Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Blahginess!

Politics

FYI

Just a reminder that today is the National Day of Prayer. Would you join me in praying for our nation and specifically our President and elected and appointed officials?


On Democracy and Revolutions

If you follow me on Facebook no doubt you have seen or read the stream of news clippings regarding last weeks events in Niger. If you haven’t heard there was a coup. On Thursday February 18th Nigerien military commandos stormed the presidential palace and captured President Mamdou Tandja and his cabinet. Since then most of those captured have been released unharmed. Most reports cite 3 deaths all of whom were noted to be members of the President’s security force. The country has since remained calm and peaceful and the coup leaders have identified themselves as members of the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD). On queue Western leaders have quickly condemned the coup and called for a return to civilian democracy. The most interesting quote from the military commanders is this attributed to

I surprise myself sometimes how quickly history is forgotten. For most citizens in the US news of another coup in West Africa is purely back page material if interesting at all. We tend to look down our noses at these poor undeveloped countries thinking that democracy really has no chance. We get really cynical hearing about military leaders forming groups like the CSRD and justifying their actions in the name of democracy. But we forsake our own heritage and traditions. It wasn’t by peaceful elections that the US became a democracy. Certainly the events of the American Revolution placed in today’s context would garner much the same in negative international support (just as it did then). I am not niave enough to think that no man should be trusted, but is there any reason we cannot trust the CSRD? They proved themselves faithful in 1999 when they also took power by force, dissolved the government and scratched out a new democracy.

We also prove our short memories in our logic when we conclude that countries like Niger should have well developed democracies in such short amounts of time. Our own American experiment in democracy almost came to a screeching halt in less than 100 years as the Civil War threatened to tear our country apart. Granted the issue at the forefront was slavery but the deeper issue was the relationship between the federal and state governments (a core component of American democracy or aka Federalism).

So what? I think it behooves us to come alongside Niger and work with the CSRD. We have a wealth of experience and knowledge when it comes to democracy. We should be working with those who show any kind of interest at all. Rather than condemning and cynically waiting for what we “all know is inevitable” why not be proactive and influential. I’m not saying that Niger needs us to be involved in their democratic experiment. I have full faith in the people of that country. To me some of the most resilient and determined people I have ever met. (You try living on less than a dollar a day in one of the hottest, driest countries in the world.)

There is hope for Niger. We of all people should know.


Are we a racist nation?

I read with interest a couple of articles about President Obama and the appearant amount of racism veiled as criticism. You can find the articles here and here. Today in class I lectured about Civil Rights and the history of struggle various groups have gone through to obtain a more equal footing in society. All of them owing some debt to the African Americans who laid so much at the alter of freedom in their efforts to end discrimination that had already been outlawed by the courts. I get really uncomfortable teaching this stuff. I’m white, male, middle class, middle age, everything that this average and majority about this nation. It is so easy for me to transpose my thoughts and my experiences to a broader public. I have no idea what it is like to be black and pulled over on “suspicion”. I have no idea what it is like to be Hispanic and scowled out because you speak a few words of Spanish. I have no idea what it is to be like a woman who is leered at simply because God created her with different proportions than men. (I do know what it is like to be Mennonite Brethren and have people assume that you drive a horse and buggy.)

What I do know? I’ve done all those things. I don’t think that it is because white men are inherently more evil or more prone to sin than other races (or genders). I believe that blacks, Hispanics, women and all others are just as susceptible to these thoughts and feelings as others. Jesus spoke pretty clearly to this: “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” (Matthew 15:19 NLT) He was speaking to a group of religiously racist priests. People who made their living off making others feel “not worthy”. People who lived in a nation who prided themselves as being “chosen” and loved to rub it in the face of everyone else by completely shunning them or simply not recognizing them.

Are we a racist nation? Of course. Are we as racist as we have been in the past? No. Are we as racist as we will be in the future?

Well, that’s for us to decide, by the grace of God.

Jesus kept it real when describing the condition of the human heart. Fortunately he didn’t just leave it at that. A little later on Jesus was asked which commandment was most important when it comes to making oneself acceptable before God. His reply was twofold: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all you soul, and all you mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39 NLT) We can’t do one or the other. They are mutually fulfilling. Loving God requires loving others. Loving others only truly comes as we love God.

Here’s what’s hard for me as a Christian and an American. It seems that as we have become less “christian” we have become less “racist”. But again, I believe that if ever there is to be a Christian nation it exists in the body of the Church. Global. Not some class of ethnicity or descendants who deserve special recognition. Simply those messed up humans who have begun to grasp what the human heart is all about and have accepted the grace of Jesus Christ to love God and their neighbors.

