Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Deeper Meaning of Christmas

Photo Credit: tommaync
The late Theodor Geisel, also known as "Dr. Seuss", shared some thoughts on the deeper meaning of Christmas in his children's classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas:
"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."
Dr. Seuss was right in saying that there is more to Christmas.  The meaning of Christmas is not found in shopping or food or Santa or trees. As nice and as good as these things may be, the heart of Christmas is found in an obscure manger over two millenia ago where the God of the universe became a baby.

Christmas is when eternity entered into time. Christmas is the reality of Immanuel, that God is here among us.  Christmas is the open door to hope that our sin can be forgiven.  Christmas is selfless love.  Christmas is knowing that we have a Savior that sympathizes with humanity.  Christmas is the faith that wrongs will be righted and justice will be realized.  Christmas is "the celebration of Christ" (the literal meaning of Christmas).  Christmas is Jesus.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Story Behind "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

Photo Credit: K!T
From Mental Floss:
"In 1963, TV producer Lee Mendelson filmed a documentary about Charles Schulz and the daily process involved in creating his Peanuts comic strip. The Peanuts documentary never sold, but Coca-Cola execs happened to see it and asked Mendelson if he’d be interested in doing an animated Charlie Brown Christmas special. Within a few days, Mendelson and Schulz had the outline of a script ready, with notes like "sad Christmas tree," "school play," and "ice skating" scribbled in the margins.

When it came to actually producing the special, Charlie Brown was truly a problem child. Unlike most of the other characters, Charlie Brown’s head was completely round, which made it difficult for the animators to indicate movement from side to side. Snoopy, on the other hand, was the easiest character to manipulate, which is why they had fun making him do everything from dancing the jitterbug to impersonating a vulture.

When CBS executives previewed A Charlie Brown Christmas, they were uneasy, to say the least. There was not enough action, it moved too slow, the voices had been done by real kids, not adult actors, there was no laugh track, etc. Most upsetting was the fact that Linus read from the Gospel of Luke in one scene. ("You can’t read from the Bible on network television!")

Nevertheless, CBS had made a commitment to their sponsor, so they aired the special as scheduled on December 9, 1965. And, as it turned out, A Charlie Brown Christmas drew in 15.4 million viewers, placing it second in the ratings that week after Bonanza. A few months later, Charles Schulz and Lee Mendelson found themselves onstage accepting an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oswald Chambers on Understanding Truth

Photo Credit: REL Waldman
From Oswald Chambers' classic devotional, My Utmost For His Highest:
"If you cannot express yourself well on each of your beliefs, work and study until you can. If you don’t, other people may miss out on the blessings that come from knowing the truth. Strive to re-express a truth of God to yourself clearly and understandably, and God will use that same explanation when you share it with someone else. But you must be willing to go through God’s winepress where the grapes are crushed.
You must struggle, experiment, and rehearse your words to express God’s truth clearly. Then the time will come when that very expression will become God’s wine of strength to someone else. But if you are not diligent and say, “I’m not going to study and struggle to express this truth in my own words; I’ll just borrow my words from someone else,” then the words will be of no value to you or to others. Try to state to yourself what you believe to be the absolute truth of God, and you will be allowing God the opportunity to pass it on through you to someone else.

Always make it a practice to stir your own mind thoroughly to think through what you have easily believed. Your position is not really yours until you make it yours through suffering and study. The author or speaker from whom you learn the most is not the one who teaches you something you didn’t know before, but the one who helps you take a truth with which you have quietly struggled, give it expression, and speak it clearly and boldly."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Chuck Swindoll on Attitude

Photo Credit: arturodonate
Charles Swindoll on the importance of our attitude:
"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes."

Monday, December 06, 2010

How Christians Can Relate to Our Culture

Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes
For any thoughtful Christian that wants to make a lasting difference in the lives of individuals and society, there needs to be given serious consideration to how we will relate to the broader, non-Christian culture in which most people live.

We can seek to live our lives no different than non-Christians and blend right in with everyone else.  We can view ourselves as being in a war with the culture (with Christians being the good guys and everybody else the bad.)  Or we can take a different approach where we seek to engage the culture while maintaining our distinctiveness as followers of the Nazarene carpenter.

Pastor Mark Driscoll offers a compelling perspective on this topic in an article posted to his blog, entitled "Why Christians Go Postal Over Facebook, Jay-Z, Yoga, Avatar, and Culture in General."  I encourage you to read the whole post but here's a highlight
"Engaging culture requires discernment by God’s people to filter all of the cultures they encounter, Christian and non-Christian, through a biblical and theological grid in order to cling to that which is good and reject that which is evil. As we engage culture (watching films and television, listening to music, reading books, shopping at stores, and so on), we must do so as theologians and missionaries filled with wisdom and discernment, seeking to better grasp life in our culture. We do this so we can begin the transforming work of the gospel in our culture by contextualizing the good news of Jesus. Not compromising. Not changing. Contextualizing.
Practically, this means doing what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22–23, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” The truth is that every ministry is contextualized, the only difference is to which culture and which year of that culture. Everything from pews to chairs, sound systems, projectors, suits, and a printed Bible in the English language are very recent missiogical contextualizations in light of the two thousand years of Christianity."
As Driscoll shares in his post, it is up to us to discern which elements of our culture we are to 1) Receive; 2) Reject; or 3) Redeem. Every culture on earth has things that are given by God and areas that are intrinsically evil.  There are also those aspects that were once good but have become corrupted over time. The thoughtful missionary understands the difference.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Do They All Really Look the Same?

Photo Credit: + MUSH
There is an inside joke among members of ethnic minority communities that white people cannot tell them apart.  In many ways, this is true.  When white people describe members of our own ethnicity to one another, we usually describe things like eye color ("He's the one with the deep blue eyes"), hair color ("You know, the redhead), height ("Yeah, the really tall girl"), or facial hair ("The dude with the soul patch").

But when referring to those of other ethnicities, we rarely move past skin color ("Um...I'm not sure which one.  I do know he was black").  One of my favorite television shows, The Office, demonstrated this in one episode where the innocent, yet incompetent, Michael Scott had to mark the arm of his Asian date because he could not tell her apart from her friend, another Asian women. 

However, the inability for members of one racial group to distinguish members of other groups is not the exclusive property of us white folk.  TIME Magazine tells the story:
"You've heard the racial epithet: All you people look the same. It's detestable, but a new study shows that the racist observation happens to be true. To members of one race, members of another race are far more difficult to differentiate.

