25 December 2007

I Think We Crossed Wires Somewhere...

Tradition states that Martin Luther did a lot of thinking on the toilet. As a man who suffered from digestive problems, he, naturally, spent a lot of time there.

Well, I can't claim such unusual inspiration for this, but given that I have what I call ADS (Attention Deficit Shiny - as close as you can get to ADD without actually having ADD), I do get a lot of ideas in odd places. This one is from brushing my teeth.

I started to think of the movie Fun with Dick and Jane and the scene where Jim Carrey gets arrested by the Border Patrol. (If you think you're missing something, don't worry; you're not.)

A lot of very conservative people complain about immigration, or more specifically people illegally crossing the border from Mexico to the US (in the sense of fairness, there is some concern about the Canadian border, but very, very little). Some even go so far as to say that it is the largest threat our country faces.

Now don't get me wrong, I support immigration reform. But (yes, there is always a "but") not to the extent of deploying the National Guard or building a wall. A better-funded Border Patrol really would do the trick, if only people would get over their tax-phobia.

People say that something needs to be done - tighter border security and tighter screening processes for businesses that rely on unskilled or semiskilled labor (construction and farming come to mind) on the government's part.

But here's the rub - they claim the government is doing it's job. Because of this, we get organizations like the Minuteman Project (see my views on them here). The goal of the Minuteman Project is to alert Border Patrol officials to illegal crossings (though they often go beyond this). What I want to know is why they don't attempt to screen businesses as well?

Why is there no "Support Legal Labor" movement? A group of local businesses and individuals who sign a statement affirming that they will not higher undocumented workers? This is a much easier movement to coordinate than the Minuteman Project.

I have a theory on this. Only a theory, and not really supported by anything, so take it as you will. And I'm sure my greatest critic will say that I'm "buying everything they're selling" at my "liberal" university (I take it as a mark of pride that with as few readers as I have, I still manage to attract a critic). And oddly enough, I'm at odds with both liberals and conservatives about immigration - finally something they agree on. I suppose I should be pleased with this step towards unity. But anyway, on with my theory. I think it's that people are too cheap to actually care. Sure, they'll go on a camping trip with their friends to watch people walk through the desert. But God forbid they give up cheap construction and produce. Imagine the horror of our fast-food workers being paid above minimum wage.

Let's face it - there is no way to stop every single person who tries to cross the border illegally. But there is a way to get rid of the incentive, and oddly enough, it can be done without government involvement. But somehow, people decided it'd be better to take border patrol into their own hands...yeah. Right.

I find it funny (in a very disgusting, disturbing sort of way) that we are willing to, as private citizens, crack down on those crossing the border, but not those hiring them. Advocates of such radical reform as the wall and the deployment of the National Guard argue that illegal residents steal jobs. But what about the people giving them the jobs?

Just something to think about.

Rock on.

23 December 2007

Christmas Traditions

Most people know I'm a military brat. More specifically, an Army brat. This means that my family moves around - a lot. My dad's been in the Army for about seventeen years. In that time, my family has moved eight times. We've spent Christmas in eight different houses. Actually, we've only spent it in seven different houses. When we lived in New Jersey, we didn't get there until after the holiday. Instead, that Christmas was spent in guest quarters. Occasionally, we would travel and see family, but most of the time we were to far away to make the trip.

This year, we are "breaking in" a new house in Korea. That means that, as a college student, I'm celebrating Christmas in a house that I saw for the first time about a week ago.

With all of this moving around, Christmas isn't really about being "home" for the holidays. Home is wherever dad happens to be stationed. Going to see extended family isn't really home because I didn't grow up around them. Going to my parents' house really isn't home because, as my mom puts it, I come in the door and hear, "Welcome home! Let me show you where your bedroom is."

Instead, celebrating Christmas is really more about the traditions my family has set over the years. Being with the family, regardless of where we are. Going to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Taking all day to open our gifts (you think I'm kidding, but we always find a way to stretch it out until after dinner). Opening our gifts in a certain order. Getting gifts from "Santa". Eating cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Listening to my dad tell us the story of "Eliezer the Unreliable". Listening to my mom read The Polar Express on Christmas Eve.

