Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Ugly Face of Black on Black Crime

You may have heard about the tragic murder of a Chicago high school student in a brutal attack by classmates last week. Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old honor student, was killed after he stopped to watch a fight between two local gangs on his way home from school. Derrion was not involved with either gang but was merely a bystander. On a personal level, I have been to the spot where this murder happened. Our ministry, Campus Crusade, has a youth center located there that serves the Roseland community.

Although the loss of any young person at the hands of another is a tragedy, there is an underlying story behind this murder that often goes unnoticed and is under reported by the mainstream media. It is the troubling issue of black on black crime.

Derrion was African American and so were his assailants. Sadly, this young student with a hopeful future has now had his life snuffed out by others that looked just like him. And he's not the only one. According to national statistics, homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males from the ages of 15-34. Remarkably, 93% of young black men who are victims of homicide die at the hands of another African American.

Had Derrion been viciously punched, kicked and attacked with railroad ties by white youth, his murder would be headlined in all major media. Curiously, his story gets merely a secondary mention in the midst of more pressing headlines like the renaming of Jon & Kate Plus Eight and airlines offering Wi-Fi service.

Our society has gotten so immune to the death of children that murder doesn't seem to phase us much anymore. I'm hoping that African American leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson (who lives in Chicago) would stand up and use Derrion's story as an example of the horror of black-on-black crime. Too many promising lives are ended for careless and senseless reasons. Things like this should shake us up and cause us to examine what we can do to make a difference in the lives of young people. More than that it should cause parents who aren't taking their parental duties seriously to wake up.

Writer Judy Keen of USA Today comments on the story:
"There were 307 homicides in the city from Jan. 1 through the end of August, down from 338 in the same period last year, the Chicago Police Department says. More than half of this year's homicides involved gangs. "Misguided youth need leadership in their life. This is learned behavior," said Tio Hardiman of CeaseFire Illinois, an anti-violence group. "You can put all the police in the world in the city, but that's not enough," he said. CeaseFire intervenes in conflicts and negotiates treaties between rival groups, he said, and is working to prevent a violent reaction to Albert's slaying. Dwayne Overstreet, a minister, went to Fenger to pray for peace. "It's not that these young people don't understand the value of life," he said. "They haven't been taught the value of life."

Overstreet says Albert's death was a reminder of the "chaos" and disregard for life across the city. "It feels sometimes like you're in a war zone," he said.

"I'm praying and hoping that out of this will come something positive," said Martin Watt, a minister from suburban Harvey who came to Fenger to lead a hymn that intoned: I'm feeling so much better since I lay my burden down.

Community leaders held a news conference Monday asking anyone with information to come forward. Albert's relatives were there, wearing T-shirts with his photo and the words: "Gone too soon, too young."
A video of the attack on Derrion, taken on the cell phone of eyewitness, has been posted online. Because of its graphic nature, I have chosen not to post it here out of respect for his family. May God somehow use this senseless attack to demonstrate the preciousness and value in each human life.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dealing With Church Conflict

Because churches are made up of fallen people, there will inevitably be conflict, disagreements and varying perspectives on how church should be done. In most cases these differences can be worked out amicably without much harm. In other cases, it doesn't always turn out as one would hope.

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a well-known church founded by the late D. James Kennedy and located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been going through a bit of a rough stretch as its members adjust to having only their second senior pastor in the church's nearly half-century of existence. Just this past March Coral Ridge installed Tullian Tchividjian as senior pastor.

Shortly after Rev. Tchividjian's hiring some rifts began to form as some members of Coral Ridge had trouble with Tchividjian's style and approach to ministry. Tchividjian, who happens to be the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, is significantly younger than Kennedy and ruffled the feathers of some long-time members of the church. Among the things that were mentioned were his lack of focus on political issues in his sermons and his refusal to wear a robe.

As is the case with many church disputes, the disagreements in this instance seem to revolve around things that don't necessarily have their basis in Scripture. For example, there are no biblical requirements for pastors to wear robes or for them to march in-step with a certain political party. Fortunately, the members of Coral Ridge voted to retain Tchividjian as their pastor after a congregational vote recently.

Pastor Tchividjian offered a brief interview with Christianity Today last week which you can read here. I appreciate the maturity with which he has handled this situation publicly and indicated desire to represent Christ well, even in the midst of disagreement with other Christians. When asked how to discuss the situation publicly without worsening it, Tchividjian said this:
"My commitment is to speak about those who opposed me in a forgiving manner, in a Christ-like manner. I will, by God's grace, do my best to take the high road, to not disparage anybody, to operate in a posture of understanding. Some of these people had only had one pastor ever. So that's going to be hard for some people.

