The different sides of George W. Bush, and the call to wisdom…

I opened up Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope today because I was reminded of a very insightful observation he made in his chapter “Values” in the book. It is focused on George W. Bush, and helps to provide some understanding, I think, of George Bush the man vs. George Bush the leader. So here are the words of Obama;

“As I munched on hors d’oeuvres and engaged in small talk with a handful of House members, I recalled my previous two encounters with the President, the first a brief congratulatory call after the election, the second a small White House breakfast with me and the other incoming senators. Both times I had found the President to be a likable man, shrewd and disciplined but with the same straightforward manner that had helped him win two elections; you could easily imagine him owning the local car dealership down the street, coaching Little League, and grilling in his backyard- the kind of guy who would make for good company so long as the conversation revolved around sports and the kids.

There had been a brief moment during the breakfast meeting, though, after the backslapping and the small talk and when all of us were seated, with Vice President Cheney eating his eggs Benedict impassively and Karl Rove at the far end of the table discreetly checking his Blackberry, that I witnessed a different side of the man. The President had begun to discuss his second-term agenda, mostly a reiteration of his campaign talking points- the importance of staying the course in Iraq and renewing the Patriot Act, the need to reform Social Security and overhaul the tax system, his determination to get an up-or-down vote on his judicial appointees- when suddenly it felt as if somebody in the back room had flipped a switch. The President’s eyes became fixed; his voice took on the agitated, rapid tone of someone neither accustomed to nor welcoming interruption; his easy affability was replaced by an almost messianic certainty. As I watched my mostly Republican Senate colleagues hang on his every word, I was reminded of the dangerous isolation that power can bring, and appreciated the Founders’ wisdom in designing a system to keep power in check.” (45-46)

I don’t quote Obama here because of some hidden agenda or to enhance the already ridiculous partisan conservative vs. liberal divide. Instead, I find Obama’s observation wise and reasonable, as I have carried a significant discomfort for years now in observing the leadership of George Bush. I simple have not been able to figure the man out, especially as he has assumed that “almost messianic certainty” on issues and situations and has essentially called anyone who dared to disagree with his position unpatriotic and dead wrong. There’s something very dangerous about that kind of approach, especially the unwillingness to welcome the accountability of others.

All of us need to surround ourselves with folks who will keep us honest; who will encourage us when they believe we are making good decisions and will challenge us when they believe we are being unwise and self-centered. We are limited in our understanding as people, and we need to welcome criticism and accountability as we seek to lead in various ways. We certainly should not crumble under that accountability to lose the contribution of our distinctive voice (otherwise we will simply become a mishmash of others’ perspectives and hopelessly confused), but we were not created to be alone. I guess what I’m saying is that we are called to cultivate wisdom; to walk the tough line in this case between our perspectives and the perspectives of others around us. This is not easy, but that’s part of the definition of wisdom.

I just happen to think George W. Bush is not a man who seeks wisdom; he surrounds himself with like-minded persons who either rubber-stamp his perspective or continue to whisper their shared belief on reality consistently in ways that make him averse to hearing anything different. That’s not the trait of a leader, but of a despot, and therefore makes Obama’s words that much more important, “As I watched my mostly Republican Senate colleagues hang on his every word, I was reminded of the dangerous isolation that power can bring.”

What caused me to think deeper about this issue was seeing Scott McClellan (former press secretary for Bush) appearing on the Daily Show and giving the reasons behind why he wrote his scathingly honest insider book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.” His deepest reason was not to undermine the credibility of Bush (though his account certainly does so), but to expose the terrible blend of partisan politics that resides in the Capital today of conservative vs. liberal sniping and close-mindedness and outright hatred. McClellan cared enough at how Bush was contributing to this us vs. them mentality (through labelling those who disagreed with him unpatriotic) that he was willing to rise above personal and party loyalty to present another way that seeks to ultimately shape a different kind of approach in Washington, and because Washington is influential in shaping political discussions across the land, a way that will hold the potential for a deeper political conversation in America. I think that’s a worthy goal. It’s a tough row to hoe, but it’s definitely the kind of leadership America needs. I see some of that same vision in Obama’s Audacity of Hope. Does that mean I’ll vote for him? Not necessarily. But it certainly contributes to my thought as I consider my vote this upcoming fall.

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Nate Myers gets very frustrated and works hard for a solid response.