The study, written by a European team led by Luca Vizioli of the University of Glasgow and published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, begins by noting that humans are remarkably skilled at facial recognition: we can differentiate family members and friends from strangers in far less than a second. (More on The Authentic Self: How Do You Know If You're 'Really' Racist or Sexist?)

And yet as long ago as 1914, an academic publication called the Journal of Criminal Law and Police Science published an article saying it takes us longer to tell apart members of races other than our own. "To the uninitiated American," the authors wrote, "all Asiatics look alike, while to the Asiatics, all White men look alike."

...The study found that, as expected, both Asian and white observers revealed what is called the "other-race effect": they took longer to recognize members of other races.

The authors controlled for differences in how the faces in the photos looked. It didn't matter whether someone was pretty or ugly, whether they were making a nice face or a rude one: it still took longer to recognize them if they were a member of another race."
I, for one, don't see these findings as surprising at all.  I've spent enough time around other white people to know that most of us do have a difficulty time in distinguishing those of other races.  But I've also spent enough time in African American circles to know that the same is true for black people.

Case in point: I happen to work with an organization primarily made up of African Americans.  I am often one of the few white people around during meetings or gatherings.  At least on initial interaction with new people, I can be known as "the white guy."  There is another gentleman that works with us that is also white.  I have frequently been confused with him, although he is twenty years my senior and, apart from the fact that we both have brown hair and wear glasses, doesn't really resemble me.

So if someone has a difficult time differentiating people of a different ethnicity, I don't necessarily chalk that up to racism.  It may be that they simply haven't spent enough time with people within that racial group in order to quickly identify them in a way that is similar to how they would within those of their own ethnicity.

In order to help with distinguishing those of different races, we need to be able to move beyond skin color and see more of the complete person.  Just as we point out the features that make someone different within our own race (e.g. hair styles, body type, what type of glasses they wear, etc.), we can apply that to those of other ethnicities.

There may be something inherent within us that makes it more challenging to identify those from other ethnic groups but, unlike Michael Scott, we don't want to stay in our ignorance.  By building relationships with those of other ethnicities, we will be begin to see people as individuals and not just as members of another race.  Yes, our ethnicity is part of who we are, but it doesn't say everything about us.  Strive to get to know people as unique individuals and it's amazing how you will begin to see their uniqueness.

(h/t to Racialicious for the link)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Christian Perspective on Thanksgiving

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC
The late founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Bill Bright, used to say that one of the best ways to express our faith is to give thanks in all circumstances. Today is a day in which we remember all that we are thankful for and the One to whom our thanks is directed. Here are some inspiring words from John Fischer on being thankful:
"Thanksgiving is not just one day a year, it is the theme song of the Christian. For a Christian not to be thankful is like a dog not wagging his tail at his owner's approach.

Thankful Christians walk around grateful for every breath, every sunset, every new morning, every color in the color spectrum, and every star in the sky. Like an alcoholic who is clean and sober, noticing beauty and taste for the first time, we are grateful just to be alive because we have been dead for so long.

It's hard to think of one vice that the virtue of thankfulness cannot render useless. One does not need to steal when one is thankful. A man does not covet his neighbor's wife when he is thankful for his own. No one craves more when he is grateful for what he has.

In the same way, a thankful heart cancels out pride and arrogance. No need to judge other people when you are thankful for who you are. No need to measure yourself by and compare yourself to others when you are thankful for what God has done in your life. No need to keep anyone out of the kingdom of God when you know you don't deserve to get in. (God can let in anyone He wants. I am simply glad to be counted among the saved.)

You don't care if you get the important seat at the table when you are overcome with gratitude at simply being invited to the dinner. You don't put heavy weights on other people's shoulders when you are thankful that God has lightened your own load. You are not obsessed with what other people think of you when you are overwhelmed with the fact that God is thinking about you all the time. You don't demand respect when you are thankful for your place. You don't have to hide your own sin when you are already thankful for God's forgiveness. You don't have to protect your image when you are already number one with God.

You don't have to condemn other people's blindness when it's only the grace of God that has allowed you to see. You don't have to try for the highest place when you are already grateful for whatever place you were given. You don't have to make a show of spirituality when you are thankful for having received the Spirit. You don't have to clothe yourself in holy robes when you have been already clothed in righteousness. (Or as a friend of mine used to say, "Why be cute when you're already beautiful?") You don't have to be full of yourself when you are thankful that God has filled you up with Himself.

Not only do we have a lot to be thankful for, our thankfulness can accomplish much."
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends. God bless.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Michigan/Ohio State Jokes

Photo Credit: @photogoofer
In honor of Rivalry Week leading up to "The Game", I have posted some Michigan/Ohio State humor the past several years.

I've collected all of the jokes I have into a greatest hits collection below. Click on the link and it'll take you to the full joke.

I fully realize that the titles of these jokes sound like the names of Seinfeld episodes, but it's the best I could do. Enjoy!
Here's to a fun week and a great game. Go Blue!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pakistan, Islam and Blasphemy

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz
Blasphemy means to show disrespect or to speak against revered religious figures, beliefs and customs.  Although those of us that have deeply held religious beliefs can easily get offended when our faith is mocked or disregarded, few of us believe that others should lose their lives over the words they speak against our beliefs.

For example, the name of Jesus is commonly used as a swear word within our culture and, though highly offensive to Christians, I have never heard a call from conservative believers within the United States that those that take the Lord's name in vain should be executed for doing so.  Apparently, the laws in Pakistan are much different.

A Christian woman who is accused of insulting the Islamic faith and its prophet, Muhammad, is facing the death penalty for her words, which some consider blasphemous. shares the story:
"In this village in Pakistan's Punjab province a tearful 12-year-old girl ponders if the Pakistani government will soon hang her mother.

"Whenever I see her picture I cry," Isham Masih told CNN. "I want my mother back. That's what I'm praying for."

This month a Pakistani court sentenced Isham's mother, 45-year-old Asia Bibi, to death, not because she killed, injured or stole, but simply because she said something.

Prosecutors say Bibi, who is a Christian, broke Pakistan's strict blasphemy law by insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment according to Pakistan's penal code.

The alleged incident happened in June 2009 when Bibi, a field worker, was picking fruit in a village two hours west of Lahore. Prosecutors say when Bibi dipped her cup into a bucket of drinking water during a lunch break, her co-workers complained the water had been contaminated by a non-Muslim."
You can read the rest of the story here.

Even though it grieves me deeply when I see or hear others making injurious comments towards my Savior, Jesus Christ, I'm glad that I live in country where I'm not looking for my government to kill those I disagree with.

