Monday, March 30, 2009

Red Envelope Day

Something unique that I will be a part of will be taking place tomorrow, March 31st, in order to speak on behalf of the unborn. It is known as the "Red Envelope Project" and thousands of people across the United States will be sending a simple red envelope to President Obama with a short message on the back. The message will read:
"This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty because that life was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility begins with conception."
If you are someone that is pro-choice and agrees with the legalization of abortion, then you don't have to participate. But if you are like me and believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent life, then I encourage you to send your red envelope to the President and let him know where you stand on the issue. This is a simple, yet profound way that we can let our voice be heard on arguably the defining issue of this generation.

To learn more about the Red Envelope Project, click here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Legend Passes Away

I learned this morning that John Hope Franklin, one of America's leading historians, passed away yesterday. Dr. Franklin was generally regarded as the pre-eminent scholar in matters pertaining to African American history. In addition, he was a major figure in helping to see the pivotal 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case become a reality. He was 94 years old.

As a college student with a major in Social Science and an American history concentration, I became familiar with Dr. Franklin's work and read a couple of his books. Most prominent is his seminal work, From Slavery to Freedom, which is an authoritative work on the slave trade and the rise of those of African descent in America to equality. His writing helped to shape my thinking in a number of ways and contributed to some of my understanding of black history.

While living in Ohio several years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Franklin speak at the University of Akron and was able to briefly meet him after his lecture. I was impressed by his stories as one who grew up in a segregated America and his obvious intelligence and grasp of American history. You can learn some more about Dr. Franklin in a write-up that the Associated Press did here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Experiencing Liberty

What happens when a liberal non-Christian from the North goes undercover at what one of the nation's leading bastions of conservative evangelicalism? Well, you can find out in a new book called The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose. Roose, an Ivy League student, took a semester off from his studies at Brown University to go inside at Liberty University, the Lynchburg, Virginia institution founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

I haven't read this book yet, but I am planning on it now that I've read this review by Karen Swallow Prior. Prior, a professor at Liberty, whets the appetite with some interesting insights on Roose's experiences. She says:
"It's not the book it was supposed to be because, as it turns out, Liberty University wasn't what it was supposed to be. This isn't to say that some of the worst stereotypes of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, the Bible Belt, and Christian higher education aren't reinforced by Roose's experience. They are. Nevertheless, Roose largely gets beyond the stereotypes and humanizes even those whose views he finds "reprehensible." And in the process, Roose gets a good dose of humanizing himself.
In both conception and execution, Roose's narrative parallels that of his mentor, A. J. Jacobs, in The Year of Living Biblically. Inspired by his experience as Jacobs' slave (aka unpaid intern) during the writing of that book, Roose—once he gains the reluctant approval of Brown University administrators and his parents—sets out on a domestic version of the semester abroad. The concerns and, at times, outright opposition of Roose's family and friends about his project add significant tension to his narrative. This conflict—between his old life and his new one, as well as the internal conflicts that grow throughout his stay—is one of several elements that make the book a compelling read."
The book is based on an interesting concept. How does an individual that immerses themself in a setting of Christian higher learning respond to this new world? Although most Christians live each day in a secular world, it is rare that a non-seeking, non-Christian finds themself in a throughly Christian setting. And not only is it a Christian environment, but it is Liberty, the college started by Falwell, the poster boy for American conservative fundamentalism.

If truth be told, I was not a fan of Rev. Falwell. I felt his mixture of politics and faith was a dangerous mix and stifled honest spiritual dialogue among Christians and non-Christians from varying political persuasions. But after his death a couple of years ago, there were some things about him that came to light not known by the general public. For instance his personal generosity towards those in need is one example. Another would be his friendships with Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rev. Al Sharpton, individuals that he disagreed with fiercely but was able to maintain a friendly relationship with over the years.

