a morbid fascination. I've read a few End Times novels before -- Dave Hunt's "The Archon Conspiracy" and Michael Yousseff's "Earth King" are two that spring to mind, although my all-time favorite has to be Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's "Good Omens" -- and I mostly see them as harmless, if badly written.

Note I said "mostly." The books do feed a tendency at least among American evangelicals to escapism and to a bit of self-righteousness. Readers who take the Rapture seriously get a kick of seeing all that they won't have to go through from the books, which isn't healthy.

Beyond that, I don't think the books' eschatology is sound, I think the writing is fairly atrocious, what I've read of it, and I think it also reflects a conservative Protestant American view of things rather than necessarily a biblical one. Notice the Antichrist is going to be Russian; if the books were influenced by a more contemporary theologian/scholar type, the Antichrist probably would be an Arab. Fifty years ago, the books probably would have made him Catholic.

Then there's the sects of Christianity are taken up. The pope is included, but mostly as a token Catholic, meant to widen the book's appeal. The pope in the books is a fairly Protestant pope. This is more just the writers' biases, I think, than actual eschatology resulting from Bible study. (Yeah, I know I'm treading on thin ice there, since Jenkins is a scholar of sorts, though probably not much more credible than Hal Lindsay when you get down to it.)

I also don't get the fascination with the Second Coming in Christian writing. The Bible says the Day of the Lord will not be a day of rejoicing, but one of terror; and while it's a day we're told to pray for, we're also told to keep our feet firmly planted in the now, sharing the gospel with those around us and ministering to those in need.

For some reason, though, the Second Coming ranks what I would consider disproportionately high on what we like to read about. There are far more books on prophecy and the End Times at the Evil Christian Bookstore than about feeding the hungry or missions.

Anyway, I've probably shot my mouth off enough now. I'd recommend looking at the book of Revelation in a different way if it helps you get past the poison. Mike Card once described the book as a series of hymns in praise of Jesus Christ; that is, it's a revelation not of the end but of Christ in all his glory. That's a good approach; another is to say "Never mind the prophecy, what lessons can I draw that apply to the here and now?" I've always found that one makes sense.

Then there's the preterist view of Revelation, but I don't really hold with that either; it's a fairly recent doctrine too, growing out of the notions of the Great Century 100 years ago, and doesn't really square with what I understand the views of the early church were. It holds that the events of Revelation all have been fulfilled.

Interesting tangent: Apokalipsis is a Greek word that means "unveiling." We usually think of Apocalyptic literature as being about tremendous calamity or disaster -- Apocalypse is synonymous with Doomsday in the common parlance -- but the whole idea behind the word is that it's making plain something otherwise considered mysterious.

Our problem is that we lack the cultural clues to properly understand the writing, so we often get rattled by stuff like the thirty-headed beast of Jehoboazarrihim and the seventh moon of Timbuk Two, but a lot of the clues to understand it all are found in the Tanakh and the imagery it uses.

Friday, March 21, 2003

the dictates of a 3-year-old

Just wait until your child gets to be 3 years old and you have to deal with all of THAT.

No, not the "tyrannical threes" -- the explosion of personality and the obsessive compulsive behavior that will drive you nuts in record time. Evangeline has acquired the moniker "Kissing Bandit" because every time she sees Rachel, she wants to give her sister a kiss. And kiss her she must, whether Rachel is nursing, sucking her thumb or sleeping. Everything must be done just so, according to the ritual Evangeline has developed, or reality will disintegrate.

I guarantee you, when your baby turns 3, you will find it impossible to love her any less than with all your heart, but there will be times you will wish you lived in a zoo.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

u.s. conquers kuwait

Official: 'We were holding the map wrong'
By Jocko and Smirkov Grinn

KUWAIT CITY (Grinn News Service) -- The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq got off to a bad start Thursday night when a coalition of British and American troops headed east instead of west.