So I am very much working hard to treat those who have opposed me the way God and Christ treated me."
As I said, conflict in the church is inevitable because we are each sinful people. How we choose to respond to that conflict is what a watching world is most interested in.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sports Illustrated Focuses on Detroit

At a time when things seem bleakest in the city of Detroit, the Detroit Tigers are offering a ray of hope as they march towards a possible playoff bid. Sports Illustrated's most recent cover story features the Tigers resurgence and the effect that the successful ball team is having on the city.

Looking back over forty years, Detroit faced another challenging time when the riots of 1967 left the city reeling as many residents, primarily white, left the city for the suburbs. An inspired 1968 Tigers squad beat the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. My dad, who was in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam at the time, likes to share how he won a lot of money on that series from some leathernecks that didn't think Detroit had a shot :)

In these current times, the Tigers have stood with the community and demonstrated an undeniable degree of support for the auto industry. SI comments:
"The most stunning example of community outreach did not involve a nonprofit organization but a bankrupt one. At the end of last season General Motors decided it could no longer afford to sponsor the fountain over the centerfield fence at Comerica Park, which shoots great plumes into the air whenever a Tiger hits a home run. The fountain is the most valuable piece of advertising space in the stadium, and two corporations quickly expressed interest in taking GM's place. One offered to pay $1.5 million for three years. Mike Ilitch, the Tigers' owner, considered the offer seriously. Then he rejected it in favor of a deal that would pay him nothing at all. Ilitch kept the GM name where it was, free of charge, and added the Ford and Chrysler logos on each flank, over the message: THE DETROIT TIGERS SUPPORT OUR AUTOMAKERS. To emphasize the point, the Tigers invited one employee from each of the embattled car giants to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. Before GM inspector Loretta Abiodun went into her windup, she turned and looked at the fountain. "It was breathtaking," she says."
The Tigers will have to get past a good Minnesota team in order to make the playoffs and will be underdogs throughout if they are able to advance. But I'm one Tigers fan that thinks a championship this year (the 25th anniversary of the '84 champions) would be pretty neat to see.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More Immigrants Becoming U.S. Citizens After Military Service

An ongoing discussion in recent years has revolved around the role that the U.S. government should play in handling immigrants to the United States. In order to bolster thinning military ranks in the midst of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia, the government is offering to fast-track immigrants who serve in the military so that they can become U.S. citizens.

The Orlando Sentinel states the following:
"National immigration statistics show that the number of military immigrants becoming citizens is not only the highest since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started in 2002 and 2003, but is at a level not reached since 1970. About 9,000 have become citizens this year.

As the country relies on more immigrants to help win its wars — more than 100,000 are currently enlisted, making up about 8 percent of armed forces — it is making an effort to grant them citizenship.

"It's us trying to reach them," said Sharon Scheidhauer, spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Orlando. "We set up a separate system: Their applications go to a separate place so they are handled very quickly, and they can get that honor."

The armed forces are targeting immigrants as early as boot camp and are offering assistance in filling out citizenship paperwork. Congress also passed a law waiving the $675 application fees, and former President George W. Bush had already invoked a wartime law waiving waiting periods before applying for those enlisted."
There are many hard-working immigrants from other countries that have defended the U.S. by serving in our military. The offer to speed up the process for these individuals who desire to become U.S. citizens seems like a reasonable and fair way of recognizing their service.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How the Economy Has Affected Hispanics

According to Ethnic Technologies, LLC, at least one broad ethnic group in the United States, Hispanics, has not felt the effects of the current economic downturn as much others. In a recent article, the following is stated:
"The U.S. Hispanic market is booming. Hispanic households across the United States will sharply increase their economic clout over the next ten years. The demographic explosion has continued since 1990 and there is no let up. Go to Wal-Mart, Sears, K-Mart, to name a few stores, and you will see many Hispanic families loaded with consumer goods. The fact is, Hispanics love to buy and almost always buy in cash.

This is not a debt-ridden community. For years they learned the hard way that to have something, one has to earn it and save. Credit card companies solicit many Hispanic households.