As Roose learned during his time at Liberty:
"Despite the false starts, Roose finds the students at Liberty to be "the friendliest students I've ever met." "In fact," he writes, "that's the thing that strikes me hardest: this is not a group of angry zealots." He is surprised to realize that the "students have no ulterior motive. They simply can't contain their love for God." Clearly, Roose adheres to his resolution to conduct his experiment "with as little prejudgment as possible and "with an open mind."
I suppose Liberty and Jerry Falwell are similar to most Christians. We may appear to be one thing to others based on our differing convictions, but once you get to know us you may learn something different. And I suppose the same is true for those of other faiths or no faith at all. We can easily stereotype one another or clump one another into unfair groupings based on our assumptions. But if we attempt to get to know one another on a personal level, we may just learn a lot about each other and something about ourselves as well.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Penn Jillette & A Good Christian Example

Penn Jillette, half of the comedy team Penn & Teller, is a well-known comedian and illusionist. He also happens to be a well-known celebrity atheist. He has been vocal about his belief that God does not exist and is not shy about discussing this matter. But an interesting thing happened to him not too long ago.

It seems that a Christian who had seen his show approached him afterwards and offered Jillette a gift of a free Gideon's Bible. Jillette recorded his thoughts about how he felt about this and he offers a very compelling and challenging perspective for those of us that believe that God is real and that eternity matters.

You can view the video below (Please click here if the video player doesn't show up.) Thanks to my friend, Keith, for linking to this video.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It Takes a Village

From Paul Scott at
"In 2009 Durham, North Carolina, writer and resident clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer "Dr. Jenn" Rounds-Bryant has flipped the script and released the controversial book It Takes a Village to Raise a Criminal. The book, which is part of her 5 Ugly Facts About Human Behavior series, deals with the issue of why some of our children are failing academically and turning to criminal behavior.
Although most people would assume that Rounds-Bryant would be on the "our cities are full of gangbangers" bandwagon tip in order to push a few books, she notes that only one paragraph deals with gangsta-ism, as it is just a small piece of a bigger problem. Dr. Jenn believes we miss an opportunity to reach youth who are attracted to the street lifestyle when we focus on gang perspectives rather than adolescent youth behavior. She says that this negative behavior doesn't start when middle school kids start rushing home to watch 106 & Park on BET, but it starts at kindergarten age when they should be watching Sesame Street.
According to the book, many of our children are simply not prepared to enter into the school system. In other words, when your 5-year-old cusses Ms. Johnson out for calling him Raymond Johnson Jr. instead of his "real name," "Lil Ray Ray," that could signal a problem that you might want to get a handle on."
You can read the whole post here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My All-Time Michigan Wolverine Basketball Team

In honor of Michigan's re-entrance into the NCAA basketball tournament, I have chosen my all-time Michigan Wolverine basketball team. Based on extensive research that took minutes and minutes to compile, I've selected a first team of five players and a bench made up of eight players. I welcome your comments on these selections.

First Team

Cazzie Russell ('64-'66) - Russell is arguably the greatest player to ever don the maize and blue. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year three times; an All-American three times and was the National Player of the Year his senior year. In addition, he led the Wolverines to three Big Ten titles before becoming the #1 pick in the NBA draft and was part of the 1970 New York Knicks title team.

Glen Rice ('86-'89) - This Flint native had the greatest individual season in the history of Michigan basketball. During the '88-'89 season he was named the Big Ten Player of the Year, was a first-team All-American and selected the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tourney when he led Michigan to the title by averaging over 30 points/game. Rice is the all-time leading scorer in Michigan basketball history and was an NBA All-Star game MVP ('97) and NBA champion in 2000 with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Rudy Tomjanovich ('68-'70) - Possibly known more as a coach who led the Houston Rockets to two NBA titles in the mid-'90s, Tomjanovich is the all-time leader in rebounds and possesses the second highest scoring average/game ever for the Wolverines. He was selected to the All-Big Team three times and was an All-American in 1970. He was named to five All-Star Games during his NBA playing days and is the third leading scorer in Rockets history.

Gary Grant ('85-'88) - One of the most versatile guards to ever play for Michigan, Grant was the point guard during one of the Wolverines most successful eras during the mid-'80's. Grant was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year during his first season and the Big Ten Player of the Year and an All-American his final year. He is the all-time Michigan leader in assists and steals.

