26 April 2007

Playboy, Darfur, and the School Paper

UGA's student newspaper, the Red and Black, is the butt of many student jokes. Independent of the University since 1980, the paper deals primarily with the superficial "needs" of students - dating, fashion, music, movies, and sports. The opinion page is devoted mostly to the mockery of the student government and university administration. Every so often, a student on one of the far sides of the political spectrum will send in a letter concerning national politics - every so often.

A few weeks ago, I was more than a little shocked to see the front page headline "Reporter Bares All for Playboy". I'll say this again, just so it can set in - FRONT PAGE. This special interest piece was deemed so important that it took the main page of the paper. In other news that day, the Speaker of the House was in Syria, the Israeli Prime Minister rejected the Speaker of the House's peace plan for Israel/Palestine, and the Iranian President announced the release of fifteen British sailors and marines. But Playboy made the front page. The reason why is obvious - on a college campus with a student body that's 40% male, you're guaranteed at least 39% readership running an article like that. The article concluded with the author stating that every girl deserves to feel beautiful and posing for Playboy helped her with that (on a related note, how pitiful a job the men - I mean boys - of my generation are doing!)

Three days later, in a short article on the back page, the paper reported on the local Amnesty International chapter's attempts at raising awareness of the Sudanese genocide. This article was about the same size as the picture that accompanied the Playboy piece. The article included quotes from eight students, asking if they thought students could bring an end to the bloodshed. Most confessed to not knowing much about the crisis, while others said that students are unable to make a difference.

I can't help but wonder what's wrong with my generation. Why are we so apathetic about anything and everything off campus? There are a few notable exceptions - the Roosevelt Institution, Liberty in North Korea, Students Helping Orphans Worldwide, and UGA for Fair trade - but they are far and few between and attract little attention (though the local Habitat for Humanity group built a cardboard city in the courtyard by our student center to raise awareness for poverty in Clarke County - try ignoring that!). But outside of these wonderful groups (I have a suspicion that most active members in one are members in most), my campus is dominated by Greek life, a beast of a football program, and parties. This is the general trend in our culture - MTV, BET, VH1, UGA . The superficial and unimportant before the urgent. I'll never understand it.

22 April 2007

Roosevelt Institution at the University of Georgia

Today, I had the privilege to attend the Roosevelt Institution's second annual Roosevelt Policy Symposium. For those who don't know, the Roosevelt Institution is the only policy think-tank for students. Involved students come from all fields of study and are committed to not just being cynical of the world around them, but to actually trying to make a difference. They research and suggest policies for local, regional, national, and international change. Today, three members presented very intriguing proposals on Chinese involvement in Africa (a very enlightening presentation), production and use of cellulosic ethanol at UGA as a model for the rest of the nation, and an especially interesting proposal for modification to federal regulation on stem cell research.

The students presented their proposals to the audience and guest speaker Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) offered his critique of ideas put forth. He even took a few questions from the audience (including my question on US involvement with the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur). The senator also briefly mentioned Iraq and admitted to mistakes being made, though, in keeping with the administration's latest policy, sounded a lot like the Democrats in mentioning redeployment (on a tangent, I'm starting to notice that while the Democrats, for the most part, are calling for quick withdrawl, the Republicans, even the president's cabinet, are starting to mention the idea of pulling out).

All of this is to say that there is still hope. My generation is not entirely lost. Some students are working to make the world a better place. They take it past my own level of cynicism and use their anger about the way things are to work towards the way things should be. There are people out there who care about Sudan and the environment. Maybe students aren't so apathetic after all.

Rock on.

18 April 2007

The Politics of a Massacre

I don't often know how soon is "too soon", but this seems like a clear-cut case of not allowing heals to wound.

Today, both John McCain and Rudy Guiliani alluded to the Virginia Tech massacre in their campaigns, but in very surprising ways - arguing against gun control.

I'm not here to debate the Second Amendment. I have mixed feelings on it. However, I am here to say that the second day after the most atrocious shooting in American history is not the time to refer to it for political gain. I am well aware that politicians need to keep their campaigns up-to-date and use current issues. But to, before the week is out, use the Virginia Tech slayings as a campaign argument is truly disgusting.

Any politician who so quickly takes advantage of such a grotesque act ought to be ashamed of himself and his supporters should second guess his commitment to represent the American people.

16 April 2007

News in Brief

First, let's look at Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed thirty-two students on campus. I'd always known college campuses weren't the safest place, but I'd never imagined anything like this. Please pray for the families, friends, and victims of this atrocity.