Hispanics send money to the families they left behind in their country of origin. And it is true that these remittances are billions of dollars. But according to the National Immigration Forum, in addition to consumer spending, "immigrants and their businesses contribute $162 billion dollars in tax revenue to federal, state and local governments. They work in key sectors, start their own businesses and in general contribute to a thriving economy."
I guess there's something to be said for saving and only buying what you can afford. You can read the complete article here.

Thanks to my friend, Keith, for the link.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

100 Push Ups Challenge Completed!

After two months of intense workouts and performing thousands of push ups, I was finally able to do one hundred consecutive push ups without a break. With quivering arms, legs and midsection, I was able to complete the 100 Push Ups Challenge this evening.

You can read about my initial progress on the challenge here and where I was after six weeks here. I'm glad I stuck with it. It was well-worth the effort. Thanks to everyone that has followed along on this journey.

Do You Know the United States Better Than Al Franken?

I'm a person that enjoys seeking to master essentially useless skills that have the slight potential to impress friends. I've taught myself how to juggle, can solve a Rubik's Cube and I'm close to being able to do 100 push-ups in a row. When you don't have looks, talent, or humor, you've got to have something, right?

Which brings me to Senator Al Franken. Franken, once known as a bit player on Saturday Night Live and now a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, possesses a talent that I find extremely impressive. In less than two minutes, Franken can draw the United States...by free hand...from memory. And not just the outline of the country but each of the 48 contiguous states.

The following video clip is taken from over twenty years ago on the David Letterman show. You'll need to pick it up at the 6:35 mark to see Franken's feat. If the video player doesn't show up click here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Presence of Africans in Christian History

In my ministry with African American college students over the years a question that has often come up is whether Christianity is just a religion for the white man and offers nothing for people of color. Remarkably, few people know about the presence of black people in the Bible and the rich history that those of African descent have played in the history of the Christian church.

St. Augustine, one of the most influential early Christian figures, was himself an African who had this to say:
"I repeat, if she who asks is the Church, which no one disputes, and they hear something about Africa; then she who asks is out of Africa; and because it is the Church, the Church is out of Africa"
Although that might seem like a fairly provocative statement, it really isn't when you begin to examine the presence of Africans and those that would be considered black by today's standards throughout church history. For example, Matthew and John Mark, authors of two of the gospel accounts of Jesus, journeyed to Africa and the gospel message spread rapidly through north Africa, primarily in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. In fact, some of the first foreign missionaries after the apostles were Africans. The gospel took root on the continent of Africa in such a way that in the early part of the first millennium, most important questions of doctrine were settled under the leadership of African scholars.

Going back earlier, to the beginning of time, we know that the first people resided in Africa. In Before the Mayflower, historian Lerone Bennett states the following:
"Civilization started in the great river valleys of Africa and Asia, in the Fertile Crescent in the Near East and along the narrow ribbon of the Nile in Africa. Blacks, or people who would be considered black today, were among the first people to use tools, paint pictures, plant seeds, and worship gods."
Jumping forward to Noah and the Ark where Christians believe that God sent a great flood to the earth that destroyed all of humanity, save for Noah and his family. The earth was re-populated through Noah’s three sons and their wives:
  1. Ham (dark or black) – Africans, Asians, and Indians
  2. Shem (dusky or olive-colored) – Middle Eastern (Arabic) and Jews
  3. Japheth (bright or fair) – Europeans
From Noah's son Ham came his sons: Cush (Ethiopians), Mizraim (Egyptians), Put (Libyans), and Canaan (Canaanites). Of these grandchildren of Noah came the darker skinned peoples of the earth and from these descendants of Noah eventually came the following selected influential figures in biblical history:
  • Jethro – the Priest of Midian who became the father-in-law to Moses when his daughter, Zipporah (a Cushite), married him.
  • Nimrod – was the ruler of the land of Shinar, the father of Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, and was the first great leader of a world civilization.
  • Joshua – Joseph’s grandson came from the tribe of Ephraim and was a great leader of Israel.
  • King David – one of the most well-known figures of the Old Testament whose great-grandmother was Rahab (a Canaanite), and mother was Ruth (a Moabite).
  • King Solomon – was recognized as the wisest man ever. His father was David and mother was Bathsheba (daughter of Sheba).
  • The Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8. The early disciple Philip encountered him, a man of great importance and influence. According to church history, this Ethiopian helped spread the gospel in Africa after becoming a Christian.
  • Simon of Cyrene – was a man who helped Jesus carry his crossbar on the way to Golgotha. It's interesting to note that when Jesus needed help at his most vulnerable hour, an African man helped him.
  • Jesus Christ. Although we can't be certain of the color of Jesus's skin, there were several women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) that were of Hamitic descent.
Looking at early church history, we find a number of key African figures such as:
  • Tertullian – a major contributor to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
  • St. Augustine – who wrote the seminal works "Confessions" & "City of God." He was regarded as the one of the first highly regarded theologians, was of African descent and was educated at an African university.
  • Athanasius – attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325, in which Christian orthodoxy was defended against a heretic by the name of Arian. Athanasius wrote a letter in AD 367 which is the first evidence of all 27 books of the New Testament being included as the Scripture canon.
  • Cyprian – was the Bishop of Carthage and became a martyr when he was beheaded in AD 258 for his faith. He is one of the most influential writers of the early Latin Church.
Some say Christianity is a slave religion and the Bible is a white man’s book. Leaders from the Nation of Islam assert that Islam is the true religion for black people. But look at the following facts on whether Christianity or Islam might be considered the "natural" religion for those of African descent:
  1. Jesus was born in the 1st century whereas Muhammad was born in the 5th century.
  2. Blacks in Africa had built churches on African soil before Muhammad was even born.
  3. Arabic Muslims were the first to target Blacks exclusively for slavery and Europeans adopted this from them. This does does not excuse any white participants in the slave trade but it needs to be stated that it wasn't solely whites who took part.
  4. Lamin Sanneh, a well-respected Ivy League professor, claims that Christianity reached West Africa prior to Africans being brought to the U.S. as slaves.
Lastly, when we think of the pivotal time in church history shortly after Christ's crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Africans played a pivotal role. They were present at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell and they participated in sending Paul and Barnabas off on their missionary journeys. Africans were not only present, but were leaders in the Church from the earliest beginnings. So if you're of African descent and anyone ever challenges you on why you're a Christian, you might want to share a little history with them.