As I said, this is my first Christmas in Korea. And I'm enjoying getting to explore a new country. And I'm happy that my friend from high school, Kurt, is over here too. But really, I'm just excited that my family's traditions make me feel at home halfway across the world.

Rock on.
Merry Christmas.

Eliezer the Unreliable

"Eliezer the Unreliable" is a sermon my dad wrote and has always been very important to my family and I.

His reading it has become something of a Christmas tradition at my house.




Advent is drawing to a close and this week, and - well, at least according to the devotional book I'm working with this year* - the candle of the Prince of Peace was lit. Oddly enough, I am typing this on a military base in South Korea. I cannot and will not go into detail about precautions taken to secure the base, but let's just say that while the fighting is over, the peninsula is still very tense.

Quickly browsing the news shows that we do not live in a peaceful world. Recent violence and crackdowns in Pakistan and Burma, continuing hostilities in Kosovo and Israel, multiple civil wars in Africa (Sudan and Uganda come to mind), and US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan provide plenty of evidence that we have a long way to go before world peace is achievable. And that peace will, unfortunately, probably be heralded by war.

So how can we say that the Prince of Peace has come? This very same Prince was violently killed by the Romans. For nearly all of its existence, some part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, has used violence to achieve its goals - the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, and even preaching that God was responsible for 9/11. The leaders of the Church who practice nonviolence are killed - Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Saint Stephen.

Surely this cannot be the Peace promised in Isaiah.

And it's not.

The peace we hope for, the peace that Christ will bring, will come with his return. Advent is as much about the return of Christ as it is about his birth in Bethlehem. The Prince of Peace, our Wonderful Counselor, God With Us, will come again and usher in a new kingdom, a new age. Tears will be wiped away and swords will be beaten into plows. As Peanuts creator Charles Schultz famously put it, "The beagles and bunnies will lie down together."

Rock on.
*Advent liturgy is weird. Different churches and denominations assign different meanings to the candles and weeks, light them in different orders, and so on. Confusing? Yes. But as long as everyone in the congregation is on the same page and use the time as a period of preparation and looking forward to Christmas, it's all good.
PS: The title of the post comes from Matisyahu's album Youth. "Shalom" and "saalam" are the Hebrew and Arabic words for "peace".

20 December 2007

Ode to Joy

I like to be happy. I really do. I listen to "emo" music and enjoy the rain, yeah, but I still really like to be happy (in there own way, the typically depressing things I enjoy make me happy). I like to laugh and joke, to run around, and to have a good time. Like most people, being happy is nearly vital to my life. But like the modern ideas of Love discussed last week, happiness is just an emotion.

As several people have phrased it, "Happiness happens."

I can go from happy to sad in a matter of seconds. All it takes is an unexpected, tragic event in an otherwise funny movie or getting some depressing news. Most people would agree.

Joy is quite different - you can be joyous, even in suffering. We are even told to consider trials "pure joy" (James 1:2). We may not be happy when we are persecuted, mocked, or killed, but we do it with Joy in our hearts. We may not especially enjoy serving food to the homeless, building a new house for the poor, or going without that others may have (though as we Love God more, these things will become less of a duty and more of a pleasure), but we do it with Joy.

It is well known that Martin Luther suffered from many afflictions - depression chief among them. While he was a monk, he was terrified of God, and later into his life still struggled with his doubts. But upon realizing the Good News of Christ our Lord and spreading it throughout the Holy Roman Empire, as he had to face not only his own doubts, but threats from the papacy, he continued on in Joy.

Therefore, when the path in front of us becomes dark and we begin to stumble, as the world starts to close in on us, and as we start to lose sight of Hope, even in these times, we should remember the Joy of our salvation and the new life given to us through the empty tomb that Easter morning.

Rock on.
PS: The title, of course, comes from Friedrich Schiller's poem set to the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth.

PPS: This post took a little longer, and I apologize. It's been a hectic week with jet lag and many journeys.

17 December 2007

The World Might Not Be Flat, But It Certainly Is Getting Smaller; Or: What I Learned In Korea

I'm in Korea visiting my family for Christmas. For those wondering, it's a fourteen and a half hour flight from Atlanta to the Incheon airport and covers a distance of nearly 9,000 miles (flying over Siberia was very interesting - well, as interesting as flying over a barren, snow covered landscape can be).