U.S. tanks plowed through the ruins of Kuwait City after a heavy aerial bombardment had reduced the Kuwaiti capital to rubble, demolishing power plants and bridges, and severely disrupting the transportation infrastructure. The Kuwaiti populace offered little resistance, allowing American troops to sweep across their countryside with astonishing speed.

It was not until military personnel reached a border guard at Saudi Arabia that they realized their mistake.

A Saddam Hussein body double sporting a double chin confessed himself "shocked and awed" by the American military might.

"We were holding the map wrong," said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Bloomers. "Once the Saudi guard showed us the way back to the highway and we had stopped to grab a sandwich at the local Kwik-E Mart, we turned back."

Other soldiers were quick to defend the error, which they said was one anyone could have made, even with the latest military technology.

"It's kind of hard to navigate off landmarks when all you have to work with is sand, sand, and more sand," said a corporal.

In Baghdad, the scene was one of utter chaos as thousands of Iraqi troops milled the streets in confusion looking for someone to surrender to. An enterprising Reuters reporter offered to accept surrenders at $10 a head until American TV crews could arrive to accept the surrenders properly, and reportedly was doing well enough that he was considering opening a franchise.

Iraqi missile strikes into Kuwait prompted U.S. troops stationed at Camp New Jersey, situated near the Iraq-Kuwait border, to put on gas masks and chemical protective gear before the all-clear sirens were sounded.

"I was grateful for the opportunity to make myself feel at home," said Lt. Ron Bittner, a Linden, N.J., native. "The oil refineries also lent an air of authenticity -- it was just like driving on the Turnpike. Except that the E-ZPass transponders don't open up the secured gates."

In a related issue, American citizens who had flown to Iraq and positioned themselves in front of designated targets in an attempt to prevent the United States from attacking hospitals and elementary schools with no strategic value, fled to the safety of a nearby Howard Johnsons and watched the attacks from the lobby.

"We never actually realized that we could be killed," said Shaun Pensecola, an aspiring actor from Los Angeles. "I mean, 'human body shield' sounds glamorous until you realize it means people will actually be shooting at you."


I was the first person in my family to get an ear pierced, and therefore had the unusual privilege of reassuring my mother -- in her mid-50s when she decided to get hers done -- that it wouldn't hurt, and letting her know ahead of time what sort of reactions she could have, from infection to allergic reaction. (I discovered that I'm allergic to yellow gold when my earlobe started turning odd colors.)

My mother got her ears pierced when my father bought her a pair of earrings that would have to be modified so she could wear them. As she had never had her ears pierced, all she wore were clip-ons. She has had no problems that I am aware of, except perhaps the occasional ear infection.

My earring hole closed up years ago, to the best of my knowledge. I can still see the divot where I had the piercing, but haven't had the urge to get it repierced or to see if the hole is still open.

No one has suggested we get Evangeline or Rachel's ears pierced. Natasha hasn't worn earrings for even longer than I have, and since she got her earring caught on somebody else's backpack once, she has even less of an inclination to wear them than I do.

We figure that if the girls want to get their ears pierced, they'll let us know. I also figure that if they're nervous, I can get my ear pierced again to reassure them it doesn't hurt. (A father-daughter bonding experience of increasing frequency, I'm sure.)

Of course, since Natasha wears neither earrings nor makeup, I really wonder how much inclination the girls will have to try either of those things as they get older. I suppose it depends on their friends.

saddam quits

DEPOSED LEADER: 'New horizons beckon, and I must go'

Saddam Hussien, responding to an ultimatum issued by U.S. President George W. Bush to flee Iraq in two days or suffer the fury of American military, nonchalantly stepped down on Tuesday morning.

"I've had a great run, accomplished a lot, but now it's time to move on with my life," the Iraqi leader told the few remaining Western journalists in a speech delivered from his new RV. "Everyone dreams about being a powerful despot in one of the most volatile regions of the
world, but few get an opportunity to live the dream. I am one of those fortunate few."