I’ve been getting these emails recently, you see, that frustrate me.  Here’s the text for one of them;

The Bible warns us of Barack Obama!
Body: The Bible warns us of Barack Obama! Please Read All!
Body: The Bible has warned us that ‘A man will come from the East that will be charismatic in nature and have proposed solutions for all our problems and his rhetoric will attract many supporters!’

When will our pathetic Nation quit turning their back on God and understand that this man is ‘A Muslim’….First, Last and always….and we are AT WAR with the Muslim Nation, whether our bleeding-heart, secular, Liberal friends believe it or not. This man fits every description from the Bible of the ‘Anti-Christ’!

I’m just glad to know that there are others that are frightened by this man!

Who is Barack Obama?

Very interesting and something that should be considered in your choice.

If you do not ever forward anything else, please forward this to all your contacts…this is very scary to think of what lies ahead of us here in our own United States…better heed this and pray about it and share it.

snopes.com ..’ confirms this is factual. Check for yourself.

Who is Barack Obama?

Probable U. S. presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a black MUSLIM from Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya and Ann Dunham, a white ATHEIST from Wichita , Kansas. Obama’s parents met at the University of Hawaii. When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father returned to Kenya. His mother then married Lolo Soetoro, a RADICAL Muslim from Indonesia. When Obama was 6 years old, the family relocated to Indonesia. Obama attended a MUSLIM school in Jakarta. He also spent two years in a Catholic school.

Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim. He is quick to point out that, ‘He was once a Muslim, but that he also attended Catholic school.’ Obama’s political handlers are attempting to make it appear that that he is not a radical.
Obama’s introduction to Islam came via his father, and that this influence was temporary at best. In reality, the senior Obama returned to Kenya soon after the divorce, and never again had any direct influence over his son’s education.

Lolo Soetoro, the second husband of Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, introduced his stepson to Islam. Obama was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta.
Wahabism is the RADICAL teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world. Since it is politically expedient to be a CHRISTIAN when seeking major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background. ALSO, keep in mind that when he was sworn into office he DID NOT use the Holy Bible, but instead the Koran.

Barack Hussein Obama will NOT recite the Pledge of Allegiance nor will he show any reverence for our flag. While others place their hands over their hearts, Obama turns his back to the flag and slouches. Do you want someone like this as your PRESIDENT? Let us all remain alert concerning Obama’s expected presidential candidacy.

The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the US from the inside out, what better way to start than at the highest level – through the President of the United States, one of their own!

Please forward to everyone you know. Would you want this man leading our country?…… NOT ME!


Needless to say, I was frustrated from this email forward, so decided to write back, and here’s my response;

To whom it may concern;

Be very, very careful about the sources we get our “news” from. Snopes.com, the supposed source for this “factually correct” myth on Barack Obama, noticed this email was getting publicity and took time to completely refute it themselves. Here’s the link to their refutation, where they say themselves,

“One version of the email in circulation claims ‘We were told this checked out on snopes.com. It is factual. Check for yourself,’ and includes a link to this website. It is our guess that whoever included that bit was counting on folks to not check, as our article says the opposite, that the polemic is not factual but rather false.”

I get innumerable amounts of emails from my friends and others around that usually start off with something designed to instill fear in us like “The Bible warns us of _____________” or “It is clear the evil emenating from ________________ is from Satan,” or a bunch of different intros. I would urge all my friends and acquaintances to look beyond the fear-mongering and stop, look at a variety of different sources, read up on the issue, talk to your friends, and ask whoever sends us the email where they believe the Bible warns of _________________, and ask them why they think it talks about this person. A good question might be,

“You say _______ fits every description of the Anti-Christ. I’d love to hear your description of the anti-Christ and we can talk.”

If we don’t have time to stop and read up on whatever the issue is, I would urge us (I try to make it a practice of mine) NOT to forward the email.

Regarding this email, first off, if we deeply value the Scriptures, we should be a bit put off right at the beginning by someone claiming that we are “at war with the Muslim Nation.” Biblically speaking, the people of God are at war against the powers of evil and chaos in this world, and those very powers exist just as much within us as in some people or place across the globe. I won’t eagerly jump to the defense of the Muslim religion because I think there is much that is twisted and wrong in it, but I DO realize Muslims are human beings made in the image of God who are important enough for Christians to give our lives for. Remember, “God so loved the WORLD” in John 3:16, not “God so loved EVERYONE LIKE ME.” So no, “we” (Christians who care about Scripture and how it forms our lives) are NOT at war with the Muslim Nation.