A few years ago when a Danish cartoonist drew some cartoons of Muhammad, there was an uproar as some Muslims called for violence towards those involved.  Note, not all Muslims called for the violence.  And it wasn't even most.  Just some.  Shortly thereafter, John Piper offered a challenging perspective on how Christians should respond when our Christ is insulted.  As Piper noted,
"The work of Muhammad is based on being honored and the work of Christ is based on being insulted. This produces two very different reactions to mockery."
To read more of Piper's thoughts on the matter click here.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Why We Should Vote on November 2nd

Photo Credit: Theresa Thompson
Tomorrow, tens of millions of United States citizens will enter the voting booth to choose the women and men that they feel will do the best job of leading our cities, counties, states and country. Unfortunately, a significant number of voters will choose to stay home. Many are turned off by the negative tones of political campaigns or feel like their single vote doesn't make a difference.

Think your vote doesn't matter? Look at what Seth Godin has to say about why it's important for us to vote:
"If you don't vote because you're trying to teach politicians a lesson, you're tragically misguided in your strategy. The very politicians you're trying to send a message to don't want you to vote. Since 1960, voting turnouts in mid-term elections are down significantly, and there's one reason: because of TV advertising.

Political TV advertising is designed to do only one thing: suppress the turnout of the opponent's supporters. If the TV ads can turn you off enough not to vote ("they're all bums") then their strategy has succeeded.

The astonishing thing is that voters haven't figured this out. As the scumminess and nastiness of campaigning and governing has escalated and the flakiness of candidates appears to have escalated as well, we've largely abdicated the high ground and permitted selfish partisans on both sides to hijack the system.

Voting is free. It's fairly fast. It doesn't make you responsible for the outcome, but it sure has an impact on what we have to live with going forward. The only thing that would make it better is free snacks.

Even if you're disgusted, vote. Vote for your least unfavorite choice. But go vote."
Over the course of our nation's history, there have many brave individuals that have sacrificially given of themselves (some have even given their lives) so that you and I could exercise this very basic privilege of freedom. Your vote does matter and, collectively, we make a difference. Take the time and vote.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Fun 2010

Me with my soldier, iPhone, Buzz Lightyear and football player
Carved by Lori: Princess Tiana & Curious George
Carved by me: Michigan's winged helmet & Stormtrooper

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Seth Godin on Whining

Photo Credit: emrank
Seth Godin's take on whining:
"Two problems with whining.  The first is that it doesn't work. You can whine about the government or your friends or your job or your family, but nothing will happen except that you'll waste time.

Worse... far worse... is that whining is a reverse placebo. When you get good at whining, you start noticing evidence that makes your whining more true. So you amplify that and immerse yourself in it, thus creating more evidence, more stuff worth complaining about.

If you spent the same time prattling on about how optimistic you are, you'd have to work hard to make that true..."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Church is Changing for Some African Americans

Photo Credit: Whiskeygonebad
"African-Americans go to religious services and pray daily more often than the general American population, studies show. And while those rates seem to be holding steady, the places of worship and the size of the groups are changing, says one expert.

Many people continue to attend mega churches, but the small communal gathering is rebounding in popularity, Teresa L. Fry Brown said.

“There is an increase now in house churches,” said Fry Brown, the director of black church studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “They kind of faded for about 20 years. But now more people are having small gatherings. And they may not even call it church - like Bible studies in homes.”

There are a couple of reasons for the change, she said. Some churchgoers find the bigger houses of worship too restrictive or simply don’t trust the leadership of the church.

She said people are meeting more often in club houses, homes and restaurants. And the gatherings aren’t always sponsored through a church.

In 2009, the Pew Research Center reported that 53 percent of African-Americans attended church regularly, compared with 39 percent of all Americans."
To read the rest of the article click here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Role That Campus Crusade Played in the Chilean Miners' Rescue

Photo Credit: thomaswanhoff
For some reason, I woke up around 2 a.m. the other night and had a hard time getting back to sleep. I ended up turning on the television and found that the rescue of the trapped Chilean miners was in full progress.

The miners, who had been stuck nearly a half-mile underground for over two months, were all brought safely to the surface and reunited with their loved ones.  It was truly an inspiring thing to see.

Afterward, I learned that the ministry that I work with, Campus Crusade for Christ, played a small role in the lives of the miners while they were underground and during the rescue. tells the story of how staff members with the Jesus Film Project were able to get the miners some spiritual resources while trapped and t-shirts that they all wore during the rescue. 

"Seventeen days into the mine accident, Campus Crusade for Christ International (CCCI) country director for Chile, Christian Maureira, started contacting public officials to see if they could send the miners a copy of the film. Fiess said Maureira was able to reach a daughter and a brother of miner Jose Henriquez.

Through that family contact, the group was able to send an MP3 audio version of the Jesus film and an MP3 audio version of the New Testament in Spanish to Henriquez down in the mine.

The Jesus film explains that the New Testament tells how Jesus is laid in a tomb-like cave after his crucifixion. Three days later, Jesus is said to have risen from the dead. In the Jesus film, women come to the tomb and find the stone that blocked the entrance has been rolled away, the cave empty.

It is unclear if the miners saw the resurrection story as a parallel for their hoped-for rescue, but Jose Henriquez passed along a letter to CCCI's Maureira from inside the mine. Fiess shared the English translation with CNN:
Thank you for this tremendous blessing for me and my coworkers. It will be good for our spiritual edification. I am fine because Christ lives in me.
We have prayer services at 12 noon and 6 pm.
"At the end of the letter," Fiess said, "(Henriquez) said goodbye with Psalm 95:4, which says, 'In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him.'"

A few days later, Henriquez asked Maureira to get them special T-shirts.

"The T-shirts were a gift from Campus Crusade for Christ Chile," Fiess said. "In the front you can read, 'Gracias Senor' – 'Thank you Lord.'"

And on the back, Psalm 95:4.

"Apparently, all the miners liked them," Fiess said. "It kind of solidified them."
The goal of the Jesus Film Project is to give every person in the world an opportunity to say "yes" to Jesus. It is nice to see that not only were these miners physical lives saved but they also got the opportunity to receive the gift of eternal life.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Guarding Against Patriotism Becoming an Idol

Photo Credit: euripedies
Some good thoughts from Tim King of Sojourners Magazine on Patriotism and Idolatry:
"Idolatry is often subtle. I’ve never walked into a Church to see the cross replaced with a golden calf. It’s not that blatant. Idolatry replaces God with anything that is less than God, even if that thing is pretty good.

