Thursday, July 28, 2011

My ridiculous idea for saving the solvency of our government

Right now the credit rating of the US is in question . . . actually it has been in question as long as we keep spending more than we make, but it has taken until now to catch up with financial experts.  So here is my naive and ridiculous idea for how we get out of a 15 trillion dollar debt.

1.  We learn the phrase, "sorry, I'd love to help but I'm in debt up to my eyeballs."  And then we use it on everyone from Third World countries who need more money for dictators that have Bugatis.  Stop raiding your country's treasury and you might find the extra money you need to keep your roads safe.  Savings? 500 billion.

2.  We learn the phrase, "everyone cut your budgets by 20%."  And then we use it on agencies like NASA, Planned Parenthood, The Defense Department, Faith Initiatives, Education, Welfare, Medicare.  Yes, I think we would have a lot of money saved if we trimmed budgets.  We don't care how, just reduce by 20%. Savings?  500 billion.

3.  We write a phrase in the constitution, "it is illegal to spend more money than we have."  Done.

4.  We write a line into the budget: "Official Line Item for Paying off the National Debt in 20 Years."  We then appropriate this line item with 1 trillion dollars a year to pay off the national debt in 20 years.

5.  We learn the idea, "who cares what political party gets it done, we just need to get it done."  And then we practice it.

Oh if only we had the common sense to do something about it . . .

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse

So the news hit today that Amy Winehouse died.  While the reason is still uncertain, most have speculated that it had something to do with drugs.  Just a few weeks back she was booed off a stage because she was completely (and chemically) incoherent.  Indeed she had a long history of being rather vocal about her addiction to drugs and alcohol.

So there will be those who were very close to her work and loved her as a person who will mourn the tragedy of her life - being so talented and leaving us so soon.  In some way there will be a twinge of "if only her gifts could have sustained her."

Then there will be those who will shrug their shoulders and accept it along with the rest of the nonsense that comes out of the entertainment industries we support.  "Those people are all messed up" might be the conclusion of some.

Of course there will be those who leer at her death like those who pass the sports car pulled over by the state police.  "Well, you live like that . . . eventually you die.  She reaped the benefit of her lifestyle.  Not going to rehab? Good luck with that."

I have to admit that each one of these thoughts crossed my mind, but there is something deeper at play here.

Nietzsche framed his theory of eternal return by saying, "einmal is keinmal" or "one time is no time."  What he meant was that if we live and die and this is all there is - one time - then it may just as well never happened at all.  Everything we do has eternally no consequence - so it is "unbearably light" (as Kundera would say).

But for those who believe - since there is a 2nd part, more than once that we live - every moment, every choice has eternal consequences - unbearably heavy.  Yet there enters Christ who comes to lift that burden and offer us grace in the midst of our stupid choices and bad decisions.

And so it is in that spirit that I hope that Amy gave in and accepted that offer . . .

Friday, July 22, 2011


Today will be the second day over 100 degrees.  Funny how heat is the result of atoms moving quicker, but it makes you feel like going  s l o w e r.

It takes weeks like this to remind us that so much of our lives are surrounded by self-selected comfort.  We have tailored the environment around us to suit us.  We have two cats that are outside cats and they seem to do just fine in this heat.  They might lie around a bit more and seek shade more often, but they pretty much take whatever they are dealt in the weather department.  They do well in 2 feet of snow as well as 102 degrees.  We humans are the ones who bend the world around us to what we are more comfortable with.

It makes me think of an uncomfortable thought.

We won't always have this amount of self-determination.  The Bible speaks of a time in our lives when we are old and other people will lead us places that we don't want to go.  And then after this life, Jesus speaks of a place of eternal separation from God in which we will no longer have the opportunity to set things right with God.  If we take the scriptures at face value, we can't get around the fact that hell is a place of eternal discomfort.  It is a place in which we will find an eternal wall between us and God.

That makes me think twice about the sin I consider.  And it makes me want to make sure that the people I love never find themselves there.  Here is what I go through mentally:

- We are here
- Life is pretty complex, how could there not be a creator?
- If there is a creator, why would it be unknowable?
- If it can be known, what have we heard?
- Among the world religions, only one person has claimed to be God.
- This person told us about who God is.
- This person told us about what lies beyond - heaven and hell.

So even though I find it hard to appreciate, and I don't know why it is there . . . I can't get away from the fact it is there.  I trust Jesus and He warned us of its presence.

So on days like this, when I think of inescapable heat, I can't help but think of making sure I never wind up on the other side of a great chasm from God.  This doesn't mean I judge or condemn or point fingers or presume to know who winds up there . . . more like a sober understanding that I am not God and He does things that are outside of my understanding.  So I am better off responding to his love  than embracing my desires.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My ridiculous dream for Haiti

Let me begin by saying this post is stupid - filled with paternalistic, ethnocentric, over-simplified, utopian naivete.  But I would love to do it sometime.