Secondly, I certainly don’t think Barack Obama is the savior of the world, but he’s certainly far from the anti-Christ. Vote for whomever you will, but we should know the facts, not a chain propoganda email sent around to make folks afraid.

Barack is an American citizen who was born in the United States, and while he DID live in Indonesia for awhile and attend a “Muslim” school for a bit, it was not a Wahabi Madrassa as this email seeks to state. In fact, after FOX News ran with the rumor that he attended such a school on their broadcasting without doing the work to either go to or research the school itself, CNN did just that. CNN dispatched their senior international correspondent John Vause directly to Jakarta to investigate, and he went to the school which, it turns out, is a public school. Hardi Priyono, the school headmaster, said, “This is a public school. We don’t focus on religion. In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don’t give preferential treatment.” One of Obama’s classmates, Bandug Winadijanto, was interviewed, and he said “It is not an Islamic school. It’s general. There is a lot of Christians, Buddhist, also Confucian…so that’s a mixed school.” Link to the story here.

It should be noted, and I will bold this section for emphasis, that the Fox News show (Fox and Friends) that broadcast this rumor backtracked on the story the following week, while still repeatedly citing the article from conservative site Insight that started the whole rumor. In our search for news that can be trusted, will we err on the side of the news organization that actually tracked down the radical Muslim rumor (CNN) or the news organization that cited an anonymous source (Insight, then Fox News)? I think I know which one I’ll be more likely to trust.

The reality is that as a child, Obama spent four years in Indonesia with his step-father, a non-practicing Muslim, and his mother. Between ages 6 and 8, Obama attended a local Muslim school in Jakarta; after that, he was enrolled in a Roman Catholic school. In his book Dreams Of My Father (p.142), Obama writes:

In Indonesia, I’d spent 2 years at a Muslim school, 2 years at a Catholic school. In the Muslim school, the teacher wrote to tell mother I made faces during Koranic studies. In the Catholic school, when it came time to pray, I’d pretend to close my eyes, then peek around the room. Nothing happened. No angels descended.

In his more recent book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes (p.274), “Without the money to go to the international school that most expatriate children attended, I went to local Indonesian schools and ran the streets with the children of farmers, servants, tailors, and clerks.”

So no, Obama did not attend a radical Wahabi school and is not and never has been a Muslim. In fact, the man Obama’s mother married in fact was not a radical Muslim, but a non-practicing Muslim, which most Muslims in the world who value their faith would call no Muslim at all. And the quote from this forward that Obama supposedly said that he “was once a Muslim, but he also attended Catholic school” is patently false. I’d love to see the source for this quote.

In addition, Obama did not use the Koran when sworn into office (news source link here), the claim that he will not recite the Pledge of Allegiance (and in fact turns his back and slouches) is false, and he addressed a series of these claims in a presidential debate;

If the video embedding doesn’t work, the link to the video is here.

Again, Barack Obama is not and never has been Muslim, and describes himself as a Christian, as rooted in the Christian tradition, and his membership in the United Church of Christ began in the mid-1980s, long before he contemplated a political career.

Let the record state, however, that I, Nathan Myers, am not endorsing Obama as president, but I am mystified by the amount of fear-mongering and false propaganda surrounding this man, and so I decided to dig for myself and respond. I have my own issues with Barack Obama, and I question most politicians’ supposed “born again” or “Christian” labels, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue in itself.

Get educated, vote responsibly, and don’t expect a Savior from Republicans or Democrats, Americans, Brits, or Chinese.

Last I checked, there’s only one of those.

Nate

 

Evidently McCain has “work to do” to gain evangelical vote…

The statement in the title line above isn’t a revolutionary one by any means, but I just read an article with a quote by Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council President, that made me laugh out loud/get angry.  It’s a quote that captures the sheer stupidity and narrow-mindedness of evangelicals who drool over the Republican Party, never questioning or critically examining how certain stances line up with a lifestyle of following Jesus.  Perkins said McCain has injured his relationship with evangelicals and social conservatives.  How?  Check out the quote;

“Perkins said McCain has injured his relationship with evangelicals and social conservatives by joining Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.) in sponsoring campaign finance legislation. He also mentioned McCain’s membership in the so-called bipartisan “Gang of 14” senators who worked to accommodate one another on judicial appointments, and his refusal to endorse a constitutional amendment on gay marriage. 