Saddam credits his five wives, both living and dead, for giving him the courage and compassion to go on, even when he felt misunderstood or betrayed by U.N. inspectors.

"Still, I think I made a real difference for my country," he said. "Good night, and God bless the USA!"

Saddam already has made some plans for the future, which he plans to fulfill once he gets past border guards inspecting the bunk beds in his mobile home for weapons of mass destruction.

He recently appeared in an episode of The Anna Nicole Smith show, where she wanted to do a scientific study on sand, and network executives are considering him to be a potential mate on an upcoming season of The Bachelor, where 25 women vie for one man's hand in a casual dating relationship not likely to outlast the season, let alone actual engagement or marriage.

Saddam has expressed disappointment in not making the cut for "American Idol," after being told by one of the judges that he has a powerful stage presence but his singing was a bigger bomb than a Scud-2 missile. Simon Cowell, a BMG record executive, disappeared two weeks ago while walking to his car in the parking deck behind the building where "American Idol" is taped. Too many suspects exist, however, to trace the disappearance to the Iraq regime.

"Sometimes life throws you a few kinks," said Saddam, as the eyes of his hired goons misted up around him. "But there's power to positive thinking, and you just can't afford to give up. After all, I'm just a nobody who's managed to waste a lot of time of the most powerful nation in the world!

"It reminds me of the words of that immortal song by Mike Post:

"Look at what's happened to me,
I can't believe it myself;
Suddenly I'm up on top of the world,
Should've been somebody else!

"Take that, Simon, you dirty rotten scoundrel."

If his current television plans don't work out, Saddam plans to open an Italian ice store or, if that fails, take up professional landscaping. His son Uday reportedly feels cheated by his father's decision to head in a solo direction when he was hoping to market a new book of
inspirational material, "Chicken Soup for the Terrorist's Soul" and "Chicken Soup for the Petty Despot's Soul."

"Just kidding, Patty," a spokesman for Uday Hussein said. "Chicken Soup for the Soul is a copyright of Chicken Soup for the Soul Enterprises, and we would never dream of infringing upon it."

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

marketing strategies

I've never tried telemarketing myself, and I don't know what all the various newspapers have done to boost visibility. I do feel my current employer grossly underuses its web presence. One of the newspapers I edit is The Quakertown Eagle, for example. The chain is WCN Newspapers. I would expect something like and Instead, the web sites are and Bad name choice, no gain in name recognition.

My impression overall is that they do precious little to promote the papers aside from telemarketing and word of mouth. A previous employer used to use targeted mailings, followed up by phone calls, and experienced a pretty good new-subscriber rate as a result. Many newspapers are employing "Newspaper in Education" programs, but I'm not entirely sure how they work.

quality sells

Quality is the most important part of any product; that's why I work hard to make the newspapers I edit be good reflections, voices, watchdogs and forums of the communities they serve.

I've also made it a point from the beginning to solicit columns from local leaders and other residents with a view in order to boost the community involvement in the paper. That's an unending struggle, and it's not one I'm likely to stop until I finally leave the news business and get a job that pays a living wage.

I can't speak for other businesses, but my experience as a weekly newspaper editor has been that the circulation department often has a good sense of what our communities think of our papers, and that's in no small part to the on-staff telemarketers. Readers complain when we neglect their segment of the population, and they also let us know when we've hit the nail on the head -- and again, that's usually done through the telemarketing.

You don't need to convince me that most telemarketing calls are annoying. We've been getting two or three a day ever since Alan Greenspan lowered the interest rates to -5 percent, offering to refinance our mortgage for us.

The problem is that for good or ill -- I would be inclined to say for ill -- telemarketing has become an important and relatively affordable way for small businesses to boost their visibility over a prolonged period. With no-call registries growing in popularity, I'm hopeful business will find less noxious ways to promote themselves, which of course, was the entire point of starting this thread.

