|In this corner, arguing that China is an enemy, is David!||And in this corner, arguing that China is our friend, is MC-B!|
If the question is “Should we view China as an enemy?,” my answer is yes. Should we be marching in the streets burning Chinese flags, boycotting Chinese restaurants and dry cleaners? No. But make no mistake: the Chinese government views the US as its chief rival for military and economic dominance in Asia, and ultimately throughout the world, and that makes us enemies.
China is experiencing an economic boom that has pushed it into the top 6 in both GNP and GDP, and it’s using that windfall to increase military spending, even though it already possesses the largest standing army in the world and the 5th-largest military budget. It’s also using that money to upgrade its technical capabilities, acquiring sophisticated guidance systems and other improvements (legally or illegally), with a stated purpose of developing capabilities to interdict US expeditionary forces and US carrier battle groups in the Western Pacific.
China boasts 20% of the world’s population and aspires to be the dominant force in Asia, which contains 61% of the world’s population and 3 top economic powerhouses, including Japan and South Korea. Anyone remember why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor? America was flexing its economic and military muscles in Asia, and Japan felt they had one choice — expand or die. They gambled on confronting the dominant power in Asia rather than settling for playing second fiddle for the next few hundred years, and they lost. China has the sense to know they will face that same choice one day. It is no secret that they are preparing for it, and so are we.
But where is the danger zone? Aside from general tensions arising from our projection of power across the ocean to remain the dominant force in Asia, there are two major flashpoints:
North Korea — we fought the Chinese face to face in North Korea at the Chosin Reservoir, and by proxy all over Asia from the 1950s through the 1970’s. Has North Korea been in the news lately? Is Afghanistan part of Asia? Think they feel threatened by the only superpower fighting in their backyard and threatening to start another war in their side yard?
How about their front yard? Taiwan. They currently have 790 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and are not at all secretive about the fact that invading the island is the primary focus of their short-term military planning. We are pledged to defend Taiwan in case of invasion, and in fact have already intervened twice when China has amassed amphibious assault groups across the strait.
Don’t get me wrong; I do not mean to say that we as Christians are their enemy — but as I said before, they know that our country is ultimately their enemy, and our military planners know the same thing.
Knowing the feelings of many Bweinh!tributors on this issue, I am under no delusion that I will win this Clash. I also do not take issue with my opponent’s claim that China might see the USA as a potential military threat. However, I would like to point out that defining our enemies to include all nations that would consider taking up arms against us if their regional interests were threatened could characterize almost every nation in the world as a potential enemy.
Remember the stink that certain Europeans raised when the US intervened through a legitimate organization (NATO) in the Balkan region? Even our closest allies, those with whom we have a history of cooperation, were highly mistrustful of our intentions. Since our history with China has been considerably more spotty, it is quite likely that the present situation is simply the same phenomenon exacerbated by past interactions.
In other words, in the military arena China and the USA certainly have differences, but the differences aren’t large or deep-seated enough to net China a special “enemy” status.
In any case, friendliness among nations isn’t measured by alliances and military agreements as much as it used to be. Rather, it is measured in dollars, and in economic terms we have seen over and over again that in the era of globalization, ostracizing any one large nation hurts everyone involved far more than cooperation does.
An example: our dollar is currently in a free fall (thanks, Ben Bernanke!). Even though we’ve sunk past the pound, the Euro, and now even the Canadian dollar, the Chinese government and other “unfriendly” governments around the world continue to hold reserves in US dollars, which helps to stave off the inflation of our dollar — even though switching to a different reserve currency could provide far more stability and credibility to foreign investment than staying with a weakening currency.
Being friendly with China also provides more opportunities for trade, which could open one of the largest single markets in the world (aside from India, I suppose) and lead to further harmony between our two nations. True, the Kantian peace thesis of democracies not warring does not hold when one nation involved is not democratic. However, in China’s case, the other two legs of the Kantian Triangle (involvement in international institutions and involvement in trade) are increasing by the day.