Chris Webber ('91-93) - The most talented player on the most infamous Michigan squad ever, Webber was a formidable presence with the "Fab Five." He led the maize and blue to the NCAA championship game in both seasons he played with Michigan and was a Big Ten Player of the Year and an All-American his sophomore year. He sits atop the Michigan record books as the all-time leader in blocks/game. Webber became the #1 pick in the draft and went on to an All-Star career in the NBA. Unfortunately, his (and others of his era) involvement in scandal have tarnished the proud Michigan tradition.

Reserves (in alphabetical order):

Louis Bullock
Bill Buntin
Rickey Green
Juwan Howard
Phil Hubbard
Bennie Oosterbaan
Rumeal Robinson
Jalen Rose
Roy Tarpley
Henry Wilmore

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dave Bing & Why Honesty Matters

Some disappointing news has come out of Detroit as it has been discovered that former Piston great, respected businessman and current mayoral candidate, Dave Bing, has not been truthful about his college education.

For years Bing has communicated that he received his bachelor's degree from Syracuse University in 1966 and that he received a master's in business administration from Kettering University. However, Bing was informed in 1995 that he was three credits shy of the Syracuse degree and needed to re-submit a paper that would enable him to complete the requirements to graduate. He did so and received the actual diploma from Syracuse that year.

In explaining the Syracuse mix-up, Bing commented that he was under the impression that he had, in fact, completed the requirements for graduation and that he had officially been a graduate of Syracuse. He has yet to explain why he never received the actual paper diploma. Even if this misunderstanding could be reasonably explained, there still is the matter of the MBA from Kettering (formerly the General Motors Institute.) reports on the matter:
"Mayoral candidate and former NBA great Dave Bing said Wednesday it was "not correct" when he earlier claimed to have earned a master's degree in business administration. But the claim on a videotape touting education and staying in school on the National Basketball Retired Players Association Web site was meant to be interpreted in a different manner, Bing told The Associated Press.
The founder and chairman of the Bing Group, a steel manufacturing operation and auto supplier, was responding to a Detroit Free Press story revealing he didn't earn an MBA from General Motors Institute, now called Kettering University in Flint, as he said on the tape.
"I felt I had an MBA for the work I had done in the industry I was in," Bing said. "When I made references to an MBA it wasn't that I went there and got it, but through what I had done. "I made reference to how important education was for players, active and retired, and young people, that they should stay in school as long as they can and get their degrees."
It is hard to understand why someone would think that because they worked hard in a given field that they automatically had received an MBA for their work. While it is common practice for institutions of higher learning to award honorary degrees for excellence in a certain area, that is not the same as just bestowing the degree on oneself.

This may seem like a small matter, but I think that Bing needs to come forward in complete honesty and transparency. In a city still reeling from a scandal resulting from the dishonesty of a mayor, this matter needs to get cleared up. Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon for people to exaggerate on resumes or to embellish accomplishments. But that doesn't make it okay. Although he has to attempted to address this, I think he needs to share his college transcripts with the public so there is no doubt that what he has said in recent days is truthful. Our public officials need to set an example of truthfulness and integrity and Bing has the opportunity to regain the public trust in him if he clears up this matter fully.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Origins of Bird vs. Magic

Although it's hard to believe, this month marks the 30th anniversary of the legendary matchup between Michigan State and Indiana State in the NCAA college basketball championship game in 1979 that thrust Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird into the national spotlight and onto NBA stardom.

Their individual popularity and rivalry transitioned well into the professional ranks as their teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, met several times in the playoffs throughout the 1980's and led the resurgence of the popularity of the NBA.

Seth Davis, a college basketball analyst for CBS and writer for Sports Illustrated, has written a book, When March Went Mad, that chronicles the 1979 championship game. has published an excerpt of the book that focused on how Bird ended up at Indiana State. You can read it here.

Another interesting slant on the game was that in the pre-Internet, pre-ESPN that existed in '79, many in the nation had heard about Larry Bird's feats on the basketball court but had never seen him play since Indiana State was not featured in televised games. Because of this, many people had assumed that Bird was black. What a surprise most of the nation must have received the first time they caught sight of the gangly Indiana farm boy.