I would define patriotism as the love of country and to desire and work for its good. It is a good thing. Patriotism passes into idolatry if Christianity is reduced to a means of achieving the good of country, or love of country comes to mean the same thing as love of God and neighbor.

There are two primary ways we can slip into idolatry: through theology or fervor. Our theology, for starters, needs to distinguish between what it means to be an American citizen and a Christian; between the hope of Christ and the will of God for America. It needs to say how we love God and neighbor first and still love country.

When it comes to fervor, we can’t allow our political passions to cloud Christian discernment. For example, Christians should be concerned about our national security. But, that does not mean anything our country does in the name of national security is Christian or moral. Christians should be concerned about the poor. But, that does not mean anything our country does in the name of helping the poor is right. God desires America to be secure and just (as God does of the whole world), but Christianity is not to be reduced to something useful merely to these ends.

Idolatry can creep up on you. For personal accountability, I try to be in regular contact and relationship with Christians who share different political opinions, especially Christians living in different countries. Having close friends and family who passionately disagree with my politics has helped me discern between my political fervor and Christian conviction. Having friends whose patriotism is directed at a different nation-state, but who still share my faith, has helped me distinguish between my love of God and my love of country."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

PBS to Air "God in America" Series

Photo Credit: shutterchik
PBS will be airing a series this week that will focus on the role that religion has played in American Life. The six-hour series, named "God in America, will on October 11, 12 and 13th.

From the PBS website:
"God in America examines the potent and complex interaction between religion and democracy, the origins of the American concept of religious liberty, and the controversial evolution of that ideal in the nation's courts and political arena. The series considers the role religious ideas and institutions have played in social reform movements from abolition to civil rights, examining the impact of religious faith on conflicts from the American Revolution to the Cold War, and how guarantees of religious freedom created a competitive American religious marketplace.
It also explores the intersection of political struggle and spiritual experience in the lives of key American historical figures including Franciscan Friars and the Pueblo leader Po'pay, Puritan leader John Winthrop and dissident Anne Hutchinson, Catholic Bishop John Hughes, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, reform Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, Scopes trial combatants William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, evangelist Billy Graham, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Moral Majority's Jerry Falwell.

"The American story cannot be fully understood without understanding the country's religious history," says series executive producer Michael Sullivan. "By examining that history, God in America will offer viewers a fresh, revealing and challenging portrait of the country."

"Americans are awash in a sea of faith, but their knowledge about religious faiths and religious history often runs as shallow as their commitment to religion runs deep," notes Stephen Prothero, chief editorial consultant for God in America, professor of religion at Boston University, and author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- And Doesn't. "A series like God in America can help correct that imbalance and provide the basis for a common understanding of the role religion has played in American public life."
Check your local television listings for times and station.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Preparing for the Michigan-Michigan State Game

Photo Credit:
Andrew Morrell Photography
As a young boy growing up in southeastern Michigan, the annual match up between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University was always the biggest college football game of the year for me.  I know that the Michigan and Ohio State University game has traditionally had more Big Ten title and Rose Bowl implications, but the MSU game was always the bigger deal to me when I was a kid.

You see, I didn't go to school with any Ohio State fans and, therefore, didn't interact with them on a daily basis.  The only Buckeye fan that I knew was my grandfather and he had been born and raised in Ohio.  But, as a Michigan fan, I dealt with Spartan fans year-round so bragging rights meant something.  In fact, most of my closest friends rooted for MSU.  I don't know why that is exactly but I suppose that growing up in a blue collar, working class city that more people identified with the agricultural roots of Michigan State than the supposed intellectual snobbery of the Wolverines.  All I know is that I loved the Michigan helmets, Bo Schembechler and Jamie Morris.  

Whatever the case may be, the U of M/MSU battle each fall meant that you were going to have a lot of fun in school the following week or you would have to go into hiding for awhile.  Living in Florida now, this game isn't nearly as much fun since there are few Spartans that I come across.  But I know that the rivalry up in the state of Michigan is as strong as ever and I will be tuning in tomorrow to see if the Wolverines can reclaim the Paul Bunyan trophy

With both teams ranked and undefeated for the first time in this game since 1999, it should be a hard fought battle.  There have been some exciting games in this rivalry in recent years and I look forward to watching what is sure to be another classic.

My Prediction:  Michigan - 38, Michigan State 35

Go Blue!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tuskegee, Guatemala, and a National Shame

Photo Credit: National Archives
Some recent research has shed a troubling light on a dark blemish in our nation's history.  In the middle part of the 20th century, the United States government conducted some unethical and immoral scientific studies on unsuspecting victims.

The first of these studies, commonly referred to as the "Tuskegee Study", took place from the 1930's through the early 1970's and has been known about for some time.  The Tuskegee Study took place when over 400 black men from Alabama who had been infected with a sexually transmitted disease, syphilis, were led to believe that they were receiving free treatment when they were, in fact, being left untreated and were being examined for the effects of syphilis.  President Clinton public acknowledged this horror and publicly apologized in 1997. 

Another study similar to Tuskegee has been recently discovered that took place in Guatemala during the 1940's.  In the study that was conducted in Guatemala, jailed men were intentionally exposed to infected prostitutes and then received treatment afterward.  This experiment was also conducted by the U.S government.  Linda Villarosa penned an insightful column on these findings for here

Having learned about the Tuskegee Study in college, I was not surprised to learn of what happened in Guatemala.  This is not to say that it does not disgust me, nonetheless.  Even though there are many great things about the United States, our government has committed (and still commits) some pretty horrible things.  We have bombed innocent people, we have enslaved and jailed our own citizens because of the color of their skin or their country of origin and have treated human beings as lab rats in the name of science.

In learning about these things, it should come as no surprise that some members of certain ethnic communities remain distrustful of the government when "help" is offered.  Look at what Villarosa has to say:
"Numerous studies have shown that African Americans remain much less likely to get immunizations of any kind. For older African Americans, who more often than their peers of other races have heart disease, diabetes and other serious illnesses, a flu shot can mean the difference between life and death. African Americans of all ages avoid shots -- and the health care system in general -- out of mistrust. Last year, during the height of the H1N1 hysteria, a widely circulated Twitter message warned, "Don't take the swine flu vaccine. Remember the Tuskegee Experiment."