Now some good news: Sudan has decided to allow UN peace-keepers to operate in the country's borders. Accepting 3,000 troops, the country is slowly, but finally, accepting help to reign in rebel and Janjaweed militias, two warring factions responsible for well over 100,000 deaths and two million refugees. This is a small step in the direction of accepting a proposed 20,000+ peace-keepers. Hopefully, the US will chip in with, at the very least equipment, and maybe even a some boots on the ground.

Speaking of the US, Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on ministers in the Iraqi cabinet to resign over the lack of a timetable for redeployment of US forces. Six cabinet members answered his call.

Now, for a laugh: A church just for men (Not only am I the founder of the Church for Men, I'm also a member). To combat the trend of women making up the majority of the congregation (as a single college male, I'm not complaining), a church in Florida is offering a more masculine-themed service. Meeting in a gymnasium, timing the preacher, and guaranteeing a service under one hour, the "Church for Men" is drawing about seventy men every Saturday night.

And something that I'm not even sure qualifies as news: In New Dehli, protesters burned pictures of Richard Gere because he kissed an actress at an AIDS rally. Apparently, Indian culture frowns upon public displays of affection.

For those of you wondering why I'm posting on so many news stories (I rarely even post one story, and that normally concerns Sudan), I'm beginning to look at how news reflects our culture. How can so many wide-ranging stories all be headline news? And why are the good news on Sudan and the odd story of Gere seen as equally important by news agencies? Why is it that my neighbor is more worried about how the VT shooting will affect gun control than he is about the victims? In short, what is wrong with our society?

I'll be posting more on this later. Look for a post on UGA students, Playboy magazine, and the Sudan in the coming week.

Rock on.

12 April 2007

The Ousting of Imus

Don Imus has been canned. After a career of being incredibly offensive, the public finally had enough after Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team a bunch of "nappy-headed hos". After an initial punishment of two weeks suspension, CBS finally decided to pull the plug on Imus in the Morning.

My question is why the change. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad to see him go, as he is possibly the only talking head (well, disembodied voice) who is a bigger jerk than Bill O'Reilly. But honestly, what made CBS change its mind? Executives claim that it's because his remarks were inappropriate (that's been obvious for a while) and harmful to the young black female community. This is, of course, true. But did it take them that long to realize it? Why not just fire him from the get-go? Public outcry? Or corporate outcry?

The first headline I saw this morning when I checked my mail and news was that Imus was losing sponsors. Again, as he should. But why does it take advertising losses for corporate executives to realize that what's wrong is wrong?

Rock on.

10 April 2007

What Does Easter Mean to You?

A question presented to my crash group yesterday: What does Easter mean?

The obvious answer is, "Well, Christ was resurrected."
Ok. That's cool. Why is that important? It means that through him, we have victory over death and sin. But we're still going to die. All you're saying is that when we do die, we get to come back. So what does the Resurrection mean for us today? What application does it have in the present? And taking this as far as my group did, it ends up asking, "Why are you a Christian?"

What's scary is that while thinking about this, I couldn't come up with an answer. I mean, in Christ we are given grace and hope and a relationship with God. But many people aren't interested in that. They can just put off worrying about the future (most do it anyways) and not worry about God at all. Come on, that's something for philosophy professors to do, not average students.

So what is the practical application of the Resurrection? Hope - it can easily be replaced by apathy. A relationship with God - God only makes people feel guilty. Salvation - that's not until after I die; I don't have to think about that for a while.

I am, of course, playing devil's advocate. Like most things pertaining to faith, the meaning of the Resurrection is personal. Extremely personal. But something that every person should think about.

Rock on.

08 April 2007


Christ is risen!

The Temple was destroyed, and in three days, Christ Jesus rebuilt it. Just as he foretold, Christ was crucified and on the third day he rose again. The tomb was found empty, the stone rolled away. I can only but wonder what it must have been like to have discovered that in person. I often imagine that, as told in Luke, when the women who visited the tomb told the disciples, Peter made a mad dash through the crowded streets of Jerusalem. The Passover celebration was still going on and people were going back about their lives after the Sabbath. I can see him bumping into people, jumping over obstacles, sprinting for the tomb. I see him coming to a sudden halt at the entrance, slowly walking in and realizing that the body is gone. I see him as confused, hopeful, but confused, not quite sure what to think. And I imagine the disciples, when Christ first appears to them after the resurrection, falling face down and worshiping him.