The question, of course, is whether quality will be enough for a small business like The Quakertown Eagle in a landscape dominated by The Newark Star-Ledger and The Home News and Tribune, or for a Jazams toy store in an industry overrun by Wal-Marts and Toys "R" Us box stores.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

prayer on the eve of war

I'm still praying that Saddam or enough other people in Iraq will see the light in time to prevent a war.

I'm also praying that:

1) God will break the necks of the terrorist organizations plotting attacks on the United States, Britain and our allies. I've been praying this for some time now -- and yes, in pretty much that language -- and was glad when God answered our prayers with the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. I read one analysis today that al Qaeda now has more to fear from us than we do from it.

2) For religious freedom in Iraq and its neighbors, and for a revival of the church there. I hear many evangelicals whine about minor problems with sharing the faith here -- and about piddly stuff like schools no longer being allowed to require the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance -- but believers in much of the Middle East believe at the risk of their lives.

3) That the damage to our standing in the international community will be minimal, and that Bush's determination to push for war against Iraq will not fuel a new frenzy of anti-Western, anti-America or anti-Christian hatred in that region of the world.

Let's pray for peace, even as we recognize that sometimes peace is only found on the other side of war.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

no to war

After reading about 5 gazillion comments, editorials and columns on the subject, I'd have to say that I'm coming down on the side of the doves on this one. How strongly do I feel? Not very. I'll probably change my mind again once I hear a really good argument for war, at least for a few minutes, but I will support the president if he decides to go to war.

My reasoning:

  • Does Saddam have to go? No question. The man has gassed his own people, he has enriched himself while starving the masses, he is every bit as ruthless as Stalin was, and if he's allowed the chance, he'll probably invade Kuwait or another neighbor again. If memory serves, his official map of Iraq includes Kuwait as part of its territory.
  • Does Bush have a reasonable legal argument that the U.N. is within its rights to remove Saddam Hussein? Yes. Resolution 1441, as has been pointed out many times, gave Saddam another "one last chance" to disarm or face the consequences. The U.N., however, appears to be unwilling to follow through on that ultimatum; I'm not quite clear on how it becomes our prerogative to act on behalf of the U.N. when the U.N. won't authorize us to. It makes the U.N. into a joke when it won't enforce its own resolutions, but isn't that a matter for the U.N. member nations to address within that body?

  • Would we win? Again, that seems to be without question, but an almost-guaranteed victory should not be the overriding factor in whether we invade.
  • Do we have the moral right to invade? This is the critical question for me, and it's here I think we fail the test. Saddam Hussein lacks the moral right to rule Iraq, but at this point I don't believe there is any strong moral argument to remove him. Connections to al Qaeda and Sept. 11 have been tenuous at best, from what I can remember, and at this point he neither has attacked or nor threatened us nor any of our allies. In the original Gulf War, he attacked Kuwait and was threatening Saudi Arabia. That was the time to get rid of him, and the elder Bush and our allies failed to do it. Twelve years later is a little late.

If we're predicating our moral authority to invade on the way Saddam Hussein treats his people, then there's a long list of other countries we have to invade: China, the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Cuba among them.

I also don't believe we're within our rights to invade simply because of Saddam Hussein's record or his current weapons of mass destruction. They are both cause for concern, but at the moment -- again -- there are no indications he is actively plotting or working toward the destruction of another country, is there? Maybe I've blocked out that part of the news, but until there is an actual threat, rather than just the potential for one, I'm not sure what grounds we have for invasion.

On a side note that does not have any bearing on whether we should go to war or not, is anyone else a little unsettled by Bush's strident unilateral approach to foreign policy? First the Kyoto Protocol, now he's telling longtime allies that they're going to hurt their relationship with us if they don't back us on the war effort. Silly me, I thought sometimes friends were supposed to tell us things we don't want to hear. You might agree, you might not, but you shouldn't let that get in the way of your friendship.

tired of iraq

You know how some people just LOVE politics, and can't get enough of it? You know how some journalists get a thrill out of being in the thick of things where all the big political fish are swimming and eating people alive? I'm not one of them.