Now, I can see the constitutional amendment for gay marriage being an issue evangelical Christians should care about, but the other two are flat-out laughable and show how evangelical Christians have been co-opted by American conservatism and the Republican Party.  Evidently if one acts in a bipartisan way or accommodates the opinions and visions of Democrats for even a second, it injures their relationship with evangelicals…according to Perkins.

Can someone please explain to me how this makes any sense at all?

Did Perkins consider the simple reality that the McCain-Feingold bill was a campaign finance reform (one of the best legislative pieces to come down the pipe in awhile), and not McCain working with Feingold for gay marriage to be legalized along with all heterosexuals to be expelled from the city limits in San Fran?

This is just ridiculous is what this is.

Since I’m feeling generous today, here’s another quote on the subject from evangelical Zionist charismatic champion John Hagee in his 2000 book God’s Candidate. I’ll give you one guess on who he KNEW it was, and I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t Al Gore or Ralph Nader. Here’s the quote;

The Democratic Party, Hagee wrote, “is the home of those who advocate homosexuality, abortion, free-sex, unlimited handouts, maximum taxation, little freedom from government control, and toleration of drug use.” The GOP, in contrast, “is the home of social conservatives who believe in the sanctity of life, hard work, clean moral living, limited government interference in our lives, minimum taxation, and a return to Bible-based societal values.”

Love me some stereotypes. LOVE ME some stereotypes.

The potential of the Internet…

convo

I’m in the midst of a good conversation about just war and pacifism and whether we should or should not resist evil and the teaching and example of Jesus and a whole host of other things over here. The post (on Josh Brown’s site) is called oh-so-gracefully Huckabee is an Idiot. Ol’ Josh, never one to pull punches. Haha.

Please hop over and read, and feel free to challenge me or my main conversation partner, Derek Mooney. Or just read and enjoy what has been a challenging conversation for me. Derek’s a firmly-rooted follower of Jesus who has forced me to think and act in different ways over the last few months that I’ve had a chance to see and interact with what he cares about. He blogs here.

p.s. It’s this level of conversation that can only benefit our society that is infected with 10-second soundbites and shallow relationships and fear of someone or something different than us. We don’t know how to live with it/them, so we remove ourselves from them (or just flat-out “remove” them) to a reality centered around ourselves and those most like us.

Here’s an excerpt from my recent post to either pique your interest or bore the stuffing out of you;

And Derek, the 20th/21st century question is far from irrelevant, because if we take the position that lethal action is somehow justified, then we have to ask some serious questions today. One might be;

“How does my conviction that war could be just in certain cases intersect with the interests of the nation I am a citizen of?” Why is that important? Because nations have a vested interest in making their action look justified and sanctified. Anyone could justify any military action if they were willing to hop through enough hoops. The U.S. is just as good or better at that propaganda as Chavez in Venezuela or Stalin in the USSR.

Another question; “If I think lethal action is justified in some cases, how does that intersect with my limited perspective on what is ‘good’ and ‘righteous’ or who is ‘evil’ and who is ‘good’?” I have been raised in certain communities to think certain ways about the world, and that’s not necessarily (and often isn’t) the “right” perspective. It’s limited and enculturated. So if I’m willing to kill another human being, I should be sure that what I’m doing is clean and tidy and within the limits of justice. The problem you run into is that you don’t know whether the person on the business end of your gun is “guilty” or not; and ultimately, given the nature of modern warfare, both you and that person are pawns used by more powerful people to achieve their ends, not the protectors of what is just and right. Are you willing to lay down your arms and face the punishment of insubordination if you believe an action is unjust, whether you’re patrolling Fallujah or Compton?

There’s a whole host of questions that should be, must be, brought to bear in this discussion. Unfortunately, this discussion is not taking place in any full sense amongst Christians in America, so people have become ok with what Dobson is spoonfeeding them. And what he’s spoonfeeding them is religious syncretism

Don’t let ’em put a name on you…

 books

 There’s no categories, just long stories waiting to be heard.

 As I was casting my eye around my room this morning that looks like a federal disaster area  (thinking semi-seriously about cleaning it), my gaze happened to rest on a stack of books I have precariously sitting  on another stack perpendicular to it.  And as I looked at this stack, I noticed two big things;

1)  These books represent a nice survey of the things I care about (centrally defined by the lifestyle I claim as a disciple of Jesus), and

2)  I’m not a hypocrite (at least, not completely) when I say that I am neither liberal nor conservative (politically and theologically), pro nor anti-science,  sacred nor secular, along with other typecasts; and I hope to stay that way for a lifetime.