I don't remember the game since I was only six at the time and didn't gain an interest in basketball until several years later, but the influence that one game had on the game of basketball is still being felt 30 years later.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Christians in America

Is the United States of America truly a "Christian nation?" A research project was conducted over two years ago in partnership between Zondervan Publishers, Christianity Today International and Knowledge Networks to find out how many Americans identify themselves as Christians and how this affects their daily behavior and spiritual life.

As a result of the study, the researchers saw five distinct groups of Christians emerge: Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private, and Cultural Christians. As well, the following three findings presented themselves:

1. The traditional local church is no longer considered the only place for spiritual growth and nourishment.

2. In order to effectively reach out to evolving communities, churches need to develop more relational and community-outreach based connections.

3. Laypeople need to become much more involved in the work of ministry.

For those of us actively involved in ministries that are reaching out to non-Christians, these findings come as no surprise. For many of my generation (Gen X) and younger, the local church is perceived as hypocritical, too judgmental, irrelevant and stuck in the past. Whether those perceptions are true depends on the church. But this attitude is held by millions and is not going away any time soon.

Part of the challenge that the local church faces is the consumerism mentality that exists among most Americans. Look at what Bryan Wilkerson, pastor of Grace Chapel (outside of Boston) has to say:
"These days, people can get good teaching, wonderful music, and excellent writing, whether through iPods, TV, or online," says Wilkerson. "They learn to shop around and pick and choose. Then they expect the same high quality in their local church. A generation ago, the average person learned to accept his home pastor and was faithful to his local church. But now, people's appetites for excellence have been heightened."
In addition the comfort that many feel with getting their spiritual input apart from Christian community is increasing. This means that millions are getting spiritual input without necessarily having someone to process that information with. Many are advocating more of a "go" approach rather than asking others to "come." More thoughts from the study:
"Instead of trying to win underchurched people back to a traditional church context, leaders say the approach to bringing Private, Cultural, and non-Christians into the church is relational and outward-looking rather than programmatic and inward-focused. Lindsay notes many Christians who are not involved in traditional churches are "much, much more interested in personal connection. The ways in which they nourish their faith are through home churches or one-on-one Bible study or non-church related small groups."
In fact, house churches have recently become a noteworthy trend in the United States. Time magazine in March 2007 quoted pollster George Barna as saying that house churches were evidence of a "seminal transition that may be akin to a third spiritual awakening in the U.S." and that in two decades, "only about one-third of the population" will attend traditional churches."
Also, there is a pressing need for the laity of the church (non-credentialed members) to grow in their biblical proficiency and ability to lead effectively in ministry. Over the years I have met scores of young people that grew up active in their church but have very limited understanding of the teachings of the Bible and the implications of those teachings. I'm not the only one who has seen this:
"The current level of biblical and theological teaching in the church may not be meeting the challenge of preparing people in the pews to explain the power and significance of the Scriptures to those who rarely read them. "I do think there is decline and unbelievable degrees of biblical illiteracy that we haven't seen in previous generations, among all five of these categories of Christians," says D. Michael Lindsay, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University and former consultant with the Gallup Institute. "People used to know their Bible, but now they can go week-in and week-out and not even know the order of the books. Many churches feed their congregants a steady diet of messages that do not require intellectual engagement or an understanding of the biblical narrative. And that is a huge problem."
Lastly, their needs to be more of a focus on the person of Jesus Christ. We can teach people financial principles, how to have a good marriage and how to have a stress-free life, but if we don't point them to Jesus, we've simply missed the boat. The emphasis that is placed on tolerance also contributes to this:
"Leith Anderson, senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, believes that the high value placed on tolerance in this country is partly to blame. "'God' as a term is transferable amongst different religious sects, but 'Christ' is not. It seems intolerant. What we need to do is reintroduce people to Jesus, his story, his life and his teachings. Not by forcing people to agree with us, but by giving them adequate examples and reasons to believe in Christ."
As Joel Hunter, pastor of Northwood, a Church Distributed near my home in Orlando, says,
"Christianity is about Christ, and it is about that personal relationship. We have to not focus on explaining Pauline theology, but on the person and ministry of Christ. We have to be people who live out the life of Christ. People aren't generally interested in theological teaching. But everyone has a heart for the one who had a heart for us."