I have a mild interest in politics -- the big fish, for all their self-important buffoonery, *do* have some effect on the real world -- but it's not enough to sustain my interest in a conversation that covers every forum on the Internet, idle chatter at the office and at home, every front page and op-ed page in the newspaper industry, and even the music on the radio.

I am concerned about the impending war in Iraq, and do pray that it will be averted, and that God's people will rise up in faith across the Middle East, but there are other things that occupy my attention too, besides the war.

Friday, March 14, 2003

god of abraham

Hang around evangelicals and fundamentalists enough, and you may hear a belief expressed that seems a little bizarre: that Jews do not worship the God of Abraham because they do not believe Jesus is God. In this opinion, they worship either a false God or "nothing." Got that?

It's actually a very common belief, but one I consider misguided. It often ties in with the idea that God broke his covenant with the Jews and Christians are the new chosen people. I thought Paul said something about being grafted onto the vine, but maybe I misunderstand, and what he actually meant was the exact opposite.

As I understand the argument, it's that Judaism changed when the decision was made as a people group to reject Christ; i.e., Judaism became something like the Democratic Party, known for what it is not. Passages like Isaiah 53 have been reinterpreted to apply to Israel and not to the messiah, beliefs about what the messiah will do have altered so that they are inconsistent with Jesus' teachings and actions. There's other small stuff too, like the matzoh during the seder. One of the pieces of matzoh is taken away and hidden for the children to find, a practice that some scholars believe was originally a Jewish way of saying "See? The body really *was* stolen."

The argument also goes that much of Judaism as it is practiced today is spiritually dead. That's why temples sponsor seminars on alternative spirituality, like transcendental meditation, and est and what have you. The religion has become encrusted with tradition and extra teaching (the Talmud, the Mishnah, and so on) that keep people away from experiencing the Tanakh as it was intended by God.

Invariably when this discussion surfaces, as it has before I made this post, it soon turns on issues of salvation. Since Paul says point-blank that Christ came first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles, many evangelical Christians argue that contemporary Judaism lacks saving knowledge of God. After all, if someone doesn't need Christ to be reconciled to God, but can be drawn near through faithful observance of the Law, isn't Christ's sacrifice negated?

Paul essentially says, "If there a law that could have brought you to God, this one would have done it." But he hammers home the point that following the law only brings death, because sin increases where there is law. ("I would not know to covet if the Torah did not say, 'Do not covet.'")

It's been a while since I wrapped my brain around Paul's reasoning and the arguments set forth in Hebrews, but isn't the idea that the thrust of the Tanakh was to show us our need for a savior, an intercessor between God and man, and to get us to anticipate the coming of that savior and to accept by faith what he would do?

Based on that reasoning, I would have to say that, yes, you can worship God in a sense but not in full knowledge and not in saving knowledge either, by trying to draw near to him through faithful observance of the Torah's requirements. Paul also talked about this in Romans, regarding the hardening of the Jews' hearts so that the full number of Gentiles could come in. (And that's when he also stresses that the Jews remain God's chosen.)

I think it is clear that no one who lived before Christ was saved by keeping the dictates of the Law. They were saved the same way that we are today, through faith in God's promise. For them, the promise had not yet been realized. For us, we can see the realization of the promise in Jesus Christ.

Now, that brings up the question of the Jews who, for whatever reason, don't see Jesus as God's promised Messiah, but still do believe in the promises of God for redemption and for a Messiah. Does their faith in God's promise and in the coming Messiah count for nothing now that Jesus has already come? I don't know. God will have mercy on whomever he chooses, and they could be part of the group. I leave it up to God. I'm making no attempt to discern the mind of the Almighty on this or any other matter.