By and large, though, it's not a hazy memory of the Tuskegee episode that's fueling suspicion and distrust of the system. Most of us are too young to remember it; even Dr. Cutler is long gone. Rather, our broken and battered current health care system is what is driving African Americans away from treatment and care. It's been a decade since Congress first admitted officially what 37 million black people already know: that the U.S. medical care system doesn't treat us well. A damning 2002 report by the well-respected Institute of Medicine called "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care" laid it out point by ugly point for Congress and everyone else. And according to numerous studies, little has changed."
To read more on the Tuskegee Study, click here and to read Professor Susan Reverby's article on Guatemala click here.

(h/t to the Black Voices blog for the link)

Saturday, October 02, 2010

How Many of You Are There?

I just finished reading this article from USA Today about a lawyer in Indianapolis with the name of Mark Zuckerberg.  His name might not seem like anything special until you consider that he shares it with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of social media giant Facebook.  Zuckerberg (the lawyer) claims he receives over 500 Facebook friend requests each day and constantly gets calls to his office asking for tech support from Facebook users.

The USA Today feature also mentions a website,, that tells a person how many people within the United States share their name.  I encourage you to take a minute to check it out.  My results are below.
LogoThere are
people with the name Scott Crocker in the U.S.A.
How many have your name?

On another note, I watched a documentary recently by the name of "Google Me." The movie tells the story of Jim Killeen, a filmmaker who "googled" his name and ends up filming his visits with others in the world who share his name. Behind every name and behind every face is a story and it is interesting to think how something as simple as a shared name could bring a bond to people. You can watch the trailer below or here on the movie's website.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Why Aren't There More African American Missionaries?

The following video from CNN tells the story of the challenges that one organization, Mission Year, has faced in seeing African Americans join with them.  Unfortunately, Mission Year is not the only missions organization that has had a difficult time in seeing African American young people join their ranks. You can watch the video and then read on for some more thoughts on the subject of African Americans in missions.

Several years ago, my good friend, Vaughn Walston, penned an article for Mission Frontiers magazine entitled, "Ignite the Passion: African Americans in world missions."  Vaughn adeptly cites some of the statistics regarding African Americans in missions, the historical injustices that formed current realities and how the black church can move forward.  Though the article was published a decade ago, Vaughn's research still holds true.  Here are some of his findings and conclusions:
"The latest statistics paint a sad picture of the current involvement of African Americans in missions. Jim Sutherland counted 242 total African-American missionaries serving cross-culturally in 1998.  In 1973, Robert Gordon reported under 300.  These numbers compare to 33,000 missionaries from the U.S. in 1973 and about 45,000 U.S. missionaries today.  African Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population but less than 1 percent of the U.S. mission force to the world. If it was proportionately represented in the mission force today, the African-American community would have some 5,400 cross-cultural missionaries.

We know that history has played a part in bringing about this shortfall. Several generations were simply cut off from direct involvement and promotion of missions. Because of this, subsequent generations just did not have missions on their agenda at all. But what other factors have come into play in today's church situation?"

"Most African-American pastors are unfamiliar with what is going on in the world today regarding missions. They were not taught about missions. They do not know general missions history. They are unaware of the heritage of African Americans in missions. Thus they cannot teach their congregations about missions."

"African-American pastors desire financial stability. They want to bring the money into the church - not send it out. Since the African-American community has historically been oppressed and deprived of opportunity for financial gain, now that many opportunities exist, the desire is to bring it in and keep it in the community. Many African-American churches still struggle financially for their own survival. Yet the statistics indicate that a high percentage of African-American churches are doing very well financially."

"Historically, the American dream has eluded the African-American community. For many, attaining it has become a Christian value. Thus, moving from oppression and want to materialism and comfort is a subtle but natural distraction. American prosperity is finally within the reach of the African-American community, and missions runs counter to that plan.

Many African Americans fear rejection and a lack of emotional support from white mission agencies. In the past, African Americans were accepted to serve with white mission societies, but on the field they were given menial tasks. Blacks were accepted to work, but not to lead. With a lack of mission education and a priority on home, it is no wonder that the African-American church represents only a small percentage of the mission force in the world."
Vaughn also offers several suggestions on how black Americans can be more effectively mobilized for world missions.  You can read Vaughn's complete article here.

In demonstration of a reversal of the trends that are mentioned in the video and the Mission Frontiers article, The Impact Movement has seen 120 African American college graduates give at least a year of their life to the Great Commission over the past thirteen years.  Most of these missionaries have served domestically, while leading short-term terms throughout the continent of Africa and other parts of the world.  In 2002, Impact took 300 African Americans to eastern and Southern Africa for Operation Sunrise Africa, the largest single mobilization of black Americans for world missions in history.

(h/t to Kathryn Taylor for the video link)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Celebrating Five Years of Blogging

Photo Credit: Dricker94
Five years ago today, I entered the world of blogging. A couple close friends of mine thought I had a unique perspective on some issues and that it might be beneficial to share those thoughts with others.  A special thanks to Shane Deike and Rob Williams for initially getting me up and running.

Now, over 500 blog posts later, I continue to enjoy the opportunity to provide insights to current issues from my vantage point.  Thank you to all of you that faithfully read Crocker Chronicle and for those of you that have sent along your encouraging feedback through comments, e-mails, Facebook messages and in personal interaction. 

It still humbles me when I come across someone that mentions they enjoy my writing and appreciate the things I have to say.  I know that my readership is fairly small compared to more popular blogs but I'm thankful that God has used some of my words to be helpful to a number of people.  My desire is to help challenge Christians to view the world through a different eyes than perhaps they normally do and for those that are not followers of Christ to consider his role in their lives as they contemplate the issues of our society.

Thanks again for reading and hopefully I'll be able to continue to bring you content that inspires, challenges, educates and informs.  God bless.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Michigan is Hit Hardest By the Recession

Photo Credit: aflcio
The current recession has affected all corners of the United States, but perhaps no other state has felt the weight of the financial downturn more than my home state of Michigan. According to the Detroit News, Michigan families have borne the brunt of the economy:
"Michigan families have been hit the hardest by the recession, with incomes plummeting and poverty rising at rates seen nowhere else in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau statistics released today.

Median household income for the state in 2009 was 21.3 percent below 2000 levels, the biggest drop in the nation and 6.5 percent lower than 2008. And the poverty rate, although not the highest in the nation at 16.2 percent, rose the fastest among all states since 2000, according to the U.S. Census.

With economists now saying the recession ended in 2009, it could be that the income drop seen last year will provide the bottom for the state. But a substantial bottom it is: The median household income was $42,255, more than $12,000 lower than the median was at in 2000 when adjusted for inflation.

