Monthly Archives: December 2008

Good Bye (Good Riddance?) 2008

I am ready for 2008 to be over. I can’t tell exactly because it has been dreadful, or because I am just weary of the roller coaster ride it has been.

On the plus side, a lot of good things have happened. My son was married to an adorable young woman who has been his sweetheart since high school. This improbable event was unthinkable not too long ago. If anything, I know that I have worries, God has purposes.

Normally I have a skeptical eye for media histrionics on the economy. Our economic engine has climbed the repeated incomprehensible assaults on the economy by the ignorant or cynical but finally the one-two punch of an 18 month campaign to talk down how things are and a festering boil finally bursting has spooked even guys like me. Things are not as bad as the Reagan recession, or the recession of Bush the Elder. Nevertheless, I find myself extra grateful to have a job.

On the down side, we had the sad work of bidding farewell to three members of our family. My mom lost her husband, and Gemey lost her dad and sister. Thanksgiving and Christmas were still happy and joyous but the empty chairs were hard to deal with. Friends have stumbled this last year, and I have fretted while they struggled to find their way. Sickness haunts some, joblessness stalks others or has overtaken them. Worry is no condition in which a Christian ought to dwell. Jesus told us that sparrows do not fall to the ground that God not take note of it.

I did not, nor would I ever vote for a politician like Barack Obama. He is the most leftist member of the Senate, and I anticipate ballooning government spending and further interference in our economy through taxes and regulation. So far, I don’t think he is particularly crooked, but I know that nice guys do dumb things with good intentions. Nothing the president elect has said or accomplished gives me confidence that he has a clue how to run our nation. Nevertheless, the part of me that is a fan of Langston Hughes wishes I could get into a time machine and visit the old poet shortly after he wrote Let America be America again and show him a copy of the New York Times from November 5th. Though I don’t think the genuine social significance of having a black president is worth what I expect to be Jimmy Carter II – Electric Boogaloo, I am certainly able to appreciate what it says about our nation and be glad in that. Hopefully in four years I’ll be willing to show Mr. Hughes a newspaper from 2012 highlighting the great success of our incoming president.

On reflection, I guess 2008 isn’t so bad. I have family, health and enough prosperity to be free from want with extra resources to help others. I have seen the hand of God in my life and in the lives of a wide circle of friends. It could be worse.

Grandpa’s Christmas Workshop

Saturday night and Sunday afternoon were spent toiling away in my workshop, cobbling together the raw parts for a set of Christmas gifts for my two sons and daughter-in-law.

I am indeed a cheap weasel, but my goal was not to transform scrap plywood into inexpensive presents doomed to a landfill, but to help the grandkids make something for their moms an dads. Both my boys work hard and their kids love them. I wanted to give them the opportunity to express that love with their hands and spend some “grandpa” time with them.

You would be surprised how much time it takes to plan out six individual gifts. Two gifts, three times each. 30 parts, paint, brushes, rags, rollers, glue, nails screws – the list is pretty lengthy. Cutting, gluing, painting – I spent a good 12 hours on my feet on concrete listening to Internet radio and transforming scraps into kits.

Codey and Kaleb did their mommy’s present first. We screwed together the parts, and they painted their little brains out. Codey is a one-color kind of guy, whereas Kaleb is more adventuresome. He isn’t done until he has all the paint he needs for a lovely shade of battleship gray. Kaylee went the monochrome route too.

Kaylee is still just 10, but she really enjoys working on such projects. She’ll clamber up onto my workbench to more easily handle the big cordless drill. “Did you make this table?” she asked, bouncing on it to test it’s strength. I answered “yes”, and she seemed duly impressed before returning to drilling and driving screws.

For my part, I tend to focus entirely too much on precision and quality. Kaylee made her father’s present, which required a good deal of painting. We used a small roller. I noted that when she applied paint to the roller, she dipped it rather than “loading” it, rolling it into the paint and distributing the paint all over the roller before painting your object. I carried this lesson over to the younger cousins and loaded the roller first. Kaleb asked poignantly why “Kaylee got to do the paint all by herself”. Little escapes their attention, and nothing escapes their sense of justice. I told him because it was because I love her more, and he gave me a look that said “You’ll get yours, old man”.

If I were a UAW worker earning average wages those 12 hours would have been worth well over a thousand dollars. 12 hours worth of patent illustrations (one of my little sidelines) would have netted even more. If I had a project worth a thousand dollars, I probably would have done it instead if I had to choose. There are many needs among my family and friends, and to honor the brutal truth, I like making money. I am frankly grateful to a loving God I did not, happy to have spent my time earning a great deal more.