China cannot afford to treat us as an enemy because its economy would slow to a crawl, and we cannot afford to treat China as an enemy, due to the vast potential of its economy to shape the way the world operates. We must continue to engage China with the wariness that we would afford to an engagement with any nation, but the end goal should be to bring China into a closer, friendlier relationship with the United States.
Of all the saints whose lives are recounted for us in the Bible, my favorite character has always been Abraham. I know, I know, it should be Jesus, but Jesus is God. My attempts to learn from His life have not always been as fruitful as one might imagine.
The first time I read the book In His Steps, I was in college during the late ’70s and, although I don’t remember the exact circumstances, when I tried to stop and ask myself, “What would Jesus do?,” the answer was obvious — “He never would have been stupid enough to get into this situation in the first place.”
That’s why I like Abraham. He’s human. I love Jesus and worship Him. I look to Abraham for a good role model.
There’s something about him standing in the door of his tent, looking up at a brilliant sky lit with innumerable stars, telling God, “Yes, I know you are my God and everything is cool, but . . . I still don’t have any children, and you promised me children…” and God saying, “Can you count these stars? If you can count these stars, then that’s how many children you will have.”
His life is such a draw to me. There are no churches to be disappointed with, no law to come short of, no religion to fail at, no synagogue or temple. There’s just an enormous expanse of territory, of which God says, “Journey in the land, wherever your foot touches I’ll give it to you and your descendants.”
I long for that. No plan or purpose. Just wandering in the desert, raising a family and watching sheep. Every once in a while God shows up and makes a new covenant and promises more stuff. Almost none of it happens in his lifetime but he doesn’t care.
He becomes the father of the notion that there is only one true and living God, and that He has holy standards. He passes that onto his descendants and becomes the father of all three of the major faiths in the earth — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The prototype, the plan and the imitation. It all blossoms out of one man’s personal relationship with God.
Moving on is Slumber! The next contestants are below, from Romans 14.
Why was the tomato red?
Because it saw the salad dressing!
Originally published May 18.
It seems a bit strange to think of him as my best teacher. There were certainly times when his style left me cringing. But in a way, coming through our clashes in style with my affection for his teaching still intact, is what confirms for me that he was my best.
He taught me freshman high school geometry, and he was certainly brilliant, and a bit eccentric. We walked in the first day to be greeted by a video camera. We each took our place, one at a time, front and center, said our first and last names, and he called out a row and seat from his memorized seating chart.
When my turn came, I dutifully called out, “Joshua Jones.”
“Joshua Douglas Jones?”
“Yeah.” I was puzzled. How many Josh Joneses were in this class anyway?
It turned out he just really liked my middle name, and rarely referred to me by any moniker that didn’t include some version of it. Joshua Douglas, Mr. Douglas, even J.D. Jones. It’s the kind of thing that in high school will simultaneously embarrass you and endear someone to you.
More importantly, he was a man with a passion for teaching that came through in everything he did. He was the teacher who used any object lesson or memory device, no matter how goofy. He would stretch you by making you figure things out rather than just telling you all the answers. He gave plenty of extra credit, for everything from solving the toughest problem first to memorizing pi to 100 places — even for bringing in comic strips referring to geometric properties. One time he brought in a box of donuts and gave them out, one by one, to the students who correctly solved that day’s class problems quickest. As someone who possesses both a quickness in problem solving and a strong love of donuts, this was my ideal form of education.
There was only one real problem — the man believed very strongly in homework, at least an hour’s worth per night. I, on the other hand, would eventually be labeled by him as “philosophically opposed” to it. That may have given my ninth grade ideology a bit too much credit, but the fact remained: I didn’t do most of the assignments. This would have posed a problem, except I was absolutely killing all his tests and quizzes, including those of the pop variety that occurred at least a couple times per week. I wasn’t unprepared for class, or failing to learn — I just prepared and learned in my own quicker, more efficient manner.
And so, eventually, as an educator, this posed a problem for him.