Locally, Sterling Heights recorded the steepest income drop off all U.S. cities with a population of 65,000 or more, shedding more than $25,000 in annual income. The city had a 2009 median household income of $51,545, more than third lower than its $77,873 median income in 2000. Similar drops were recorded in Kalamazoo and Detroit.

Nationwide, median household income is down just 2.9 percent from 2008 and 6.6 percent from 2000. Michigan's national ranking during that time went from 16th in 2000 to 35th in 2009.

Much of the decline is attributed to the loss of hundreds of thousands of high-paying, yet lower-skill manufacturing job that once were the backbone of the state economy. As many of those jobs vanished, workers were forced to find alternative work in lower-paying industries.

The shakeout of the nation's manufacturing sector ravaged the Midwest, and the closest other states in terms of income loss are neighbors Indiana and Ohio, where median household income is down 15.1 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively."
In light of the current economic realities within the Great Lakes state, it should be no surprise that the housing market there has also suffered. A study by Coldwell-Banker was cited in a recent article in my hometown newspaper, The Times Herald, as saying that of the top ten cities in the country to find the cheapest house, three of them were from Michigan.  Detroit topped the list, Grayling was second and my hometown, Port Huron, was ninth on the list.

With some indicators pointing to economic recovery, hopefully the people of Michigan will be able to soon get on their feet.  In the meantime, we hope and pray for the best. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Following Jesus on the Narrow Road

Photo Credit: teachingsagittarian
Taken from Jon Walker's book, Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship:
"When Jesus calls you to follow him, he isn't asking you to become a nice person and to do your best at helping others. He didn't die so you could feel good about the things you've screwed-up or so you could carry a sentimental hope of being re-united beyond the grave with the people you love but who have died. His call is a command for you to comprehensively and absolutely walk away from the way you do life now so you can follow him down an exclusive path through the narrow gate that leads to the kingdom of heaven."
(h/t to Rick Warren)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eddie Long & How to Respond When Pastors Fail

Photo Credit: bruckerrlb
The allegations directed towards Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of Georgia's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, have sent shock waves through the Christian community and raised all sorts of questions about the things he's been accused of doing.  As the pastor of one of the nation's largest churches, Bishop Long is a prominent figure in evangelical Christian circles and is one of the most recognized African American preachers around.

The things that he has been accused of are certainly troubling but I am not going to speculate on what has or hasn't happened.  Ultimately, God knows what happened and the truth will eventually be brought into the light.  Whatever ends up happening, it is apparent that the name of Christ has once again been soiled.  Whether it has been tarnished by young men that are lying or by an unrighteous preacher, the stereotype of hypocritical Christian ministers that are out for financial gain and sexual conquests is played out again before a watching public.

For those that are not of the faith, it is very easy to believe that all pastors are insincere and only out for personal gain.  Sadly, there is a small segment of clergy where this is absolutely true but my hope is that Eddie Long does not fall into this category.  But what of the untold number of pastors leading small congregations who faithfully and humbly serve their members and their community year after year, often unnoticed and under appreciated? 

There are countless men and women of God who entered into the ministry because they loved God and what to see their lives be used by God to make a difference in the lives of others.  I would like to think I am one of them.  We don't lead mega-churches, we don't drive very nice cars and don't live in opulent homes.  But we do faithfully serve God and live lives of integrity.

Very simply, pastors are human.  We like to think of our spiritual leaders as being a cut above the rest of us and that they don't have the same kinds of struggles as the average man or woman.  The reality is that not only do clergy deal with the same kinds of temptations as everyone else, but often they have no one to turn to when dealing with the internal conflicts of the heart.

Spiritual leaders are commonly placed on a platform in the eyes of their followers and viewed as being capable of doing no wrong.  When taken to the extreme, I believe the reverence and awe that is demonstrated towards some pastors is akin to idol worship where the spiritually immature have replaced their worship of God with the man or woman that teaches them the Word on Sunday mornings. 

When we have an improper view of our spiritual leaders, we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment when we learn that they are imperfect.  At times, we experience this when they don't meet certain expectations we have of them; at other times it comes when we learn that they have been living a secret lifestyle.  I say none of this to excuse unrighteous, sinful and, in certain cases, unlawful behavior.  When clergy sin they should be disciplined by their church and when they break the law, they should be prosecuted (whether they feel like God has forgiven them or not) and make appropriate restitution to their victims.

Spiritual leadership is a privilege.  It is not a right.  Through sin and disobedience, we can become disqualified from leading spiritually.  Just because someone we may possess certain oratorical skills or leadership gifts does not mean that character doesn't count.  It does.  When a person in a trusted position of spiritual leadership betrays that trust and does untold damage to others, it is not to be taken lightly. Over time, restoration can take place but it doesn't happen over night nor should the same level of ministry responsibilities in the future just be assumed.

A sincere man or woman of God will point people to Jesus and not to themselves.  They will walk in humility and extend the same type of grace to others that they have received from God.  They will lead with the gifts God has given them but will also admit when they are wrong.  They will not be in the ministry for themselves but for God and others.  

There are a lot of really great ministers out there.  Please don't let the public failings of a few (or allegations based in falsehoods) cause you to walk away from God.  Our eternal hope should be in Christ and not in man.  The gospel is for sinners and, yes, even clergy need the gospel every day.  I pray that in some way God will be glorified and more people will be drawn to him through this very unfortunate and unsettling situation.  

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Did Moses Really Part the Red Sea?

Photo Credit: Rob Sheridan
Being a Christian who believes that the Bible is the Word of God may cause some to think I'm a little bit crazy. Some would say that science and faith are incompatible and that one has nothing to do with the other. In fact, there are many that would argue that the miracles that are spoken of in the Bible are unbelievable and could have never happened.

But since I believe that God created nature and science and that he remains in control of the universe, he can do that which is seemingly impossible. A case in point is the parting of the Red Sea, as outlined in Exodus 13 & 14. The Bible indicates that while being chased by Pharoah's army, the Israelites, who were led by the prophet Moses, were able to cross the Red Sea while it was parted by God. After the Israelites had crossed, the water returned to its normal state and drowned Pharoah's army. Impossible, right?

Some scientists think otherwise. Here's the story from
"The parting of the waters described in the book of Exodus that enabled Moses and the Israelites to escape the pharaoh's army is possible, computer simulations run by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado at Boulder show.

To test the theory that the biblical account may have depicted actual events, the researchers studied maps of the region, archaeological records and satellite measurements to find a topographical feature where such an event might have been possible. They settled on an area south of the Mediterranean Sea where some oceanographers say a branch of the Nile River drained into what was called the Lake of Tanis, a coastal lagoon 3,000 years ago.