I’ll explain.  

First, I love the Bible, for many reasons.  One of those reasons is that it is so incredibly messy and beautiful.  It’s so honest in a way that at times is mystifying (sometimes I say, “I could never confess something like that to someone else because of a lifetime label slapped on me from that point forward).  

For example, the Bible presents a picture of a holy, righteous, and distinct God in need of nothing who for some odd reason repents at times, other times expresses some degree of angry confusion that his people don’t get the picture at other times.  Crazy, right?  This is not some hare-brained theological scheme of mine, it’s letting the Bible speak for itself. Among other things, this simple example shows me a basic principal about God (and by extension, the Bible);

You can’t lock this God down into any easy categories, and therefore his people shouldn’t allow themselves to be locked into easy categories.

 In other words, knowledge of the Bible and its impact on life won’t make me a well-adjusted white conservative Republican or a wild-eyed liberal Greenpeace member; though the Bible could be quoted for evidence that we should be one or the other (the conservative Republican one is just the more prevalent because it’s less of a challenge to the way things already are). So, in keeping with the above “principle,” I commit myself daily to the mantra, “You don’t know everything, let yourself be challenged, because you may find God speaking to you in surprising ways.” Which leads us to my precarious book-stack.

  First off, I should note that you can see my New York Giants hat on the right of the picture.  I didn’t mean for that to be included, but clearly God ordained for it to be included because it is objectively true that God is a Giants fan, which according to this website is defined by “something I believe AND it is actually true.” Using this objectively-true definition of objective truth, it is clear to me from my personal belief and the greater sense of truth I carry when I contemplate the possibility that, clearly, God is a Giants fan (*tongue planted firmly in cheek*) But I digress.

 On my bookstack, you’ll see a well-respected, wise champion of the evangelical church (Stott), a UVa professor (a Christfollower) acknowledging the deep sin (often driven by “Christians” in the South) of racism (The Last Days), a Chuck Colson-endorsed book on faith-based social initiatives (Rev. of Compassion), a brilliant book that *gasp* uses the f-bomb liberally (Moneyball), the most functional, weeping-inducing book on discipleship ever (Foster, in my objectively true opinion), a study on Psalms from an incredibly wise man and mentor-through-proxy-of-books (Where Your Treasure Is), a warning of the consequences of ignoring God’s earth he has given to take care of (Earth in the Balance), an excellent book, “Exiles,” by the clearly heretical Emerging Church crowd (in my objectively true opinion), an incredible little book by a white man with an afro (Yancey and “Church, why bother?”), a book, “Following in the Footsteps of Christ,” about the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century (called heretics and executed in droves by objectively true Reformed, Catholic, and Lutheran folk) that I claim as the stream of disciples I swim in, a great commentary, “The Story of Romans,” on one of my favorite (and most frustrating to grasp) books of the Bible, a Hymnbook I sometimes play piano out of (also co-published by two groups of those confounding heretic Anabaptists, the Brethren and Mennonites), and a book full of stories of persons who actually followed Jesus in the “impractical” and “not-really-meant-to-be-followed” admonition to love one’s enemies as yourself. A little eclectic brew, huh?

This beautiful little mess of life on my desk gives me guidance when I come to things such as a little nugget I found on Jimmy Eat World drummer Zach Lind’s blog (who also happens to have a button on his blog that associates him with that clearly heretical organization Emergent Village); it’s Mike Huckabee, the evangelical “born-again” Christian from the South, talking in clear conservative terms about the death penalty.

 

Huckabee’s response sounds very practical until you read the words of Jesus on the matter.  It seems Jesus faced this very same conundrum.  I wonder how he responded?

I guess the natural outgrowth of this self-introspective, light-hearted-yet-honest post will be the greater challenge of those I interact with to represent Christ in all of his astonishing fullness.  I welcome that challenge, as well as the inevitable failures that will come.  Oh, surprising and mighty and graceful and merciful and holy God…help me!  🙂  

The Gospel according to Moneyball, or…A picture is worth how many words?