For a while he tried to break me, assigning quiz values to random homework assignments. I figured out a way to anticipate the most likely culprits, ensuring those were done. Then he tried to get me to come in after school before my bus arrived to do the assignments before going home. I found reasons to be unavailable. The only thing I truly feared was public humiliation in front of my classmates, but he was too good a man to apply anything more than the gentlest of pressures in the class setting, despite my unlucky seat directly beneath his lecturing perch.
As the year progressed and I continued to outperform most of my fellow students in class while ignoring most of his assignments out of class, he began to soften. Finally, one day another teacher came in and he asked her in front of the class, “Is there a point to forcing a student to do homework assignments if they can learn the material without it? What is the purpose of homework?”
I don’t remember her answer. I don’t think he even really wanted one. I knew he was talking to me.
I got through the year, grades intact. The next year his homework policy was changed to allow students to turn in their assignments with items omitted if the students deemed them redundant or unnecessary.
If I’ve had one problem with institutional education, it’s been that too many people, students and teachers alike, forget that the point of the whole exercise is learning. He didn’t. He let me learn to my full ability.
I never really thanked him.
If you picked “Not quite — we focus on other things,” you’re a winner!!
OOPS! There’s Baphomet again!
Ã‚Â©1984-2007 Chick Publications, Inc. Reprinted without permission as fair use (parody).
Last night I decided to watch the Republican presidential debates on CNN (powered by YouTube!). I was very unimpressed with the whole ordeal.
First of all, CNN decided that it would be appropriate to give certain audience members (12 men and 12 women, all undecided registered Republicans) the opportunity to push buttons on a keypad in order to rate their responses to the answers that the candidates gave. This is problematic to begin with; is there anything that brings out true leadership like treating our candidates like racehorses? However, aside from problems with their methodology, let’s imagine that you, personally, were responsible for getting a ticker line graph thing on the air to represent the way that these people were responding. Where on the screen would you put it? The bottom edge? In a corner, perhaps? Well, I’ve been unable to find any screen shots as of yet, but CNN decided to put a continuously-updating line graph smack in the middle of the screen, over the faces of the candidates as they were giving responses. It was extremely distracting and generally told us nothing about the way that candidates were answering. The whole idea smacked of excessive populism.
Questions were uninspired and generally hand-selected in order to encourage sniping but no real policy comparisons. No questions were asked about healthcare or the environment, but CNN did find time for one question, already following two other questions about gun control, about the candidates’ personal gun collections. (Incidentally, this question elicited one story about military service, two about a candidate’s family, and one fairly curt response). I suppose I can’t fault the questioner, though: with this information about how many guns the candidates own, I now feel completely ready to vote.
The cuts to commercial were also very unprofessional. Local stations were afforded some commercial time, so sometimes during a candidate’s response, we were abruptly cut to the local Time Warner Cable’s ad for digital phone service. Sometimes, we would even cut from the candidate answering a question to “rap with” the 24 men and women who were pushing the response buttons in an isolated room somewhere else in the building.
Few people are going to watch these debates at all, but probably even fewer are going to go online to watch them in their entirety. CNN had a chance to showcase the differences between the candidates with illuminating questions, but I believe they generally failed to do that. Although, after the debates I suppose I could be coerced to vote for Mitt Romney after seeing online that he said (with respect to his family) “like most Americans we love our sports teams and we hate the Yankees.”
Or maybe I’ll vote for Ron Paul in protest.
“Wise men, if they try to speak their language to the common herd instead of its own, cannot possibly make themselves understood.” — J.J. Rousseau
The other day on the radio I heard two ridiculous advertisements back to back. The first was from the irascible Billy Fuccillo. I enjoy his work, but this time he sounded like he’s finally slipped into complete insanity.
It started with perennial straight man Tom Park listing some of Thanksgiving’s glories. Tom explained how he can’t wait to “taste the turkey, taste the stuffing, the cranberry sauce,” when suddenly Billy burst in — “THE DALLAS COWBOYS!”