We are talking about Haiti - what do you do with a place like Port-au-Prince?  It has been a year and a half and the presidential palace is still a wreck, the national malls are tent cities and people are basically in the same shape they were a week after the earthquake.  After returning from there last week, I have an idea that is both brilliant and ridiculous . . .

First, we send in the army to surround the city and courteously but assertively move people north of the city to a massive base that we have set up to house 4 million people.  This is no bad deal - fresh drinking water, showers, electricity, room for your family to live.  We take them to this base for one year.  During that time we find out who has the aptitude for being teachers, bankers, salesmen, plumbers, electricians, craftsmen, artists and chefs.  We then spend the rest of the year in intensive education efforts to give them a new life in their respective fields.  Eight hours a day, five days a week we invest in these people.  Those not willing to learn are not allowed back into the city.

Second, with everyone safely outside Port-au-Prince, we completely level the city.   Bringing in the Army Corps of Engineers we clear the rubble and begin building a completely new city.  Over the next year we pave new roads, create business centers, market centers, agricultural zones, industry parks, wharfs, air fields, everything a burgeoning city needs to grow.  Then we stock it all - the fields are freshly fertilized, the schools have an abundance of textbooks, the commercial centers are all online and ready for commerce.

Third, we move them in - settle the farmers in first to start producing food.  Get the commercial zones fired up and then settle the people in their new apartments and condos and houses.  Assign them the jobs that they will perform in which they have been newly trained.  Stand back and watch it all begin to breathe new life.

The cost?  I estimate 100 billion dollars.  Cheap when you compare it to the amount we pay in federal aid, disaster aid, drug enforcement, immigration enforcement and all the other 'enforcements' that drain from our federal budget.  And once the new city starts to take off, all we ask is for a percentage of the GDP from the successful new city over the next hundred years so that the following year we can invest in a new place that desperately needs help.

Sound foolish?  Am I dreaming?  Is it arrogant?  Or is it something that you wish could work as well?  It is a desire that is rooted in ancient dreams of someone stepping in and saving us from the poverty that we are in.  It is as old as the idea of salvation - repugnant to some, but a beautiful dream nonetheless.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Haiti: Out of a mess

I was in a vision clinic outside of Port-au-Prince helping people to find glasses that will help them see or read better and I was talking with a young lady who had a child with her.

I asked if she has ever decided to put her trust in Christ - whether she was able to become a Christian and she said that she was going to put it off until she paid someone back that she owes.  I was puzzled until I discovered that the person she owed was a voodoo priest.  I asked her why she connected the two and you could just see on her face that she wanted to wait until she was done owing the voodoo priest money before she turned herself to God in any way.  She felt like she was connected to something dark and needed to rid herself of that before she turned to the light.

I told her that she is free to turn to God at any time - in fact it would probably be best to turn to God when you are entangled in things that are dark.  In fact, none of us can hope to 'shape up' before we come to God - it is in the act of coming to God in the midst of wherever we are that God does the 'shaping up.'

Well she wasn't hearing it.  So for a $56 loan she was not interested in doing anything at the moment.  And to be honest I was glad to help her with her eye problems . . . but it reminded me of how sweet people can be made to feel in bondage to things that are not good for them.  It reminded me of last year sitting on a playground bench in Belize talking to a gang member after some basketball.  When I asked him if he went to church, he said that he was going to wait until he was done with selling drugs and being a gang member.  I remember telling him that now is the best time to get right with God, don't try to do it yourself.

Again - it fell on deaf ears.  We want to get ourselves out of our messes and then come to God.

If only we could see that the way to get out of the mess is to let God do the dirty work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rain's Blessings and Curses

We are halfway through our very short trip to Haiti with a group of great high school students and it is VERY hot here.  It is the kind of hot that doesn't hit you at first but then you start to feel the pulse in your neck and then you realize that you have a sheen of sweat on your arms and back that tell you to drink more water.  It is the kind of hot that leaves salt lines on your T-shirts from the sweat you produce.

So when it looked like a cloudy sunset we wondered if it might mean rain.  Rain it did.  It began with a cloudburst and some thunder.  The students ran out of the cafeteria tent and just danced in the deluge of rain.  I looked out at about 40 students jumping up and down in the soaking rain.  It was thrilling to join them running laps around the tents getting soaked.  Some of them brought out soap and shampoo and were taking showers (in their clothes of course) and trying to run up to anyone dry and give them hugs.

It disrupted our schedule and it was a fun diversion – the rain pelted us and lightning lit up the sky in large electric arcs.  And then it kept raining – very hard – so we had a few issues with rain coming into our tents.  So we worked hard to channel the water away from the dorm tents.