Glory to God in the Highest

Luke 2:8-9 – …there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

In the old testament, Isaiah has a similar reaction in the presence of the Lord.

Isaiah 6:5 – And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Many who are familiar with this passage in Luke know that the Angels tell the shepherds to not be afraid, that they bring good tidings of great joy. Linus, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” gives what I think is the sweetest version of this event in our culture. Sweet news though it is, I grew up thinking that the shepherds were freaking out simply because the faced the unknown.

I now believe that the fear these men felt was the fear an employee who had been embezzling funds would feel if an FBI agent appeared unexpectedly in his office, only multiplied by an infinite amount. In Isaiah’s encounter, the prophet – who had dedicated his whole life to serving God – recognized instantaneously his wretched, sinful condition once exposed to the glory of God.

God’s glory exposes the hidden crevices where our wickedness is hidden. God’s angelic messengers bring with them that penetrating power. Like an enemy combatant who sits in a ruined fortification with an empty rifle, the sudden sight of Marines freezes his blood. Doom crushes his heart.

Mankind knows that it is at war with God. We fool ourselves for a while as we busy ourselves with daily living. We do our deeds both kind and cruel and somehow deceive ourselves into thinking our kindness is counted and cruelties forgotten. Because of the nature of the warfare, we do not recognize the whistling of the artillery overhead, though hospitals, battlefields, and cemeteries are constant reminders of sin’s curse. We turn our face away, but our false oblivion changes nothing.

Then God’s glory appears, and whether a prophet or a shepherd the Glory of God pierces you and you know you are unspeakably wicked by contrast. Doom is here. All you can do is tremble and await.

“Do not be afraid” His agent says. “I bring you tidings of Great Joy” His herald proclaims. God’s justice will be satisfied, but not by your doom, but by His son, who lies in a manger just a few miles away. Just as the old prophet’s sins were taken away by the burning coal, God’s Son has come to take away the sin of the world. God’s Glory will still illuminate the heart, but instead of doomful wickedness it will only reveal the perfect cleanliness of His Son if we will only surrender to Him.

Glory to God in the Highest indeed.

Big Government No Substitute for Charity

The church I attend is a wonderful congregation. Each Sunday I and my family gather to worship and hear what we believe to be the Word of God. We are challenged to be ambassadors of grace, to reach out to those in need. Pure religion, we are told, is to care for the widows and orphans. To turn away the hungry, naked and homeless is to deny our own faith in Christ.

I absolutely believe this, and my wife and I focus much of our lives to make our belief in God real in the work we do to reach out to others. We are joined by many of our friends in our church in this important work, to worship God by being His servant to the last and least. We care for our family, we care for our friends and neighbors, we act in concert with our church to support those in need in our city.

This is not offered to point out how wonderful I am. Frankly, if I were a better steward of resources, I imagine the Father would entrust me with more. I say this all to note that I have a body of experience, and in my experience, charity is a task that churches and people do well, and government bureaucrats do poorly.

Consider recidivism. Recently, I served on a jury where we had the unfortunate task to convict a young man of a serious crime. From my days working in prison ministry, I learned that if an inmate will involve themselves in a faith-based program while in prison, their chances of staying out of jail improves dramatically. You cannot replace immorality with nothing – you have to offer a moral code to displace it. Our Government in its attempts at rehabilitation must by its very nature and structure (separation of church and state) choose a set of instructions and procedures that are demonstrably less effective.

I can all but guarantee that any man who is impoverished is far less likely to remain impoverished should he find a church in which his bad habits are confronted and replaced with good habits. We have decades of history in which multiple generations are ensnared in poverty where immoral behavior is not resisted. Government cannot tell a man he is offending a loving God by abandoning his responsibility to his children, but until that mans abandons his wretched behavior, the cycle will continue.

Worse, the more we expect the Government to do, the less we undertake ourselves. The links below demonstrate the gulf between giving the religious and irreligious in charitable work. Consider this from Arthur Brooks:

On average, people of faith give more than 50% more money each year to non-church social welfare organizations than secularists do.

Many of my Christian friends voted Democrat, citing their belief that the Democrats will fashion a more generous government. I think the opposite is likely the outcome. We who believe cannot outsource our hard work to the State.

Charitable Explanation

Why Get Involved?

The Bravery of the Safe and Protected

You are a reporter for a newspaper, and you throw a pair of shoes at the guy who ordered the invasion of your country. If you were a Dutchman flinging a sabot at Hitler, you would be an incredibly brave patriot. Whip your sneakers at Saddam Hussein, and you are an unbelievably courageous dissenter (albeit suicidal). Fire your moccasin at the guy who made it possible for you act like a brazen jackass without risk to life is just being a brazen jackass.