Before we could consider how exactly Fuccillo might be familiar with the “Taste of the Cowboys,” there was an obvious cut. In this ad, the audio was spliced together in a painfully desperate attempt to get something useful from the bumbling blather. These days, it seems Park just leaves the mic on for hours, trying to herd Billy into 10 or 15 seconds of usable pratter before the inevitable “UUUUUUGE!!” requires a donut-fueled reboot.
Billy’s voice grew low and respectful. “I know we all have a lot to thank the Lord fer,” he explained. After listing a few of his reasons for gratitude, he incongruously added, “…and I’m a leg guy! Yeah, I like the thigh!”
Park seemed stunned. It was all going so well! “You’re a leg guy?”
Earlier, Park was talking food and Billy changed the subject to giant, sweaty football players. But now Fuccillo suddenly shifted from thanking the Lord “fer” his family into a bizarre meat-based double entendre! Think quickly, Tom! Think quickly!
But before he could, Billy again returned to a somber tone. “But yeah, we have a lot of people to thank.” Then just as quickly, right back to Crazyland! “I like the legs, okay? Nice!!! That’s uuuuuuge!”
And it was over.
I had to wonder how long Tom sat in his production studio rubbing his eyes before finally muttering, “What the heck, let’s go with the spot where he tastes the Cowboys and screams about thighs! Who’s listening the day before Thanksgiving anyway?”
Directly thereafter, a woman with a soothing voice came on. I was immediately on my guard, because unless you’re incapacitated, a kitten, or an incapacitated kitten, women only use their soothing voice when they want something from you.
Sure enough — she had a very important message to share with me about an issue affecting New York farms. I thought, as a non-farmer, am I free to ignore this important message? But immediately, she answered me. “If you like to eat, it affects you too.”
That’s me! I enjoy eating! I do it every day — sometimes twice! How did she know?
Well, friends, it turns out the biggest crisis facing New York farms isn’t taxes, weather, disease or government — it’s the inability to make it legal for farms to employ illegal immigrants to milk cows, pick grapes and stack hay. “Without meaningful legislation, our farms could go out of business!,” the soothing woman entoned.
I headed over to their bucolic website, where they print out a helpful letter I can email to my representative. It includes startling assertions like, “Without a temporary guest worker program for agriculture, New York farmers will not be able to continue to provide safe, healthy, and locally grown foods for our New York consumers.”
Apparently the Farm Bureau believes that unless Congress makes it okay for them to break the law to get menial labor accomplished, their farms will shut down. Of course this just isn’t true. This country doesn’t exactly have a shortage of unskilled laborers (just go to the mall), and if Americans won’t pick grapes for minimum wage, maybe wages (and prices) should go up.
But the biggest problem I have, aside from the fact that the Bureau wants to ignore the law to make more money, is the way these workers are being treated by their so-called ‘defenders.’ What we have is a modern-day slave trade, where jobs thought to be beneath “real Americans” are filled by the poor from other nations, so desperate for a better life that they will work in terrible conditions for a pittance, living in constant fear of discovery and deportation.
And then their exploiters have the unmitigated gall to stand up and tell me — in a soothing voice, of course — that if Congress won’t make this slavery legal, they’ll to go out of business? Then what, we’ll import our milk from China and India? I don’t think so.
The idea doesn’t make economic sense — and beyond that, it’s morally wrong.
I’m still not sure which commercial was crazier.
This week, Bweinh.com looks at the next chapter in the book of Romans, Romans 14.
Chapter 14 illustrates one of the key differences between the New Covenant and the Law. Rules and regulations regarding dietary restrictions and Holy Days are lifted and replaced by a measure of liberty, but that liberty can not be used to wound others. In addition, Paul introduces the concept that we stand before God Himself as our judge, not man — rendering the priesthood obsolete.
There can’t be anything more Christlike than laying aside your desires in favor of someone else’s. This whole chapter points out that if we truly call ourselves Christians, our smallest actions and most common practices should always reflect our heritage.
SOMETHING YOU’D NEVER NOTICED BEFORE:
When it says here that “every knee shall bow to me,” it is intended as a warning to Christians like me not to judge others. It’s not there for me to threaten the world with.