I was on the plane flying to from Incheon to the city my parents are stationed in when the girl in front of me (a college student making the same trek I was) started a conversation with the old Korean woman sitting next to her. After about five minutes, it was discovered the old woman's son was the American girl's dentist and neighbor. "It really is a small world," the Korean woman said (in near-perfect English).

At first, I chuckled silently at the cliche and thought about how a small world would never have as long of a flight as I endured.

But after about half a minute, it occurred to me that the conversation in front of me had just proven Thomas Freidman right - the world is flat (though I understand flat to mean no barriers to entry in the market - we're not quite there yet), small, shrinking, however you want to phrase it. Considering that I had traveled half-way around the world in little more than half a day, there is definitely something to be said about this. How we connect to each other was forever changed by the first intercontinental flight. No place in the world is more than a twenty-four hour flight away.

The fact that an old Korean woman is very fluent in English is amazing. I can understand a younger generation being bilingual. But we're now at the point where the retiring generation is also bilingual - and it's not just in Korea (the long-term US presence obviously has something to do with it, but it can't be the only variable). With international travel becoming an every-day, no, every-hour occurrence, English channels on Korean television, and any number of other factors, I shouldn't be at all surprised. It is said that if you speak English and Chinese, you can communicate with half of the people in the world. Imagine if you threw in French! Don't get me wrong - the language barrier when I'm walking around off post is a problem, but the number of English speakers is astounding.

Then there's the fact that I'm sitting in Korea writing a blog to be read by friends in the US and parts of Europe (and occasionally a few other more remote locations). When my father was in Korea in the early 90s, we got email (then called E-Mail) just to communicate with him, and as far as middle-class Americans were concerned, we were very early adopters. Now I have three different email accounts, all hosted for free, maintain a blog with very few technical skills, and use Facebook to keep up with friends from high school who live halfway across the country from me. Friends who live in California and Alaska can be communicated with in real time with IM services.

Most friends know that I am not the biggest fan of technology - I'd rather go out for coffee than talk over IM, rather climb a tree than play a video game, and rather go hiking than watch TV. But despite my qualms, there is something astounding about the opportunity for the sharing of ideas and maintaining of friendships (vital to military kids such as myself) allowed for by technology.

Rock on.

09 December 2007

In the Name of Love

Love is one of the most overused words in our culture. Just think about how often it takes the place of "really enjoy" or "like". We use the word Love, but not as it is defined in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians . Today's "love" is petty and short-lived.
We "love" TV shows, movies, bands, and articles of clothing. We "love" philosophies, stories, and paintings. And we Love people. But are our feelings towards people really the same as they are towards our possessions? Can we "fall" in Love? Can we brush off love as an emotion, the same as being happy or sad?

We are told that God IS Love - can this be just an emotion?

All that Christ our Lord did, he did out of Love. Love is the greatest motivator in the whole of existence.

It was for Love that William Wilberforce had the courage and strength to sand against slavery. It was for Love that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the courage and stregnth to stand against Hitler. It was for Love that Martin Luther King had the courage and strength to stand for equality. It was for Love that Mother Teresa gave all that she had to spend her life working among the poor.

It was for Love that the Father gave the Son to the world. It was for Love that Christ was born to a working class family under the Roman empire in the town of Bethlehem. It was for Love that Christ taught the coming of the Kingdom of God, where the last will be first. It was for Love that Christ died a sinner's death that we might be forgiven. It was for Love that Christ was resurrected that we might have eternal life. It is for love that Christ will return to establish his Kingdom.

It is Love that Christianity is based on. It is for Love that we spend this week in Advent in meditation. And it is for Love that we should do all things, now and forever.

Love is what will bring about the world we hope for. Love allows us to place others before ourselves and to see value in all people. Love allows us to turn the other cheek. Love is what Christ commands of us. The world will know we are disciples because of our great Love, the Love made possible only by the Sovereign God.

To quote Mother Teresa, "Men do no great things, only small things with great Love."