I was reading for a bit in the instant classic Moneyball (by Michael Lewis) this morning, and he made several observations I found immediately incisive and made my thoughts wander a bit. He’s talking about the game (and management) of baseball, but hopefully you’ll see where my thoughts went. Lewis is talking specifically of Oakland’s former assistant GM Paul DePodesta and his decision to enter the business of baseball rather than a more lucrative finance career;

“He was just the sort of person who might have made an easy fortune in finance, but the market for baseball players, in Paul’s view, was far more interesting than anything Wall Street offered. There was, for starters, the tendency of everyone who played the game to generalize wildly from his own experience. People always thought their own experience was typical when it wasn’t. There was also a tendency to be overly influenced by a guy’s most recent performance: (but) what he did last was not necessarily what he would do next. Thirdly- but not lastly- there was the bias toward what people saw with their own eyes, or thought they had seen. The human mind played tricks on itself when it relied exclusively on what it saw, and every trick it played was a financial opportunity for someone who saw through the illusion to the reality.”

This is just a wonderfully interesting quote by itself that could be spun off in a number of directions if one had the time and the energy to think/write about it, but in this post, I thought I’d explore the “thirdly” part of Lewis’ quote that included the suggestion that “the human mind played tricks on itself when it relied exclusively on what it saw.” Just to take you through the progression of thoughts in my mind, I immediately thought “Hmmm…” followed by a moment of the suggestion sinking in, followed by remembering a little of what Neil Postman had to bring to bear on the power of image to overcome rational thought, followed by beginning to wrestle with the “false reality” that can be created by persons with the wherewithal to do so (which preys on the temptation for us to only rely on what we have “seen”). That was the process…I’ll work through it a bit more here following.

I guess a relevant question would be, is it true? Are we more deeply affected by what we see or directly experience than what is said to us or revealed to us outside of our experience? I’m assuming yes, though I’d label that as a temptation rather than an assumed truth. This over-emphasis on experienced truth is one of the deep weaknesses of uncritical postmodern thought as I see it. I could talk about this for pages probably, but that’s not my intent in this post. My basic intent is to expose the basic inadequacy of relying on experience or what one “sees” as a foundation for what is true through a couple simple examples. I recognize there are multiple shades of gray between the black and white of experienced truth vs. revealed truth, but hopefully the reality that what is “experienced” or “seen” can be manipulated shines through here.

The age of the internet complicates things, making news much more open-source and therefore less able to be easily manipulated for propaganda purposes, but it is still very possible (especially if the populace relies on basic news outlets for information) to present something as “reality” when it really is a series of images that have been manipulated to achieve a desired outcome. One example to support this suggestion was the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in the center of Iraq as the U.S.-led Shock and Awe campaign swept into the center of Baghdad in 2003. In describing the fall of Hussein’s statue, Donald Rumsfeld described the images as “breathtaking,” the British Army saw them as “historic,” and for BBC radio they were “amazing.” In the pictures that spread through media outlets like wildfire, there seemed to be a massive crowd of jubilent Iraqis pulling down the statue of Hussein that represented their celebration of freedom from his oppressive rule. Here’s the central picture of that series;

crowds

If you check out a Youtube video that follows Fox News’ coverage of the statue toppling, you’ll notice the anchors saying “jubilant seems too mild a word for what you’re seeing here,” followed by poking fun at French governmental officials for their opposition to the “liberation of Iraq.”

After the event, conservative commentator Robert Novak weighed in with his opinion, saying that

“As the war began in 2003, the New York Times required less than three weeks before it ran a front-page report by a star correspondent of the last generation, R.W. Apple, which hauled out the heavy word of the Vietnam generation, quagmire-as in the quagmire in which, Apple wrote, U.S. troops were already bogged down. Three weeks later, those same quagmired troops had sped into Baghdad, watching as jubilant crowds pulled down the great statue of Saddam Hussein in the center of the city and organizing a systematic search for the suddenly deposed butcher of Mesopotamia.”

And these images then were exported throughout the world as display of the celebration that had ensued in Iraq and the momentous change of regime on par with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some of the images follow;
crowds1
crowds2

This third image represents the global impact of the photography, as viewed in Frankfurt, Germany.
frank
(pictures linked from here)

So, it seems there was a massive crowd celebrating the end of the Hussein era, right? Not so fast. If you had a healthy sense of skepticism and traveled outside the seeming exultation of the crowds presented by prominent media outlets, you would have found a different picture…literally. And while one could argue which pictures represent reality more faithfully if two different groups take different pictures and claim different things at the event, I think we’d all agree that pictures of wider context usually display a more full picture of the reality.