Are we a racist nation?


Parallels

I have been fascinated recently by the events of two countries. First, is Niger. The President of Niger has served two terms of 5 years each and according to the constitution is not allowed to run for reelection. Amid all this he has dissolved the parliament and scheduled a referendum on a new constitution for August 4. This past Sunday “a large” group of anti-referendum protesters turned out to demonstrate this move. During the protest one of the protest leaders with a history of illness had to go to the hospital where he later died. The demonstration was reportedly peaceful.

The President of Iran was declared the winner of the weekend election there. Iran has an interesting mix of democracy and theocracy. The main ruling body body is made up of religious clerics who appoint a leading cleric whose decisions trump that of anyone else (including the president). It has been interesting to read the reports of protests throughout the capital city of Tehran. Citizens even taking their angst out openly against secret police.  (Apparently secret police are never as secret as intended.)

Two countries at the crossroads. Two muslim countries. Two leaders who are reportedly holding onto power. Two important players in nuclear politics. (Niger is the 2nd leading exporter of uranium and Iran is notorious for its “nuclear program”.)

It always intrigues me why things happen the way that they do. With Iran I hope the revolution continues and culminates in broader freedoms for the people of Iran (especially religious freedom). With Niger I hope that the President changes his mind and steps down. I especially hope that he does not try to sieze control of the army and use force to keep himself in power. Africa in general does not have a great track record when it comes to democracy, but there is no better time to start than now.

What other parallels do you see? What outcomes do you hope for?


Voting God’s Will.

This is a picture of prayers that were posted during our service this past Sunday. We wanted people to pray for their “issue”. It was a really powerful service. The whole point was to stop and simply recognize that whatever happens God is in control and he is orchestrating things to his great purpose.

So that leads me to this question; is it really possible to “vote” God’s will? This would suggest that there is but one candidate that by voting for we are signifying the fact that indeed God has chosen this one person to be elected. Furthermore, by not voting for that candidate or by voting for the opposite candidate then we are voting against God’s will. Additionally, if it is God’s will that a particular candidate take office then really what does my vote do either way? One last question: what if I don’t sense that God is willing me to vote for a particular candidate? Does this mean that I am out of touch with God? Or could it be that God doesn’t really care who I vote for but cares more about who I trust?

Help me out here…


Palin

I’ve got some thoughts (serious ones) about Sarah Palin. My thoughts are particularly critical or supportive of her per se. I am more interested in the attention and energy that her nomination has received. Here are a couple of the more interesting points in my view:

1. A NY Times article subtly questions the ability of Palin to serve as Vice President and mom. Are you serious? Now without addressing that actual material of the article at hand I am quite astounded that this article is even printed to begin with. This is a classic example of issue reversal. What if Hillary Clinton was nominated as Vice President and she had a newborn baby with special needs? I seriously doubt that any major news organization would even dare to question the ability of her to be both a mom and a Vice President. Give the article credit as they seem to focus on the irony of social conservatives being so quick to run to Palin’s defense. The real irony lies in the fact that this is exactly the stereotype that the modern women’s movement has fought so hard to tear down. And now Democratic women are going to openly question Palin’s motherhood (womanhood) because she has chosen to run?

2. Socialy conservative Republicans have been vocal in their defense of Sarah Palin and her 17 year old daughter’s pregnancy. Here again is a classic case of issue reversal. Where Republican’s traditionally have been the party of family values (remember Dan Quayle’s fateful comments regarding the TV character Murphy Brown which would again highlight the irony of issue #1 above) they are now bending over backwards to use this issue as an example of how “normal” Palin and her family are and worthy of public support. So now teenage pregnancy is appearantly a new issue for the Republican party? 

Honestly, these are only a couple of my current thoughts about this. As I write them down and think about them more and research them I am further disheartened by the entire political process. Republicans are hypocrites when it comes to their beliefs. Democrats further the hypocrite cycle as they question and attack the Republicans on these issues. Does anyone really care that our government has grown so large and powerful? Does anyone really care that our tax codes need a serious overhaul? Is there anyone out there who REALLY is interested in solving problems like illegal immigration, energy costs, subprime mortgages? Each candidate TALKS good game, but show me the candidate, neigh the political party, who will ACT to bring change. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DEMOCRAT AND REPUBLICAN ANY MORE! They may use different words. They may argue different philosophy. But their actions are all the same.

What hope do we as humans really have? 

Stay tuned…


Happy Constitution Day

Have you read it lately? It’s got a lot of really cool stuff. Just as relevant today as it was over 221 years ago.