Paul’s talking about another kind of sacrifice we don’t hear about often — the sacrifice of normal things for the benefit of those who see them as a medium of sin.
Verse 9 presents a nice little nugget of theology about Christ’s resurrection, smack dab in the middle of a treatise on how to treat each other. Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living — to conquer death by paying the price of sin for all time. So who cares if I celebrate Christmas? Back off! God’s still on the throne!
BEST BAND NAME FROM THE PASSAGE:
Chloe: Everyday Alike
Connie: Stumbling Block
Steve: Every Effort
A duck waddled into a bar. The bartender asked, “What can I get you?” “Got any grapes?,” the duck asked. “No,” said the bartender. “We serve beer and whiskey and stuff like that.” So the duck leaves.
The next day, the duck comes back. “Got any grapes?,” he asks. “No!,” the bartender says. “We don’t have any grapes!”
The duck comes back the next day with the same question. Annoyed, the bartender says, “If you ask for grapes one more time, I’ll nail your beak to the bar!”
But the very next day, in comes the duck. “Got any nails?,” he asks the bartender.
The bartender is confused. “No, why?”
“Got any grapes?”
Originally published March 23.
|In this corner, arguing for the abolition of modern youth ministry, is Job!||And in this corner, arguing for the value of modern youth ministry, is Josh J!|
Telling other Christians you don’t like youth ministry is like slipping up and implying to a woman that she should lose some weight; shocked disbelief melts quickly into scorn. Fortunately, my disregard for such is an orbital blessing of having zero tact — you just get used to people’s disgust.
I’ll preface this harangue by saying souls have been won via youth ministry and that is, truly, the end of the argument. We count such as joy. People have been called to it, some are genuinely and admirably good at it, and much of the unbelieving or disbelieving world is moved by it. And the people I know who do youth ministry are the some of the best believers in my Rolodex. Should any of those souls read this — you know who you are — I trust you won’t see it as a personal attack. I would test your food for you or check under your beds for intruders; I would gladly relinquish any pulpit to your greater gifts. And though I’ve been known to mock youth pastors, I regret that our subculture has lampooned them to a point where their enthusiasm and uniqueness are treated like the Kool-Aid pitcher crashing through your wall.
But I come at youth ministry from a comprehensive viewpoint. I see it as a huge financial expense that produces very little return, treated with special honor though it’s relatively new. In a country as morally orphaned as ours, the desire to tag in for parents incapable of teaching their kids about the gospel and moral living is intoxicating, I know. But this is impossible in the broad sense, a hacking at the leaves, not the root — especially when most youth pastors are emerging from their early twenties themselves. Still the Church throws millions of dollars at the institution because it seems so relevant, obvious and even sexy?
A major problem with youth ministry is that young people develop close personal relationships with their youth pastors, not with Christ. And by definition, this relationship ends, kicking the crutch out from under the teen. I’d be more comfortable with the ministry if pastors acted like shepherds, not buddies filling the hole of good influence for a time.
When I think of what we could do with the funds spent on youth ministry, I get excited. Churches could hire a prison pastor, a pastor for the elderly, a director for service projects. I’m uncomfortable with the fevered sense of inadequacy some bodies feel without a youth pastor, and the depth of our love for this template for success in the face of such a morass of spiritual needs. The preoccupation with youth ministry baffles me.
But in short, I’m a Christian fanboy; I love this faith to death and I’m already in line for the sequel. And youth ministry is my Jar Jar Binks. I don’t like seeing so much money and talent spent on a guild and culture that doesn’t produce the lasting belief or believers to account for all we pour into it.
I know, I know; I’m a pig. But that was a pretty big lunch she ordered.
Full disclosure — I’m what you might call a “professional Christian,” having made the entirety of my adult living working for the church, much of that with youth. But I also grew up exclusively in churches without a professional youth worker, and I believe very strongly in a full-Body approach to ministry.