**Thank you to Pastor Dwight McKissic for his book, Beyond Roots, and to Pastor Bill Mitchell for his class, Out of Africa, that helped to shape the content of this post.**

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Outsider's Perspective on the Christian Subculture

My friend, Dan, recently linked to this article that is written from the perspective of a secular Jewish writer and his encounter with the evangelical Christian subculture in America.

I agree with the writer, Daniel Radosh, on some of the aspects of evangelical culture that are just simply weird. I understand that many in the mainstream culture consider we evangelicals odd because of our devotion to Jesus, belief in the Bible, etc. I'm okay with that but it's the extra, unnecessary stuff that comes across the strangest to others.

Radosh identifies several things he finds the most peculiar:

1. Testamints

2. Bibleman

3. Christian t-shirts (or "Witness Wear")

4. B and C-list Christian celebrities

Remarkably, the fifth thing that Radosh finds the weirdest is much different than the others:
"I certainly don’t think that all Christians are saints (or that all my fellow non-Christians are creeps), but after a year in the Christian bubble, I came to see the best aspects of Christian pop culture—the focus on fellowship, the unabashed celebration of the transcendent, the commitment to personal responsibility—as a bright light shining on the ugly side of the mainstream. I realized that Jesus’ radical message of brotherhood, selflessness and dignity may be just the antidote to our contemporary ethos of shamelessness and overindulgence. Which is why I find myself still, even with my journey officially over, stepping back into the Christian world now and again for a breath of fresh air. How weird is that?"
It's good to know that even in the midst of our "weirdness", genuine love for God and others can still be seen above our cheesy t-shirts and Bible verse imprinted breath mints.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts. What are the aspects of the Christian evangelical subculture that you find the most weird?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Are President Obama's Opponents Racist?

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter raised a bit of a ruckus this past week when he claimed that "an overwhelming portion" of President Barack Obama's opponents are racists. Coming on the heels of U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during the President's address to Congress on health care reform, Carter's assertions have certainly drawn a lot of attention.

Although I definitely believe that racism is alive and well, I do think that it is unfair to make the kind of statements that Pres. Carter has made on this matter. For sure, some people didn't vote for Barack Obama because of his skin color. And some may disagree with any policy he proposes for the same reason. But should we reasonably expect people to not be able to vocalize disagreement with Pres. Obama simply because he's black?