Rock on.
PS: The title of the post comes from the U2 song "Pride (In the Name of Love)" written about Dr. King.

The Golden Compass

Let me start by saying that I defended this movie against cries that it is inherently evil. And though I am sorely disappointed in the movie on several accounts (read on), I will still defend it against calls for mass boycotts. My argument was and is that it would be nice for youth groups to stop showing movies like The Sixth Sense and following the Reel to Real discussion guide (no offense to the fine folks at R2R). Instead, a youth group could watch this movie and discuss the deeper philosophical issues. It would not only challenge one's faith (there is a disturbing lack of challenge in today's Christianity - we ignore verses that disturb us and pretend as if we don't have doubts) but also require students to think more about the underlying themes in movies.

And The Golden Compass certainly does challenge the mindset of "I'll just let the Church tell me what to think." But that's all it does. It takes aim at Christianity (particularly Catholicism) and accuses the Church of trying to control the thoughts of its followers through violence and oppression, preventing free thought from taking root. And yes, the Church has historically done this. One only need study the history of the Protestant Reformation to see this. And yes, people within Christianity today are still trying to oppress free thought. The evolution "debate"/panties-in-a-twist provides enough evidence of this (I, for one, am tired of being thought of as un-Christian for my cosmological views). But certainly this is not all of Christianity. My friends and I hold many differing beliefs and embrace these differences as learning opportunities. One of my best friends is a very true agnostic. I have great conversations with atheists. And I certainly am not trying to oppress anyone's right to free thought.

The author, Phillip Pullman, accuses CS Lewis of being "evil" in The Chronicles of Narnia. Because, as we all know, self-sacrifice (a'la Aslan) is evil. Instead, Pullman includes a fight between bears competing for a kingdom in what can only be described as the most Machiavelli-Nietzsche inspired scene in movie history. This is, after all, a world where only the strong willed and free thinkers can survive (it is, of course, Nietzsche's great irony that the Church which he hates so much is such a perfect example of this).

Everybody knows that CS Lewis, as a professor of Medieval literature, was a fan of allegory. Accordingly, the Narnia series is written in such a style. The self-sacrifice of Aslan has quite a few meanings, most notably the death and resurrection of Jesus, but can also be compared to the United Kingdom's role in World War II (the novel is set during the time, and it could be argued that Aslan/UK died to save the world from the forces of the White Witch/Germany). That's the wonderful thing about allegory - it has many, many different levels at which it can be explored. Pullman's series is a very thinly-veiled allegory. At the end of the movie, you find yourself saying, "We get it. The Church is bad." All of this is with an allegedly-softened anti-religious message. Not to mention the disturbing speech on how the Church needs to be violently destroyed.

I am not here to get into a discussion about whether or not God exists, or even whether or not we can prove God's existence. But let me say this: The past abuses of the Church, and religions in general, is not a valid argument against the existence of a divine being. Any rational believer will readily admit (and apologize) for the past abuses committed in the name of God. The Crusades, the Inquisition, al Qaeda, the Aryan Nation, witch hunts, and religious oppression (to name a very small fraction of the iniquities of the religious) are evidence that man is corrupt. Not that God cannot exist. Using this same logic, we could argue that democracy and caring for the poor are horrible things that should not be supported. All we need to do is to look at the French Revolution and Soviet Communism.

An oddity in this film is that the ultimate purpose of the Church's actions and attempts to keep people from thinking for themselves is to keep them from sinning (an odd take on Original Sin is presented). The ultimate message, then, is that there is no sin. Morality, then, is completely relativet. Even taking God out of a consideration on ethics, this is a bad idea. While neither Kant nor John Stuart Mill got it right (they really need each other), they came a lot closer to a sustainable code of ethics than Nietzsche ever did.

Philosophical differences aside, the movie was tawdry and predictable. Out side of the scenes featuring the college, the movie is a display of why computers will eventually replace decent filming locations (think Star Wars prequels on a smaller scale). Many of the twists were obvious (but then again, maybe I just watch too many movies). I was actually very disappointed in most of the performances. James Bon...erm, Daniel Craig did a decent job, but his role is comparatively small. I found myself annoyed by Nicole Kidman and her monkey (yes, Nicole Kidman and a monkey - by all accounts, this should be a good thing, but it wasn't). Ian McKellan's bear character was over-done - not by much, but enough to make the character annoying. And will somebody stop casting Christopher Lee as the wise, corrupt bad guy? Yes, he's good at it. But we already know that. Let's put him in a different role where his true talent can shine through.