Though Christ wad dead, he now lives and reigns forever. Though the wages of sin is death, they have been paid in full by the blood of the Lamb. Having died, Christ rose and is now the Firstborn from among the dead, "From whose resurrection flows all the life, spiritual and eternal, of all his brethren," (John Wesley). It is through the Resurrection that we no longer must fear death, for Christ has victory over it, "supremacy in all things".

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke ; why swell'st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more ; Death, thou shalt die.
- John Donne

Rock on.

06 April 2007

Good Friday

Today we remember the Crucifixion of the Christ. While Palm Sunday and the Passover are marked with celebration, the atmosphere of Good Friday is much darker. Many churches tonight will hold Tenebrae services during which the sanctuary lights will slowly be extinguished. The paraments will be stripped or exchanged for simple black cloth.

It is today that we remember the death of our Passover Lamb. Exodus tells us that this Lamb was to be without blemish and that His bones were not to be broken. It is through the Lamb's blood that Death does not come to us. This Sacrifice is in celebration of God's deliverance and of salvation.

When he was hung on the Cross, Jesus quoted Psalm 22. As he began by saying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", the events of the Psalm were carried out around him.
"My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth." - "I have thirst."
"A band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet."
"They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing."

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that, "You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed," (52:3). In the next chapter, we are told "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all," (53:5-7).

Though the sorrow of the Cross is in the death of the Christ, it also comes bringing the glory of salvation. The sorrow of the Cross is not long lived, for the tomb will be empty on Sunday morning. The salvation, however, is eternal.

Music and Holy Week

Last year, I went to a music-based Tenebrae service at Church of the Resurrection UMC in Kansas City. This year, after the Maundy Thursday service at Athens First UMC, I went to the UGA music school's performance of G. Mahler's Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"), a powerful piece of work from the turn of the Twentieth Century, which tells of a man thinking about life at a friend's funeral. The conclusion, the fifth movement, ends with the man witnessing the Resurrection and the glory and love of God.

During this performance, I thought about music. Though not very skilled at making it, I certainly do enjoy it and am often moved by it. From hymns to old slave spirituals, a well-written song can change your outlook on an entire day. Beethoven's Fifth and Ninth Symphonies, Howard Shore's music for the Lord of the Rings, and even modern bands such as UnderOath and mewithoutYou all have the ability to change everything in the span of one line.

The best scene in the movie The Shawshank Redemption is when Andy (Tim Robbins) plays an opera album over the prison's loud speakers. Red (Morgan Freeman) narrates that he still doesn't know what "that lady" was singing about and doesn't want to know. He likes to think that it is something so poetic that talking about it just won't express it.

It must be no coincidence, then, that some of the best religious pieces deal with the Crucifixion. Songs like "Where You There" serve when normal words do not do justice to the sorrow, pain, beauty, and love of the Cross.

Rock on.

05 April 2007

The Last Supper and Maundy Thursday

Today we celebrate the Lord's Supper. While Jesus was celebrating the first day of Passover with his disciples in Jerusalem, he was also preparing to face his trial, torture, and execution.

The Lord's Supper brings many of the Jewish Passover traditions into Christianity. The most obvious are the unleavened bread, which Christ tells us is his body (very fitting seeing as he was born in Bethlehem, the "house of bread"), and the wine, which Christ tell us is his blood. These elements, he tells us, are poured out for us and for many for the forgiveness of sins. The texts concerning the Lord's Supper also tell us that Jesus and his disciples washed their hands, which while seemingly insignificant, is also part of the Passover tradition. In his Gospel, Mark deliberately mentions the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.

After the feast, Jesus and his disciples go to the Mount of Olives. Here, he prays for himself and his own safety, while still giving himself over to his Father's will. As he prays, Judas betrays Jesus, selling him to the Jewish officials for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus is arrested and questioned, he is disowned by his Rock, and the scene is set for Good Friday.

For more on Maundy Thursday, including the history of the name and Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet, see Mitch Lewis' blog.
For more on the Passover, see Exodus 12 and my post from Tuesday concerning the traditions of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

04 April 2007

"Possible" Humanitarian Catastrophe in Darfur

Today, John Holmes, the UN's coordinator for humanitarian relief, warned that if aid agencies began pulling out, the UN "could face a rapid humanitarian catastrophe", blaming both rebels and the government in Sudan for harassment of aid workers.
See the story via AFP here.