Fortunately, even the President understands that he is going to be criticized and that it comes with the territory. In an interview that will be airing tomorrow with CNN's John King, President Obama says this:
"Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are. That's not the overriding issue here," he said. "I think there are people who are anti-government. I think there's been a long-standing debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition, or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes."
There are individuals that simply have different ideologies when it comes to the role of government and policies that should be enacted. It doesn't mean they are racist if they disagree with the nation's first African American president. Darryl Owens, a columnist for The Orlando Sentinel who happens to be African American, weighs in on the issue:
"Undoubtedly, Obama could reverse the recession, win the war in Afghanistan and cure cancer tomorrow, and a phalanx of haters would find him repugnant because of his skin tone. But I'm not willing to paint a red "R" on a broad swath of protesters when there are legitimate policy objections out there.

In fact, I oppose Obama's embrace of abortion, don't like the pork packed into bailouts and question the breathless urgency of reforming health care. And I betcha won't find an Aryan Nation decoder ring in my wallet.

On the other hand, despite Obama's words to the contrary, there also is no doubt that vestiges of racial attitudes have added logs to the fiery protests."
Yes, racism exists and, yes, there are some whose prejudice drives their opposition to the President. But lets me careful to not be slinging barbs at people that may just think that the president's perspective on a certain issue is incorrect. Let's stick to the issues at hand and focus on that which will be beneficial.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ads From Early 90's Predict the Future

There were a series of commercials from AT&T that aired in the early 1990's featuring Tom Selleck that made some startling claims about technological advances that were to come. Amazingly, most of these things are now part of our lives (even if they may look a little different than what was anticipated).

As I think back to an age before video chats, the Internet, GPS, e-mail and smart phones, it's eerie to think how many of these technological advances are now commonplace. Check out the ads yourself below. (Click here if the video player doesn't show up.)

Thanks to TV Squad for the link.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Current Demographics of the Nation's College Students

According to recent statistics, the nation's college students are growing in number and continue to become more diverse. Taken from the most recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education and using statistics from the 2007 school year, the following numbers are some interesting facts concerning the current make-up of college students in the United States:

  • There are over 18 million college students in the U.S. today.

  • Of those 18 million + students, close to 36% are American ethnic minorities and international students studying in the U.S.

  • Within the state of California there are over 2.5 million students (an amazing 14% of the country's total), of which 1.5 million are ethnic minorities.

  • Close to 1.2 million attend college in the state of New York (primarily due to New York City); almost half a million of them are ethnic minorities.

  • The number of Native American students is approaching 200,000.

  • Asian Americans now number 1.2 million students.

  • African Americans continue to be the largest ethnic minority represented on our campuses at over 2.3 million.

  • Hispanics/Latinos are the fastest growing demographic and now total close to 2.1 million students.

  • There are close to three-quarters of a million international students currently studying in the U.S.

  • Students of European descent are still in the overall majority with 11.8 million.

  • What does this all mean? The college campuses of the United States are becoming more diverse, the coasts are rapidly growing and our cities are home to many of the nation's students. In order to reach these students, campus ministries like those that I work with need to adopt new approaches to ministry that will effectively reach students of color, those that speak a primary language other than English and those in our major cities. The times they are a changin'.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    How One Church is Using Technology

    Joel Hunter has become well-known over the past year as one of President Obama's spiritual advisers but few outside of central Florida may realize that he is a pastor of a large church that uses innovative ways to extend its reach. Northland, a Church Distributed is a mega-church located outside of Orlando that has taken a multi-site approach (hence the "Church Distributed" moniker) and uses the Internet in creative ways to minister to current and seeking members.

    Christianity Today recently profiled Pastor Hunter and focuses on how Northland embraces modern technology to broadcast its services online. Although there are a number of detractors who think ministry can't be done online, Hunter feels differently:
    "Our experience has been that people feel safer being able to talk from their own home than they are when they go on someone else's turf," Hunter says. "We have seen an increase in transparency when you add that safety layer."
    Based on my own experiences, I would have to agree. Through sites like EveryStudent.com and NotYourMamasReligion.com, we provide safe places for students to explore issues of faith in a non-threatening environment. I do agree that face-to-face interaction is generally preferred over communication that is taking place online, it is not always possible. But in order to reach those that spend the bulk of their time online, churches and other ministries need to have an active presence there in order to minister to those that may not be reached through traditional methods.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Leading Change Within Non-Profits

    As a leader within a non-profit organization, this article by Seth Godin is both inspiring and convicting at the same time. Although our bottom line is changed lives and not to make money, those of us in ministries and charities can operate in a way that demonstrates a resistance to change because it is uncomfortable. In the for-profit industry, change is both necessary and needed in order to stay in existence; for many non-profits, change seems like a dreaded evil that must be avoided as long as checks from donors continue to stream in.