Take a gander at a bit wider angle shot of the event, then two definitely large-scope shots taken chronologically;
crowd4

crowd5
It seems that less-euphoric/less-subjective/less-manipulative news sources reported a much different scene than the CNN/BBC/Fox News one. Journalist David Zucchino interviewed a member of the Army’s psychological operations unit and found that the event was almost entirely put on by the US military. After a US colonel “selected the statue as a ‘target of opportunity,’ the psychological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, according to an account by a unit member.” And when cameras zoomed in on the Marine recovery vehicle toppling the statue, “the effort appeared to be Iraqi-inspired because the psychological team had managed to pack the vehicle with cheering Iraqi children.”

And in the words of eyewitness Neville Watson, a clergyman from Australia,

“Well, there certainly was some jubilation, but I certainly wouldn’t go along with that presented by television. The one that I’ve seen a lot of since I’ve been back is the toppling of the statue of Saddam and I can hardly believe it was the same one that I saw, because it happened at only about 300m from where I was and it was a very small crowd. The rest of the square was almost empty, and when we inquired as to where the crowd came from, it was from Saddam City. In other words, it was a rent-a-crowd. Now, that piece of television has been played over and over again, but I’ve seen nothing of the pieces of television, for example, what happened in Mosul the other day, where the Americans opened fire on a crowd killing 10 and injuring 100 when it became anti-American. So I think the scenes of jubilation have to be balanced against the other side of the picture.”

All in all, the wide-angle shots and different testimonies reveal a much different picture. In total, there were about 200 people in the square, with a vast majority of that number being military personnel and international media (we won’t mention that the square is just adjacent to the Palestine Hotel where the international media were based) along with a handful of Iraqis. And even the spontaeity of the handful of Iraqis is in doubt; one could say those who came after encouragement by the loudspeakers were somewhat spontaneous, but a picture of a central celebrant reveals him to be a member of the “Free Iraqi Forces” militia who were flown into Iraq several days before the statue-toppling. Starting to shape up into a different “picture,” eh? *pun intended* I guess I shouldn’t mention that the BBC reported the American flag initially put over the face of the Saddam statue was one flying over the Pentagon on September 11th either. Seems less and less spontaneous, the deeper we go.

I don’t want to belabor the point, because my intention, again, was just to expose the inadequacy of relying on experience or what one “sees” as a foundation for what is true, because one can be greatly deceived by persons interested in keeping us in the alternate reality shaped and colored by their perspective. And governments (ALL governments) certainly have a vested interest in the support of the populace. Just a cautionary note; don’t believe all that you see. Maintain a healthy skepticism. Be willing to wade deeper, even if it may cost you or cause people to label you.

Global warming and how one’s perspective is deeply affected by one’s environment

The BBC did a nice little piece on different evangelical universities (Liberty University aka College of Falwell and Eastern Mennonite University where I attend seminary) here in Virginia on the issue of global warming that is worth a read. You can find it here. Read the article, if you would, before looking at my remarks.

Did you read it? : )

I just want to raise a point related to the nature/nurture discussion that is probably raging more deeply than it ever has in society. When it comes to bringing that discussion to bear on the church, I found what Brian McLaren had to say on the Nick and Josh podcast matters greatly as another voice in the conversation. I’ll quote it in full here (and yes, I’m a dork that transcribed what Brian was saying to MSWord while he was talking);

“If we think the purpose of the gospel is to deliver souls to heaven after death, then we’re going to read the entire gospel in a certain way; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the rest of the New Testament and all the rest of the Bible in a certain way.

But if that’s not the primary problem that the Bible is addressing (though it is the primary problem in a lot of systematic theology approaches that say or assume that is what it addresses); but I’m asking a rather provocative question; what if that’s not really the problem it addresses, what if the problem it addresses is that God has this beautiful and good creation, and human beings rebelled against God, we have left this relationship with God (what the Bible means by sin) and that sin is suicidal…sin destroys human beings and families and cultures and civilizations, and ultimately it will destroy the planet, i mean, that’s easier for us to see now than for any generation in history (naive belief that WWI was last big war b/c humans were evolving beyond war). Other people had to take it on faith, for us it is sight.