After all the buzz we settled down into some Bible study and a couple girls looked sad.  Asking them why they were sad they revealed that they had learned that the people who we were helping – those that live in mud huts – were probably having their house covering destroyed as we speak.  In the village of Chambrun, houses are made of a wicker type wood and covered with mud.  It is still raining as we speak and that probably means a very disastrous night and a tiring day ahead.

So tomorrow may bring a different routine as perhaps we can help them rebuild their houses.  How many times do they go through this?  Why do they do it? A lot of questions for one night.

One thing is sure – what I thought was an absolute blessing relieving my overheated body was an absolute nightmare just down the road.  And that is what makes understanding it all so difficult.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


We are in Haiti for a mission trip in partnership with GAIN and LCBC.  I have 44 people here in the hot Haitian sun - and I really mean it, it is HOT.

I have learned that the Haitians have been through a lot in their history.  Most notably the dictatorship of Duvalier or "papa Doc" who clear cut the rain forests that were here so that he could make a buck selling them around the world.  The richness of the country was in its natural resources and at one time it was very prosperous, but as they cut down the trees to sell it depleted the soil's richness and now things grow only with considerable effort.  

One woman said that when you look at a satellite image of the country you can see the outline of the country of Haiti because the Domincan Republic is lush with vegetation while Haiti is a moonscape.

It is very odd being here – the humidity on my skin makes me feel like I am at the beach but the dust in the back of my throat reminds me that I am in a dessert.  Haiti has been used up by selfish and small-minded people. 

This was particularly evident in my visit to CHambrun, a small village down the road . . .

The Haiti kids are rather nasty with their humor and some of the Haitian kids were making fun of a woman in the community whose head is shaved and has contracted some sort of dementia. One of our leaders on the trip is Wendy Stivers – a somewhat quiet person who has the knack for finding the person who is on the fringe and loving them.
The Haitian kids called this woman who was ill over and as she came there was teasing laughter.  Ignoring them, Wendy put her arm around this woman, asked her name and began speaking soothingly to her even though there was a Creole language barrier. You should have seen this woman accept the care, she leaned her head in to Wendy and like a child just felt tenderness when others were mean to her. Wendy then started praying for this woman and the woman closed her eyes and received it.
It was particularly touching when one of the kids who was mocking, came over and bowed her head in prayer as well. 
It was another in a series of lessons I am learning about caring for the neglected – from countries to people who are mentally ill.  Even though things seem to be ‘used up’ they still have value.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I am going to Haiti tomorrow and I am mostly excited and a little nervous.

I work with High School students at a church named LCBC and we have had about 30 students go to Philly, 30 students go to NYC and now we have about 45 of us headed to a tiny town named Chambrun northeast of Port au Prince.

Here is why I am excited:  The whole purpose of these trips is to see lives changed - our students (in learning that they are very wealthy and have perhaps too much) and the people in Haiti (in finding a friend from the states that cared enough to come and try to do something to help).  I am excited to see students leave behind their ipods, Facebooks, Lady Gagas, soundbytes, sarcasm, cynicism and wealth.  I am excited to see them rocked by the abject poverty of a people . . . and to see them happy.

When a girl named Ericka returned from a trip to NYC I heard that she liked being a part of someone's life for a week but would like to continue that by becoming a big sister here in the states.


It seems like God always has neat little nuggets in store when we empty ourselves of everything we have and we go to just love people.  Isn't that interesting?  I mean, isn't that in a nutshell what Jesus did in coming to this Earth?  Funny how imitating Christ is the best way to experience His faith.  We talk about faith IN Christ, but what about the faith OF Christ?

So I will be (hopefully) sending some updates from Haiti in the next week or so!  Pray for us!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Anthony Case

It seems like the whole world has weighed in on the Anthony case.

There really cannot be any other way to view it except to say that everyone lost.  Obviously a little girl lost her life.  A mother has lost hers - regardless of how you look at it (whether guilty or innocent).  Even we have lost a little bit of faith in what is right as a result of it all.

The question I keep hearing is how a jury could let someone free after all of the evidence.  And I am sure that news shows and Oprah-esque interviews will have the jurors talking about the room for possible doubt.  But this is where the biggest flaw enters the scene - jurors are supposed to see things 'beyond a REASONABLE doubt.'  Can they really say their decision today was reasonable?

What scares me most is the possibility that people have lost the rigor of applying common sense.  Perhaps the jury knows something we don't and maybe we can't possibly know the weight of the moment . . . but really.  Have we lost the simplicity of what is a REASONABLE doubt?

Now don't mistake this for condemnation.  We are all guilty of something.  You and I are no better just because our sins are not so obvious.  We all have our dark sides - we have just become better at managing them.  

No, I hope that this begins a path of transformation for a tortured individual - isn't that what the Gospel is all about?

But what about the rest of us who have lost an ounce more of faith in humanity's justice system?