    Godin questions:
    "Did you start or join this non-profit because of the non part? I doubt it. It's because you want to make change. The way the world is just isn't right or good enough for you... there's an emergency or an injustice or an opportunity and you want to make change.

    These organizations exist solely to make change. That's why you joined, isn't it?

    The problem facing your group, ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change.

    Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you're doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I'm betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way?"
    Out of necessity the organization in which I lead, The Impact Movement, is currently going through some radical changes. However, what we are finding in the midst of these changes is that we will be in a better position long-term to do what we've wanted to see all along -- changed lives.

    Businesses that seek to make a profit are the leaders in innovation and technology. Why? Because they realize that in order to make more money, they need to offer products and services that customers expect and demand. Oftentimes, non-profit agencies and churches are way behind the curve when it comes to the embracing of modern technology and new ways of thinking. We often use "tradition" as an excuse for not wanting to embrace the future and step into the unknown.

    Godin goes onto further explain:
    "If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you'll find thousands of case studies of small (and large) innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn't acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you're failing in your duty to make change.

    The marketing world has changed completely. So has the environment for philanthropic giving. So have the attitudes of a new generation of philanthropists. But if you look at the biggest charities in the country, you couldn't tell. Because they're 'non' first, change second."
    If we're truly in the business of seeing lives changed perhaps we need to see our organizations changed first.

    Thanks to my friend, Jay, for the link to the Godin article.

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Central Michigan Beats Michigan State Once Again

    For the third time in the last eighteen years, the Central Michigan Chippewa football team marched into East Lansing and beat Michigan State on their own turf. In a thrilling come-from-behind 29-27 victory, CMU quarterback, Dan LeFevour, led the Chippewas with 328 yards passing to go with his three touchdowns through the air. During the game, LeFevour also became the all-time leader in total offense for the Mid-American Conference.

    As a proud Central Michigan alum, it was exciting to see my Chippewas beat a very good Michigan State team. For those who watched the game it was apparent that Central was simply the better team today. Although the Chips did need some luck near the end of the game, they outplayed and outperformed the Spartans throughout the game.

    I can distinctly remember back to the last two times when CMU beat MSU. The first came in 1991 as I was just starting my freshmen year at Central as the Chippewas soundly beat the Spartans 20-3 in East Lansing. The game was considered a fluke win by Michigan State players, who assured all who would listen that they would get their revenge over Central in the 1992 game. Remarkably, CMU did it again in '92 by posting a 24-20 win in a game I had the privilege of attending.

    Although some would argue that another loss of a Big Ten team at the hands of a Mid-American squad demonstrates the Big Ten's weakness, I think it just goes to show how good the MAC is. I anticipate that MSU will still challenge for a Big Ten title this year and, hopefully, Central will win the MAC and a bowl game. With this win, LeFevour will likely get more national attention and some Heisman trophy consideration. Fire Up Chips!

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Hope in the Messiah

    Taken from Isaiah 9 (New Living Translation):
    "1 Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

    2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

    3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder.

    4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.

    5 The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire.

    6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

    7 His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!"

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Michigan & Notre Dame is Important Again

    As a diehard Michigan Wolverine football fan, the 2008 season was a painful one to watch. But after watching Michigan's convincing victory of Western Michigan last Saturday, the Maize and Blue appear to be on its way back to national relevance.

    Before anyone will take Michigan seriously again, though, they will need to have an inspired performance this weekend against one of their greatest rivals, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Another once-revered program that has slid in recent years, Notre Dame is also seeking a big win in the Big House in order to cement their place as a team to be part of the national conversation.

    ESPN.com writer Jon Greenberg has a great article about the meaning that this game holds for both programs and its coaches, Rich Rodriguez and Charlie Weis. You can read the complete article here but here is a highlight:
    "This game is just a game, they'll say. It's the second week of September, they'll say. But it's not true. College football is winner-take-all. Every Saturday counts, and when you look back on the season later, some count more than others.

    I'm not a slave to the past, or to the orthodoxy of collegiate traditions, but Michigan versus Notre Dame is about as pure a college football rivalry as it gets, and there should be some celebration of that.

    From Bo Schembechler to Touchdown Jesus, an air of religiosity abounds in both programs. More people pray in their stadiums than in Vatican City on a Saturday. And of course, more people swear as well.