We know very well that we can destroy the planet in our human rebellion. Human sin and evil and violence, and hatred and greed can destroy the planet, so if the gospel is the message of the kingdom, and the message of the kingdom is not evacuating Earth, but it’s as the Lord’s Prayer teaches us, “Your kingdom come,” meaning come to earth, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” then we have to look at every area of life and say, “What would this arena of human life look like if God’s will would be done?”

What Brian has to say I think matters deeply for the issue of global warming, and led to my conviction regarding this issue that I believe so strongly I created a Facebook group representing my belief that, ultimately; It’s not about global warming, it’s about caring for the earth. The issue is very polarizing (often driving folks to occupy one of two extremes), but as I see it (and Brian McLaren sees it), the issue of conservation (caring for the earth) is deeply a gospel-related issue. I would agree with McLaren that salvation as it is presently conceived of in most Christian groups is about how to get to heaven when you die rather than joining up with God in His movement to reconcile all of creation, starting now. Now, certainly, this will not happen in its fullness until the “Day of the Lord,” but this should not lead us (as most folks often do) to the place where we sit on our hands and wait for the sweet by and by because salvation is all God’s work. There’s a strong thread running through Scripture that we are to be co-creators and collaborators with God in His work to reconcile and renew all of his creation.

Thus, how one reads and the environment one grows up in deeply shapes one’s way of viewing reality. So, in a very real way, Christians should seek to embrace a deeper and fuller reading of Scripture and the purposes of God, both for their sakes and for the sakes of friends, acquaintances, and future generations. This is where my bias is exposed; I think Jerry Falwell’s perspective on reality is handicapped by the way he interprets the gospel, and his perspective is deeply affecting a LOAD of people that uncritically accept his reading; both at Thomas Road Baptist Church, at Liberty University, in the conservative Christian camp across America, and globally when folks from other religious traditions and countries see him and think he speaks for all Christians. I’m sorry Jerry recently passed away, but his perspective on the gospel, in my view, was more destructive than it was helpful. In the grand scheme of things, I think Falwell’s legacy is more negative than positive if we’re speaking of the kingdom of God and the lifestyle we are called to exhibit.

Check out the practical differences between the EMU and the Liberty responses to the question of global warming;

“A lesson taught by Dr Thomas Ice, Liberty University’s senior theologian, focuses on headaches like Armageddon, salvation and the Second Coming. Compared to these concerns, global warming is considered a mere sideshow at best, or a left-wing conspiracy at worst.

Asked his opinion on whether global warming is a reality or conspiracy, Dr Ice answers forcefully.
“It’s a hoax, certainly,” he says. “I think global warming is being used like many political issues to try to move the world from nationalism to internationalism or global governance.” And his class? Asked how many of them are worried about global warming, not one raises a hand.”

Hold that opinion and environment together with the EMU report;

“There is a massive and mounting body of scientific evidence that global warming is a reality,” he (Loren Swartzendruber) tells the gathered congregation. “Hone your God-given talents, grow your entrepreneurial skills and stretch your scientific minds to co-create with God a better world. As disciples of Jesus, we can do no less.”
Here, when asked if they are worried about global warming, almost everyone puts up their hand.

Now, I recognize that EMU isn’t perfect, and is deeply in need of critique from others who might be more conservative and challenge the leftist message some of the faculty spout off, but at the very least there is a vigorous conversation on campus where more “liberal” and more “conservative” folks have a chance to be heard and interact. In addition, I think EMU embraces what I believe to be a much deeper Biblical understanding of the gospel that includes all of creation. That seems to be almost completely lacking at Liberty; I don’t think I’m overstating the reality that, functionally speaking, Falwell is almost deity status in that environment.

If you aren’t interested in anything at all in this post other than one nugget to take away with you, please re-read the McLaren quotation several times because I think it’s so important to be aware of. What is the gospel? How does it affect the way I see the world? And how does it affect my relationships with my environment, both in human relationships and caring for the earth?

And maybe most pointedly, how can we break out of the liberal/conservative extremes that folks want to slot us into to embrace that a life of discipleship is one that will seem “liberal” to some and “conservative” to others? I’d point you to two previous posts I made that quoted Pres. Swartzendruber’s excellent article “Liberal or Conservative?” here and here where he engages what it means to reject the either/or extremes and follow Jesus with all of our being.

I love one of his quips from a mentor of his who said often, “On some issues I am rather liberal…because I take the Bible very seriously. Which is a conservative position.”