I really hope that this is just a bad movie adaption. Maybe the books have more depth. I'm going to read them - I want to know how you can make killing God accessible to children, I really do. But if the movie's a faithful adaption, I'm setting myself up for disappointment.

Rock on.

04 December 2007

Saint Nicholas Comes Tonight!

No, your computer calendar is not wrong, it is the fifth, not the twenty-fifth. And no, I have not lost it. I am fully aware that tradition states that "Santa" comes on Christmas Eve. At least, modern tradition states that.

I'll spare my readers the long story of Saint Nicholas. Instead, I'll let you read the Wiki article.

When I lived in Germany, we used to celebrate St. Nicholas' Day in our schools as a way of getting a feel for German culture. In the German fashion, we would leave our shoes outside of our classroom door and "St. Nick" would come by and fill them with candy. When I was younger, I figured this was how Santa was able to make it around the world - by staggering his expected arrival, the trip would be way, way easier on the reindeer.

In more practical terms, though, I really like the idea of keeping Christmas and Saint Nicholas separate. I was raised expecting Santa to come on Christmas Eve, and to this day, a part of my family's tradition is to open "Santa's" presents (Yes, he still comes to visit us, and my sister and I still even leave a note and cookies. When you move every couple of years, even silly traditions like these make a new place feel more like home, and I look forward to Santa's visit to my parent's new place this year. Tangent over.) after the stockings, but before any of the other presents (My family also stretches out the gift-opening). But I can't help but feel that something is lost in the merging of the two traditions. While I disagree with the commercialization of any religious holiday (Will somebody please make the Easter Bunny into a stew?), there is something especially heinous in making the birth of our Saviour about toys (Linus van Pelt is a genius; also, I refer you back to my thoughts on the Easter Bunny).

I have decided that if/when/gah-I'm-too-young-to-think-about-this I have children, they will celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas on December the Sixth, not on Christmas. Christmas will be about Christ, his humility, his incarnation, and his Love.

03 December 2007

Hold Fast Hope

The first week of Advent is upon us and on Sunday, we lit the Hope candle in our Advent wreath at church. With the expectation of gifts and feasts less than a month away, now is a good, no, the best time to examine what we are hoping for this Advent and Christmas season.

I hope for good grades in all of my classes.
I hope for safe travel for my friends, family, and self.
I hope for good books and CDs this Christmas.
I hope for good food on Christmas day (Mom. Dad. Audrey. You three know what to do.)
And I'm willing to bet that most college students agree with me. But these hopes last only until the New Year. Then it's the same old grind of hoping for canceled classes and fun times.

What about the stuff that really matters, though? What do we hope for, or better yet, what should we be hopping for?
Advent is the time of looking forward to the coming of Christ our King, Immanuel, "God with us". We look for the Virgin who is with Child as a sign of our deliverance, for to us a Child will be born, a Son will be given. We hope for the birth of our Salvation, the very Word of God. But we look to more than that. We look to the Kingdom of God to be established. We listen for the voice calling in the wilderness, calling for the children of God to be found and delivered. We hope that "the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy," (Isaiah 35:5-6). We look for the great light to guide us out of the darkness, that the light of dawn be seen in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We hope that our world will be turned upside down (for more on the upside-down nature of Christ, see Mitch Lewis' comparison to Yellowstone).

We hope for a time when the children of Uganda are able to attend school and live without fear of rebel soldiers. We hope for a time when the people of Darfur can return home and be no longer persecuted. We hope for a time when no person is allowed to go hungry. We hope for a time when the sex-slaves in Atlanta are free and healed. We hope for a time when the North Koreans are no longer oppressed. We hope for a time when Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland can turn aside from hundreds of years of tension. We hope for a time when the full power of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, is recognized and embraced throughout the world.

Rock on.
Post Script: The post is named after "Hold Fast Hope" on Thrice's album, Vheissu.