As to who worships the God of Abraham, my own thesis is pretty simple: There is no God but one. Anyone who acknowledges the God who created the heavens and the earth, the uncreated Supreme Being, is worshiping that God, though sometimes with essential (not minor) differences in understanding his nature and his character. I usually compare it to the faith of the Samaritan woman. She and other Samaritans worshiped God, but the Jews worshiped him in knowledge. So I'd go a step further and risk offending other people, by saying that Muslims also worship the same God that Christians do. In an Arabic-speaking country, I would refer to God as Allah and to Jesus as Isa, the same way I don't mind appropriating the English noun "god," and that Paul didn't object to using the pagan word "theos."

Islam of course denies the divinity of Christ. It accepts the virgin birth, but insists that Jesus was a prophet and no more than a man, making it fundamentally incompatible with Christianity and its teachings about God. I say that because Christian doctrine teaches that God is revealed through Christ and through the silent testimony of creation, and that he God does not tabulate our works and judge us based solely on our obedience to what we perceive his will to be.

But like Christianity, Islam describes God as the creator without beginning. Its depiction of God is incomplete in the Christian understanding -- and it certainly lacks the grace given through Christ -- but the Arabic word "Allah" is no worse a substitute for the Tetragrammaton than the English pagan word "God," the Greek word "theos," or the Kali word "kembu."

The dilemma within a Christian framework of what happens to anyone who has not heard the gospel but was trying to serve God is one that I'm sure we've all spent a lot of hours pondering, discussing and reading about. I generally don't say any particular group is headed to hell, or individual people for that matter. It's not my call to make, thankfully.

But it is an interesting theological question. With pagan peoples who hear the gospel for the first time, one often can see a dividing line once the gospel arrives. The segment that responds favorably to the gospel exhibits a marked change in behavior as they embrace the new revelation as the fulfillment of a cultural concept or religious belief they've long had. (Check out "Peace Child" or "Eternity in their Hearts" for some examples.)

The catch is that the segment of the population that doesn't embrace the gospel also demonstrates marked changes in attitudes and behavior, often toward the darker side of life and often as a societal or spiritual repudiation or rejection of Christ and Christianity.

Skip forward 100 years or so, to a person in the latter population segment. Under the scenario I've just presented, that person will have been raised in a culture with an ingrained bias against Christianity, even if he or she has never actually heard the gospel personally.

foreign languages

Natasha and I have started talking about getting our children to learn at least one -- I would prefer two or three -- languages other than English. The best time to start, of course, is now -- Evangeline is only 3, so her language-acquisition skills are in high gear. She's perfectly suited for developing fluency in multiple languages, even if it's done largely passively, through children's songs or videos, and engaging her probably will draw us in as well.

Among the languages I've been toying with:

1) Spanish. This is a no-brainer. After English, Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in this corner of the nation. It's also a standard foreign-language option on many DVDs, which means we'd have access to quality movies in Spanish without having to spend any more money. It's also spoken throughout Latin America, much of the United States and in Spain.

2) Haitian Creole. Not a commonly spoken language, but there are Haitians around New York and New Jersey, in Florida, parts of Canada and -- of course -- in Haiti. Advantages are that it's a language I already speak, which would give her someone to converse with and allow us a measure of privacy in public places; it could serve as a bridge to learning French later on; and it's a language other than English. Even if no one in the area spoke it, it would still have value in that sense. Chief drawback is that there is very little in the way of popular entertainment like songs and videos that I have ready access to in Creole, which means I would have to hunt it down so she could enjoy it.

3) Esperanto. I'm afraid this is mostly for the novelty of it, and for the privacy measure, although I understand there is a wealth of literature for esperanto speakers. And it even has speakers all over the world.

4) Arabic. With political lines and alliances drawn the way are right now, I imagine Arabic will continue to grow in importance as a world language. Knowing how to speak some variant of it would be an asset for Evangeline as she gets older. The drawback here as well is that I don't know where to get the music or videos (or storybooks, for that matter, though I can't read and understand any of these languages except Creole) that she can enjoy, and I also would have concerns about getting her music that espouses religious views widely different from our own. (True of any foreign language, actually; it just looms larger in my mind with Arabic.)