Here’s a snippet from Reuters:

The little-known Shi’ite reporter, said to have harbored anger against Bush for the thousands of Iraqis who died after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, had previously made headlines only once, when he was briefly kidnapped by unknown gunmen in 2007.

I wonder if this guy had the guts to throw shoes at his captors? Where was his brave outrage when Saddam was grinding his fellow Shi’ite beneath his boots? Did he have his brave shoes then? More from Reuters:

Colleagues of Zaidi say he resented President Bush, blaming him for the bloodshed that ravaged Iraq after the invasion.

I wonder if he resents the foreign “fighters” who invaded his nation murdering innocents, or does he simply resent that fact that the Bush Administration underestimated how barbaric and foolish his countrymen could be? Does he so miss Saddam’s restraining fist?

If Iraq wants to make a go of it, they need to take a good hard look at their philosophical imports. Scratch that reporter, and you will find a thick undercoat of the American leftist academy. I predict that he went to college in America and has his full load of progressive notions which imparts heroism to those who insult people disinclined to make them pay a price. He is, undoubtedly, cut from the same cloth as those in our own nation like the Code Pinkers and 911 Truthers who busy themselves “bravely” denouncing everything Bush does, right down to breathing. Calling Bush “Hitler”, “Dog” or pitching your footware at him is as safe as eating pancakes.

Most people live under the thumb of varying degrees of oppression. Throwing off tyrants is hard, dangerous work. Insulting civilized people with cream pies, shoes or blog posts written in CAPITAL LETTERS is easy and safe, plus you get accolades from the world’s endless supply of fools.

The right to report on your nations leaders and insult their allies is a freedom paid for through dear blood and sacrifice. I would appreciate it if they just said “thank you” and moved on (to quote Colonel Jessup) or at least engaged in the heavy lifting of keeping civilization together.

To the credit of the Iraqi press pool, some reporters apologized for the incident, though Zaidi’s TV station is running pictures of their number one ungrateful dipstick with patriotic music in the background.

You can secure for people a measure of freedom, but teaching them responsibility, self-reliance and class is an entirely different job.

What Are They Thinking?

I woke up the morning of December 9th feeling fairly well rested. It’s been busy lately with lots of family issues and lots of work to think about. Despite all this I was preternaturally chipper. I had a nice light breakfast, which improved my mood, got out the door in plenty of time to beat highway traffic. My spirits quite high.

When I turned on the radio to learn that Rod Blagojevich had been arrested, I felt even better.

Missouri Republicans have not been embarrassed by one of our own in a while. Our politicians are unpopular with the local progressive press, but you have to go back to William Webster to find anyone busted for genuine graft. I’ll also note that our Democrat politicians are either really clean, or really slick. Whatever it is, it does not appear to be the kind of brazen harlotry we see up in Chicago. For that I find a new found sense of pride.

Blago was a uniquely repulsive kind of pol before he was caught on tape playing games with the funding of a children’s hospital. My antennae snap to full cover your wallet mode when a guy gets up and starts preening about he’s going to clean up, run the most ethical this or look out for “the little guy”. He had the whole populist progressive script memorized and at the ready to denounce greed and exult solidarity with this downtrodden group or that. He struck me as the political equivalent of a televangelist. Maybe it was the hair.

I am fascinated with the pathology of the corrupt leftist. Being conservative, I expect a member of the press to double check anything a conservative Republican says and assume that some rich greedy person put them up to it, in any case. Our motives are always either in service to some “big business” or out of fealty to our weird sky-god. Maybe the corrupt leftist knows he is going to be held to a different standard.

Perhaps the oilier champions of “the little guy” somehow feel that since they are such advocates that they do not have to be quite so sharp in the ethical department, or even the appearance of impropriety department. William Jefferson, Charlie Rangle are all hip-deep in scandals that were you and I involved would end in our incarceration. Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and Chuck Schumer continue to blithely lead their congressional committees despite taking millions in support from the very entities they were supposed to oversee.

Frankly, this level of shamelessness is alien to me, and I think it is to most Americans. Shameless Republicans are hounded by the press and their colleagues, judged not by their hearts but by their actions (which is fitting and proper). Shameless Democrats have to breach a much higher threshold before receiving such a full-court press from the press. Blago and all like him are seldom seen through a sufficiently cynical lens so long as they parrot from the progressive lexicon.