The computer model shows a 63 mph east wind blowing across the area and its 6-feet-deep waters for 12 hours. In the scenario, the wind pushed back the waters into both the lake and the channel of the river, exposing a mud flat 2 to 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide for four hours. As the winds died down, the waters quickly flowed back in and in theory would have drowned anyone on the mud flat.

"The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus," said Carl Drews of NCAR, the lead author of the study published in the online journal PLoS ONE.

"The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that’s in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in."
You can read the full study here.

Some Christians might argue that this experiment is seeking to explain away God's existence by proving that the divine is not needed in order for the apparently miraculous to occur.  But I think it proves the opposite.  Since some will say that they only will believe what science can prove than maybe this little experiment demonstrates that we don't always know as much as we think we do.  Many have mocked the Bible's claims of miracles for years only to find that there might even be a natural explanation.  Just because we think something is impossible doesn't always mean it is.

Since I believe in God's sovereignty and his control of the universe, I think he can use the laws of nature (or not) in order to accomplish his purposes.  He can part a sea, he can send a flood that covers the earth or even cause a man to be swallowed by a large fish (and live to tell about!)  I do not believe in a god that created the universe but passively sits back while things take on a life of their own.  The God that I believe in takes an active interest in our lives and in our world and is always at work to accomplish his purposes for his own glory.

If you are interested in learning more about this God, please follow this link

Monday, September 20, 2010

Alice Cooper on Faith, Sex and Marriage

Photo Credit:
Dena Flows
Alice Cooper is probably best known for his brand of "shock rock", theatrical concerts and hits "School's Out" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy."  But few know that Cooper publicly identifies himself as a Christian and claims to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ.  Having grown up in a family of faith, Cooper left behind his Christian upbringing during his teens and venture into rock and roll.  In a past interview with, he comments on the rediscovery of his faith later in life and his views on God and the Devil:
"I was pretty much convinced all my life that there was just one God and there was Jesus Christ and there was the Devil," he told "You couldn't believe in God without believing in the Devil. I always tell bands that the most dangerous thing you can do is to believe in the concept of the Devil or the concept of God, because you're not giving them full credit. When you believe in God, you've got to believe in the all-powerful God. He's not just God, He's the all-powerful God and He has total control over everyone's life. The Devil, on the other hand, is a real character that's trying his hardest to tear your life apart. If you believe that this is just mythology, you're a prime target because you know that's exactly what Satan wants: To be a myth. But he's not a myth, of this I'm totally convinced. More than anything in the world, I'm convinced of that."
As a popular entertainer in a profession known for its decadence and rebellion, Cooper possesses a remarkably refreshing perspective on relationships. Check out this video as Cooper shares his thoughts on sex and marriage. Please click here if the video player does not show up. (h/t to Tim Challies for the video link)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Do American Teens Have a Vibrant Christian Faith?

Photo Credit: telex
An article on published a few weeks ago says that most American Christian teens have a shallow faith that ultimately leads them to abandon Christianity later in life.  The article, entitled "More teens becoming 'fake' Christians", features the research of author Kendra Creasy Dean, as found in her new book, Almost Christian.

In interviews with over 3,000 Christians teens from a variety of Christan denominations, Dean found that most them were fairly ambivalent about their faith, few were active adherents to the tenets of their religious tradition and most had a difficult time expressing their beliefs to others. 

From the CNN feature:
"Many teenagers thought that God simply wanted them to feel good and do good -- what the study's researchers called "moralistic therapeutic deism."

Some critics told Dean that most teenagers can't talk coherently about any deep subject, but Dean says abundant research shows that's not true.

"They have a lot to say," Dean says. "They can talk about money, sex and their family relationships with nuance. Most people who work with teenagers know that they are not naturally inarticulate."

In "Almost Christian," Dean talks to the teens who are articulate about their faith. Most come from Mormon and evangelical churches, which tend to do a better job of instilling religious passion in teens, she says.

No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.

"There are countless studies that show that religious teenagers do better in school, have better relationships with their parents and engage in less high-risk behavior," she says. "They do a lot of things that parents pray for."

Dean, a United Methodist Church minister who says parents are the most important influence on their children's faith, places the ultimate blame for teens' religious apathy on adults.

Some adults don't expect much from youth pastors. They simply want them to keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex.

Others practice a "gospel of niceness," where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says.

"If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation," wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary."
These are some disconcerting findings and offer some compelling cautions for parents and those who work with youth. To read the rest of the CNN article click here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Christian Unity in the Midst of Political Differences

Photo Credit: Frerieke
Chris Williamson, pastor of Strong Tower Bible Church in Franklin, Tennessee and author of the new book, One But Not the Same, was recently interviewed on and offers a challenging perspective on the importance that Christians should place on their political affiliations versus the broader kingdom of God.  Pastor Williamson shares:
"At the risk of sounding like a cliché, Christians need to talk less about their respective political parties and candidates and speak more about the Christ and His kingdom. Dividing over politics should no longer be tolerated between Christians, but the truth is we divide over how to best interpret the Bible. We major on the minors and miss the majors. Many Christians have long since aligned Jesus with either a Democratic or a Republican platform, as if Jesus rode the campaign buses of either party. Politics have become the head for many Christians and unity in the body of Christ has become the tail.

We all know that no political party or platform fully represents the kingdom agenda of God and neither should they try. In addition, Christians need to stop looking for political messiahs and moral deliverance through the horses and chariots of Washington, D.C. Christians keep talking about the church being the answer for the world today and not the government. Well, it's past time to live like we believe that. We shouldn't all have to vote the same way in order to be unified. We can be one without being the same. Once we learn that the beauty and the tension are in the balance, we'll be able to work together once we come out of the voting booths. Have you ever noticed how politicians and pastors are often very similar? You wonder if they are really in office for the people or for themselves. Our creed should be to help people in need and not use people to feed our greed."
To read the complete interview click here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Black Male Graduation Rates & Hope for the Future

Photo Credit:
Seattle Municipal Archives
A new study from the Schott Foundation for Public Education paints a disturbing picture on recent graduation rates for young black males.  According to the research, less than half (47%) of black males that started high school in 2003 had obtained a diploma in 2008.

NPR picks up the story:
"John Jackson, the foundation's president and CEO, tells NPR's Guy Raz that those numbers are dismal largely because of the lack of resources in schools with high black populations. He says that when young black men are given opportunities to learn in schools with more resources, they perform well.