I've always been fascinated by linguistics, and a manmade language like esperanto is intriguing for obvious reasons. It's not tied to any one nation or culture, it has no irregularities in its verb conjugations or other parts of speech, and it does have some credibility when it claims to being a good way for people of different languages and backgrounds to meet in the middle, where neither has the cultural or linguistic advantage.

Does anyone have any thoughts on what languages we should be looking into, or suggestions on where we might be able to find quality children's music in those languages? If they're songs we're likely to know in English, so much the better. That would help us learn the language too.

Also of interest to me are the various Englishes that have been springing up around the globe. There's Spanglish all along the U.S.-Mexico border, Singlish over in Singapore, and other daughter Englishes like Russlish, Crenglish and what have you. Some of them have even begun developing their own literary voices, which is all the more intriguing.

In many ways I'm reminded of the influence of the Greek and Latin languages as a result of the spread of the Roman Empire. You see the influence even in lands that Rome never conquered, like Germany (kaiser), Russia (czar) and even India (Qasir, a name). Now English has become the dominant world language, with the result that every modern language has gained English roots, at least for technical terminology if not for more mundane uses, and many languages have adopted other aspects of English writing, such as the English punctuation marks now used in Chinese. I don't know where I'm going with this, it's just mental meandering, but it is intriguing to think about how our entire world's communications have been Anglicized to varying degrees.

One also wonders about the ramifications of that, since the Bible records that God explicitly confused human language at Babel in order to keep us from growing altogether wicked ....

Thursday, March 13, 2003

privacy and the patriot act

Worried about losing your privacy because of the Patriot Act? I shouldn't worry if I were you. You don't have as much privacy as you think.

If I had a little time to kill, here are just a few of the things I can find out through open public records, just by knowing your name and generally where you live:

  • Your address;
  • Your phone number, even if it's unlisted;
  • Your party affiliation;
  • When you last voted, and how often you have voted;
  • How much your house is worth;
  • How much you paid for it, and when;
  • Your entire driving history within this state, including tickets you pleaded guilty to and how much you had to pay in fines;
  • The make, model and year of any cars registered in your name, as well as the license plate numbers;
  • Your driver's license number;
  • Your credit record, for a modest fee;
  • If you're a government employee, I also can find out how much you earn, and get a copy of your employment contract if you have one;
  • When you were married;
  • Your wife's maiden name;
  • The names of your children and your licensed dog or cat, and when and where your children were born;
  • Your birthday; and
  • Your parents' names, marriage date and the names and birthdates of all your siblings.

And that's just off the top of my head. Presumably I also could get your Social Security number, which would grant me access to other things not normally in the public record if I'm devious enough to know where to look. If you ever have been divorced, forget it: Your entire life is mine for the asking -- and all this is without the benefit of a single court order.

As a journalist, I get information like this as a matter of routine. Once I have your address, all I have to do is call your municipal clerk for your party affiliation. He or she will tell me if you're a registered voter, what party you belong to, and again how often you've voted. If they don't have that information -- as sometimes is the case in New Jersey -- your county clerk will have it.

If they don't give it to me, I read them the riot act over public access, and their attorneys will agree with me that they have to give it to me.

Privacy is an illusion in a free society. The government has had access to all these things, and many more, for years.

All the same, I do agree: The security bogeyman can be used to justify a lot of thought policing and other unsavory policies and practices. You don't need to look to Nazi Germany to see that, though: Just check out America in the 1950s and thank Senator McCarthy for bringing the dark side of the American psyche out into the open.

The problem isn't an erosion of privacy -- because that, frankly, doesn't exist except as an illusion -- but the genesis of an atmosphere of suspicion. And suspicion, once it begins to grow, starts finding balrogs in every innocent woodpile. In some Christian circles the fact that I have a translation of the Quran on the bookshelf near my Bible would make my faith questionable; in the hands of an overzealous guardian of our freedom, it could be the first nail in my coffin.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

on and off

Evangline lately has been playing with the on/off concept. When I start singing, whether to her, Rachel or just on general principles, she sometimes will announce that she's turned the music "off" as a way to stop me. She even presses a button in the air to visually signify her turning it off.