While I applaud the UN's commitment to aid work in Darfur, isn't it a little wait to be warning of an impending "humanitarian catastrophe"? The genocide is entering its fourth year. Warnings are a little overdue.

An update on the International Criminal Court's investigation into the Sudanese genocide:The ICC's investigation yielded some fruit, naming several Sudanese officials to stand trial. The Sudanese government, however, has decided not to recognize the court's authority and states that it will conduct its own investigation. This act leaves the court virtually powerless.

On the subject of western reaction to the Sudanese genocide, I am noticing a disturbing trend in the US response to the crisis. It seems that the administration's official response is to condemn the civil war and resulting slaughter and call for aid and an end to the problem. But at the same time, it will not act on its calls. Recently, one State Department official denied that the situation, while horrible, still qualifies as genocide. It rings bells of the Clinton Administration's assertions of "acts of genocide" in Rwanda and the Balkans. This does not stop the increasing reports of targeting of civilian populations, reports of rising number of "displaced persons" (or the more powerful but less politically correct term, refugees), and the still-unanswered call from the AU for UN logistical help in quelling the violence. It is time that the administration and congress quit leaving wiggle room in their calls for action and actually act.

Is the political power they seek to guard worth the lives of the refugees they refuse to protect?

Rock on.

03 April 2007


Today marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. For those who don't know, the Passover celebrates the Israelites' exodus from Egypt and salvation from the Tenth Plague. The story, in simplified terms, is that the Tenth Plague, death of the firstborn, was to come upon the Egyptians. To save the Israelite slaves, God commanded that they slaughter a lamb and place the blood over their doorways; this was to serve as a sign so that the plague might pass over the house.

The traditional Passover Seder consists of various symbolic foods, include matzo (unleavened bread), bitter herbs, a lamb's bone, and an egg. The feast also includes the drinking of wine and washing of hands.

It is also a tradition to place a seat for the prophet Elijah, who is said to come preparing the way of the Messiah.

For Christians, the Passover story foreshadows the coming of Christ and the events of Holy Week. According to the Gospels, Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

Next year in Jerusalem.
Rock on.

01 April 2007

Palm Sunday

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!
Hosanna in the highest!"
-Mark 11:9, 10

With this joyous proclamation of salvation, the citizens of Jerusalem mark the entry of Jesus into the city. Quoting Psalm 118:26, they shout out that Jesus "comes in the name of the Lord". Psalm 118 is a psalm written in honor of God's saving grace. It reminds us that the Love of God endures forever (v. 1), the God answers our prayers and sets us free (v. 5), and that the rejected stone will become the capstone (v. 22 and brought up by Jesus after his entry into Jerusalem - Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10,11; Lk 19:17).

The return of the Davidic line of kings is also praised. As I've brought up a few times, one of the major views n the Messiah is that He would be a Davidic king ushering in a new age for the people of Israel (see: Jewish Views On the Messiah). Jesus reinforces this idea by riding in on a donkey. In verse 22:5, Matthew reminds us that the prophet Zechariah says, "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey,'" (Zec 9:9). When David named Solomon king over Israel, he had his officials place the boy on a donkey and marched through the streets proclaiming the anointing of the royal son (1Ki 1:32-40; keep in mind that Jesus was anointed at some point during Holy Week and Solomon shortly after his royal procession). The act of laying down palms and cloaks also comes from royal parades. When Jehu was anointed as king, "They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps," (2Ki 9:13).

All of this fanfare, though, often hides the grim ending of Holy Week. On Thursday, we will celebrate the Passover, Last Supper, and betrayal of Christ. We reenact the Passover and Lord's Supper ever time we partake in communion. We reenact the betrayal far more often, every time we reject the grace of God and sin against him. On Friday, we will remember the Lamb and his sacrifice in order that death may not come to us. Those who celebrate the coming of the King today will call for the death of a radical teacher on Friday. Even the palms with which we celebrate will be burned and on Ash Wednesday of next year, we will receive them as black crosses on our foreheads to remind us of our mortal nature and dependence on God for existence.

It is not until Sunday, Easter, in one week, when we will find the glory of the empty tomb and see the Son of Man and the Son of God as the Firstborn From Among the Dead. It took God one week to create the world and so in one week, we experience the glory of his final teachings, and death. He rests on the seventh day and on the beginning of the next week, we witness his resurrection. The Temple is about to be destroyed, but we do not fear because it will be rebuilt after three days.

Rock on.

Edit: Mitch Lewis, far more qualified to speak on the subject and much better at expressing his points, has this to say about Palm Sunday.