Detroit had one of the worst black male graduation rates for any city: 27 percent. But the graduation rate for young white men was even worse, at 19 percent. Jackson says those numbers prove that a lack of resources affects everyone — not just one racial group. "What makes it a race and ethnicity issue is that more black males are in poorly resourced schools and have less access to the types of resources needed to learn," Jackson says.

There's hope in the story of New Jersey. In 2003, black male students there were graduating at a rate of 48 percent. Just five years later, that rate had soared to 75 percent. Jackson attributes New Jersey's turnaround to the changes made because of a court case, Abbott v. Burke. Parents sued, and a judge found that the state spent less in schools with two-thirds African-American enrollment. He ordered the state to spend the same across the board.

Jackson says the state decided to fund areas that education experts have shown to be effective, such as early childhood education and hiring high-quality teachers. "And in there, we know there is a need for extended-day learning," Jackson says, "perhaps even year-round schooling for those who are behind to recover."

Unless other states follow the lead of New Jersey, Jackson says, the new study is a harbinger of worse things to come. He says low graduation rates are connected to high unemployment and incarceration rates among black men. Black males make up 40 percent of the U.S. prison population, he says, but only 6 percent of the country's overall population.

"So our country, economically, is paying on two ends," Jackson says. "The consequences are across the board."
Quite simply, if young children are not afforded fair opportunities in order to receive a quality education, there is little that bodes well for their future. If they are given access to resources and enjoy broad parental and teacher involvement, their chances for success increase dramatically.  School districts and places of worship must invest in the younger generation if we are to have hope for a better future.

(h/t to Racialicious for the link)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What Are the Best Cities for College Students?

Photo Credit: myoldpostcards
In order to help young adults select the best communities for college students, the American Institute for Economic Research has selected its top 75 cities for college students.

Cities throughout the United States were graded on a variety of criteria focused on a city's overall academic environment, its quality of living and professional opportunities for graduates.  The cities were grouped by their size (major metro areas of over 2.5 million residents; mid-size metros of 1-2.5 million; small cities of 250,000 to 1 million; and college towns of under 250,000) and ranked according to other cities of a similar population.

Here are the top five cities in each of the four categories:

Major Metros:
1. San Francisco, CA
2. New York, NY
3. Washington, DC
4. Boston, MA
5. Seattle, WA

Mid-Size Metros:
1. San Jose, CA
2. Austin, TX
3. Raleigh, NC
4. Hartford, CT
5. Portland, OR

Small Cities:
1. Boulder, CO
2. Ann Arbor, MI
3. Bridgeport, CT
4. Trenton-Ewing, NJ
5. Gainesville, FL

College Towns:
1. Ithaca, NY
2. State College, PA
3. Iowa City, IA
4. Ames, IA
5. Champaign-Urbana, IL

For a complete list of the rankings, visit the College Destinations Index here.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Qur'an Burnings, Porn Stars & WWJD

Photo Credit: Tobey_Cat
Several years ago a popular trend swept through modern Christian circles as a number of people began sporting simple cloth bracelets with four initials imprinted upon them -- WWJD ("What Would Jesus Do?"). The bracelets were inspired by Charles Sheldon's 1896 book, In His Steps, in which members of a fictional town committed to not do anything for a year without first asking themselves what Jesus would do in the same situation.  Although the bracelets have waned in popularity, I think present events dictate that the question still needs to be asked.  What would Jesus do?

A little-known pastor with a fairly small congregation in Gainesville, Florida has ignited a media firestorm over his plans to hold a public burning of the Qur'an, the holy book of the Muslim faith.  Although Rev. Terry Jones has said that he believes he is following God's will, a number of Christians and public officials have condemned his plans.  Just as many Christians have expected Muslim clerics to publicly condemn acts of terrorism and hatred, we Christians should let it be known that we oppose the actions of those that act in the name of our God, yet do so contrary to our faith.

To burn a book that Muslims revere will only inflame the tensions between Christians and Muslims around the world and make genuine dialogue more difficult.  It is true that Muslims and Christians have many disagreements.  We do not view Christ in the same way, we have different views on the Bible and the Qur'an and we do not see salvation in the same manner.  But book burning never changed a heart and insults only make things more difficult.  California pastor Rick Warren said this about the matter on his Twitter account, ""Book burning is a cowardly act by those afraid their beliefs aren't strong enough to attract if people are allowed a choice."

If Pastor Jones were genuinely sincere in his desire to see Muslims come to the Christian faith, there are better ways for him to see that happen.  He could look to the example of Craig Gross, the founder of, a Christian ministry founded to help deliver people from the bondage of pornography and sexual sin.  Gross recently wrote a provocative piece for entitled "Jesus loves porn stars", in which he shares how he has built a genuine friendship with Ron Jeremy, a well-known figure in the adult entertainment industry.

Since he's opposed to the porn industry, Gross could destroy porn DVD's, try to shut down websites and protest at industry conventions.  But he's taken a much different approach.  Gross has gotten to know Jeremy through a nationwide tour that they have done together on college campuses as they have debated the place of pornography in our culture.  Naturally, Gross has received a lot of flack from a number of folks in Christian circles that feel uncomfortable talking about sex and some look down upon him because he's actually friends with a porn star.  But Gross is in good company.  Jesus himself was derided as a "friend of sinners" and although others called him that in contempt, it is an accurate description.

Jesus hung with those that were considered the scourge of his society (the prostitutes and tax collectors) but he loved them just the same.  Craig Gross has a challenging perspective on his relationship with Ron Jeremy:
"We are opponents on stage but off stage we are great friends. That's really what this is about. Jesus dined with tax collectors and befriended prostitutes. I don't want to be known as the guy who debates Ron, I'd rather be known as the guy who loves Ron."
Gross pulls no punches in his views on pornography. He feels it is evil and destroys lives. He hates porn. But he loves porn stars.  I wonder if Terry Jones took a different approach to Islam if things might turn out differently.  He wouldn't generate worldwide media coverage but inviting a local imam to dinner might be more effective than the approach he's currently planning on taking.  But I get the feeling that he's probably not interested in that.  He seems more concerned with expressing his disdain for Islam rather than God's love for Muslims.

So what would Jesus do?  It's certainly a good question to ask ourselves...


UPDATE: Apparently Pastor Terry Jones has had a change of heart and has canceled his planned Qur'an burning.  While this is certainly an answer to prayer, his condition of doing so is based on a change plans of the proposed "Ground Zero" mosque in New York.  Stay tuned for more details.