(Sometimes we really get going, and I'll turn it back on, prompting her to unplug it. We'll go through a whole regimen of arrangements, from pulling out the batteries to ultilmately smashing the radio with a hammer. It's quite a lot of fun, really.)

This morning Evangeline decided to apply the on/off principle to kisses. I went to give her a kiss before I left for work, and she told me to kiss off.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

my job is now more bearable

Well, we had some good news on the job front this week.

After remarking to Natasha Sunday afternoon that I really didn't want to go into work on Monday, I got a call Sunday night from my boss. It turns out that my Crane's Ford reporter came in sometime over the weekend, cleaned out her desk and left a written resignation, effective immediately.

I could feel the crimp in my back and neck loosen as Tim broke the news.

Apparently my ex-reporter is disgusted with the flagrant disrespect I show her, the way I butcher her stories, expect her to write about things other than the Crane's Ford Township Committee and was especially put off by the way I deliberately have removed her bylines from several stories ever since we got a new computer system and the way I messed up the IPA awards announcements where they listed her awards.

She's also horribly upset that the editor in chief didn't drop everything Thursday afternoon to listen to her unending litany of complaints, and can't continue to work where she's not appreciated.

I haven't said it publicly, but good riddance. She's been nothing but unprofessional the entire time I've worked with her. She's subjected me to an endless barrage of verbal abuse, and not just me but every one of my predecessors as well. She even went as far this weekend as emptying her Rolodex, dumping a bunch of papers on my desk, and knocking over my family pictures as well. The company has sent her a letter demanding the Rolodex contents be returned since the resource belongs to the company and not to the reporter, and even threatened legal action against her if she fails to provide it. I understand she's also barred from passing the foyer at the front of the building.

I'm sorry it had to work out this way, but I'm glad it's finally over. She probably doesn't realize it, but she in all likelihood has saved the company a lawsuit I was considering for when I find another job. (There was a little problem of the company being aware of a hostile work environment and failing to do anything to remedy the situation, see, but now it's been resolved.)

I still hope to get another job -- I don't like the hours this one requires, and the pay isn't enough to provide for my family -- but at least the wait will be a little more bearable now.

The sad thing is, my ex-reporter is probably waiting for the newspaper to call her and beg her to come back. I don't see that happening any time soon. Her unprofessional conduct has been a longstanding problem at the company, and I believe it has caused us a few problems in the community as well. We've lost her knowledge of the community as a result of her decision to leave, but a new reporter who knows what she's doing can get into the community quite well within three months or so -- and probably do a more balanced job covering it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

i hate my job

I long ago gave up trying to read God's mind. I'm convinced that's not how he works and not what a life of faith is about.

Things are building to a head right now, and I'm honestly not sure how much more I can take. I've started to send out resumes again, and am hoping to get something before I explode. I'm also mulling my legal options. My employer has allowed a hostile work environment to develop and has done virtually nothing to remedy the problems when they've been brought to management's attention. I don't approve of the litigious nature our society has developed; on the other hand, I don't like being treated like a doormat.

I sent one resume to a newspaper down in Central Jersey a couple days ago for an editing position there, but I'm also looking to possibly leave the newspaper business for other writing opportunities. Magazines would be nice -- and would pay better -- and I could stand doing media relations for certain groups as well.

I'd appreciate prayers for patience and grace during these next few weeks. Yesterday Cheryl accused me to my face and in the presence of the rest of the news room of purposely deleting her bylines and marring the press release about her flarking awards just to embarass her. She also wants to start backreading her own news copy after I edit it. I need to display the character of Christ, and if I get angry I'd rather it be a righteous anger than the kind I usually have. (I'm a patient sort, but I can be pushed too far.)

Thanks for your concern.