    More than 30 years ago, Charlie Weis, Class of 1978, was one of those congregants, even though Notre Dame and Michigan didn't play each other during his undergrad years. He knows how this game will be looked upon.

    "I think because both teams were somewhat question marks going into the opening week and both had sound, convincing wins, it's increased the interest of everyone else as it relates to the game," he said. "The trickle-down effect is that it permeates to the players."

    The coaches, he said, know this is just another game to prepare for, another game to lose sleep over, another game they must win. A little more, perhaps, than the others."
    Go Blue!

    Monday, September 07, 2009

    President Obama's Speech to Children

    There has been a lot of discussion in recent days about the speech that President Barack Obama plans to give to the nation's public school students tomorrow. Although the President addressing children is not all that common, it is not out of the ordinary. In fact, Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush delivered similar messages and, yes, many Democrats cried foul just as many Republicans are now up in arms over President Obama's intended remarks.

    As a registered independent voter and parent of three children in public schools, I am in agreement that a president should be allowed to encourage millions of children to value education, work hard and make a positive contribution to society. Whether I agree or not with the individual that is in office, they are the recognized leader of the country. And in Obama's case, a man of color that was raised with an absentee father, he has a voice to young children that look like him and have been brought up in similar circumstances that no other president has ever had.

    As a Christian parent with children in public schools, I realize there there are going to be things that are said or taught that I may not agree with. That's simply part of life. It's my job to be involved in my kids lives to the point that I know what they're learning and talk about the things that I disagree with. In order to calm the fears of parents that are concerned about what the President would be sharing tomorrow, I've included the complete text here, taken from http://www.whitehouse.gov/:
    "Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
    I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
    I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
    Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
    So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
    Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility. I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn. I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
    I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve. But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
    And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself. Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
    Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
    And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
    And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future. You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment.
    You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
    We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country. Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork. I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
    So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse. But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
    Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
    But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying. Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
    That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
    Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
    I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
    And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
    Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
    That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
    Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
    I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things. But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
    That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
    These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
    No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
    Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
    And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
    The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best. It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
    So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country? Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn.
    But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
    Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America."
    UPDATE: After writing my post, I read this article from Dr. Albert Mohler, who addresses this controversy more adeptly than myself and delves into issues surrounding it more deeply. I suggest you check it out.

    Saturday, September 05, 2009

    Health Care Reform and You

    I would be lying if I said I understand much about our health care system in America. Like many others, I have my medical insurance, pay my bills when they're due and I don't give much thought about it. I feel like my wife and I, missionaries without much disposable income, have to raise an awful lot of money each month to cover that insurance but our coverage is good and has seen us through the births of our four children.

    As a Christian that is concerned about the care received by those without much in the way of financial means, I think there is something inherently wrong in a system in which millions in the wealthiest country on earth do not have access to treatment that should be available to them. I wonder to what extent the government has the responsibility to care for its citizens and what kind of role the Church could more intentionally play in caring for the sick.

    But I don't know if what is being proposed nationally now will solve the problem, either. Justin Taylor, on his blog Between Two Worlds, suggests we read the article How American Health Care Killed My Father, to get an interesting take on the issue. Written in the Atlantic, David Goldhill shares how his experiences with his now-deceased father shaped his thoughts on health care reform. The complete article can be read here, but here is an excerpt:
    "Keeping Dad company in the hospital for five weeks had left me befuddled. How can a facility featuring state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment use less-sophisticated information technology than my local sushi bar? How can the ICU stress the importance of sterility when its trash is picked up once daily, and only after flowing onto the floor of a patient’s room? Considering the importance of a patient’s frame of mind to recovery, why are the rooms so cheerless and uncomfortable? In whose interest is the bizarre scheduling of hospital shifts, so that a five-week stay brings an endless string of new personnel assigned to a patient’s care? Why, in other words, has this technologically advanced hospital missed out on the revolution in quality control and customer service that has swept all other consumer-facing industries in the past two generations?

    I’m a businessman, and in no sense a health-care expert. But the persistence of bad industry practices—from long lines at the doctor’s office to ever-rising prices to astonishing numbers of preventable deaths—seems beyond all normal logic, and must have an underlying cause. There needs to be a business reason why an industry, year in and year out, would be able to get away with poor customer service, unaffordable prices, and uneven results—a reason my father and so many others are unnecessarily killed."
    Whatever your view may be on the Obama administration, I think it seems apparent that some changes need to be made. I'm not sure what those are but I hope that those much wiser than I find a workable solution. The lives of many depend on it.

    Friday, September 04, 2009

    Ernie Harwell Announces He Has Terminal Cancer

    It has been a rough year for the city of Detroit and the announcement from beloved Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell that he has inoperable cancer doesn't make it any easier for Motown sports fans. In a year that has seen the deaths of Pistons owner Bill Davidson and Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Daly, former Tiger All-Stars Mark Fidrych & George Kell, and the wife of hockey legend Gordie Howie, Colleen, Harwell's announcement seems surreal.

    Harwell, who has been a major league announcer for over half a century, has spent the better part of four decades with Tigers. For Tigers fans like myself, Ernie Harwell is the voice of the Tigers and always will be. The sound of his voice calling a Tigers game conjures up pleasant and peaceful memories of youth. It reminds me of playing baseball all day long in the summertime and a magical '84 Tigers squad.

    Detroit fans are well familiar with his common phrases like "he stood there like the house by the side of the road", "the payoff pitch" and "two for the price of one." What some fans may not be familiar with is his strong Christian faith, which will sustain him through whatever time on earth that God allows. As he says,
    "And also, I think that when I heard the news, that I had this cancer, that I had a feeling of security and serenity ... but I had a feeling of acceptance because of my belief in Jesus and the Lord."
    And that, my friends, is one for the books. Thanks for all the memories, Ernie.

    Billy Graham Association Being Sued Over Racial Discrimination

    There is some turmoil within the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) as the organization is battling a lawsuit filed by a former employee in which the BGEA is being accused of racial discrimination. The woman, an African American, says that she was fired after complaining that the BGEA was not doing enough in its efforts to reach out to predominately black churches.

    If these accusations are true, I would certainly be surprised by it. Even though Rev. Graham no longer leads the day-to-day operations of the BGEA, his influence would certainly still be felt today by the current leadership. Although we can look back on his ministry and point to times when he could have done more when it came to matters of race relations, Dr. Graham played a prophetic role among white Christians when many other Christian leaders failed to address or contributed to the problem of race in America.

    For example, he integrated his crusades in the South, before Brown v. Board of Education or the Montgomery Bus Boycott took place. In the face of great opposition from others, he welcomed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to his crusade platform. He even traveled to South Africa when that country was in the throes of apartheid and preached to integrated audiences.

    The lawsuit that Graham's ministry is now facing may simply be a case of a disgruntled former employee who is playing the race card. Or it may be something deeper. I don't know. But I do think that history shows that the BGEA has made efforts to reach across racial and denominational lines so that the gospel of Christ could go forth. But like many other predominately white Christian organizations, there are inherent challenges faced when seeking to include those of other ethnicities.

    Although the intentions may be good and the heart is in the right place, ministries seeking to transcend the racial divide encounter all sorts of difficulties when seeking to do so. It may not be that Billy Graham's ministry doesn't want to include black churches, they may just not know how.

    Tuesday, September 01, 2009

    A New Bible Translation?

    Bible translators are hard at work on an updated revision of the popular New International Version of the Bible. The new version, which is scheduled to be released in 2011, will surely generate some debate as the last new translation of the NIV, Today's New International Version, caused an uproar in some circles as a result of its gender inclusive language.

    USA Today writer, Cathy Lynn Grossman, comments on the controversy:
    "Just like the NIV, [the T-NIV] was based on deep scholarship, commitment to clarity and accessibility, but translators also took a so-called "gender accurate" approach that they say eliminated masculine or feminine nouns and pronouns that were unsupported by original manuscripts.

    But the T-NIV was greeted with horror by traditionalists. And 118 scholars signed a letter of criticism saying it undermined the essential trustworthiness of the Bible.

    "People memorize the Bible. They pray on it. They want to trust every word," says a leading critic at the time, Wayne Grudem, author of The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy and a professor of the Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, Ariz.

    "The T-NIV is very divisive. It's not a unifying translation. And it was poorly handled in the marketplace. We need to undo the damage," says Maureen (Moe ) Girkins, president of Zondervan.

    The T-NIV will be taken off the market when the new Bible is released."
    As with any modern translation of the Bible in English, there will be debate over the choice of words. Though many in America consider the King James Version of the Bible to be the only true version, the reality is that the KJV is, itself, a translation of the original text, which was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

    Modern translations of the Bible attempt to put God's Word in language that is common to its readers. However, translators that change the true meaning of words or phrases in order to suit their own culturally influenced perspectives are treading on dangerous turf. It will be interesting to see how this new version of the NIV is received.