In many ways, I agree with Job that the efficiency and effectiveness of youth ministry should be frequently evaluated, even scrutinized, just like every other effort of the church, to ensure we are doing what is right. But the idea that a church should not make a significant and concentrated investment in youth fails to measure up logically, Biblically, or even from Job’s preferred viewpoint, the “business model.”
Taking the coarsest argument first, from a business standpoint, it’s pretty much a given that developing product loyalty at an early age is sound business. Even if it involves an exorbitant present expense, hooking a customer early brings a payoff for the rest of his life. Just ask our friends at the tobacco companies (Oh, I forgot, they don’t advertise to minors anymore! *wink wink*). And if you don’t hook him early, someone else probably will, and you’ll have a much tougher time selling him later in life.
If Job wants to know where the urgency and insecurity comes from in churches without an intentional youth ministry, I have a theory — they don’t want their church to die off. Which is exactly what would happen to a group that failed to bring in new, young blood, and is, in fact, exactly what has happened or come close to happening in many churches.
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
In a world where more and more parents will not or cannot do this, the church must. Certainly every effort should be made to reach the whole family, but for those adults who choose to go their own way, yet send their young off to church, we must step into the gap. The church must stand up and give our youth the best possible opportunity to choose the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I know that I am the man I am today because of the lessons I learned when I was young. I was blessed to learn them in my home, and I take that blessing seriously enough to fight the uphill battle to teach them to kids whose homes contradict them daily.
Do we need to make sure we’re giving our kids the real thing? Absolutely. Do we need to be careful not to segregate the Body? Without a doubt.
But where there are failings in these or other areas, it’s an area for that church to improve, not an indictment of focusing on such a bountiful harvest.
My friend Keisha and I made an attempt this week to find a coffee shop with wireless on Oxford Circus so we could work on one of our many final papers. It was raining when we hopped on the 19 and struggled up the stairs to find seats, spotting two in the back after several moments of searching. We wedged ourselves in and watched the windows fog up as the bus lurched to a stop to pick up more passengers.
No one ever talks about buses in London. It’s all about the Tube and the Thames and other things starting with T that you can get around in, like taxis and trains and . . . tugboats. No one talks about how close you can get to people you don’t know on the bus — and I don’t mean inside. I watched with mild panic as mopeds and bicycles swerved in and out of our lane, wondering if they would suddenly slip on the wet asphalt and meet a damp and messy end before my eyes. Other buses breathed down my neck at stop lights, while my bus did the same to unfortunate passengers in other vehicles. I didn’t realize until that ride how small buses are. It wasn’t long before I was in a full-fledged anxiety attack, and I had to force Keisha to move to another seat closer to the stairs and surrounded by more windows to keep from hyperventilating.
We never got to Oxford Circus. By the time we reached Holborn (a 20-minute ride normally), we had been on the bus for nearly an hour and a half, and the muggy bus wasn’t even inching along in the driving rain. It was millimetering along. Keisha and I went downstairs in the mad hope of jumping off at the next stop, no matter where it landed us. Then a girl approached the bus driver and asked him to open the doors. “I’m late to an interview,” she said. “I’m so late, and I must get off. We haven’t moved in 15 minutes!”
“If I open these doors and you get plowed down, you’ll sue me. I can’t open the doors,” the gruff driver replied. He’d already displayed an extensive arsenal of colorful words throughout the trip, and so we inched away from the looming altercation.
“No, no, I promise I won’t sue you! Please, let me off, I need this job!”
She continued to beg him, and he continued to refuse. Then a gallant young businessman rose to the occasion and defended the fair maiden. “Look, please just open the door.”
Good job, turbo.
“I can’t open the doors, because I’ll get sued if you get hurt…but that doesn’t mean you can’t open the door.”
So the ambitious knight began tugging on the door. “No, no!” the bus driver said. “Press the button above your head!”
The hopeful suitor looked above him and espied the button, pressing it with all the fervor of a man about to be spurned by a pretty girl.
The doors hissed open and the girl sprang off, yelling “Thank you!” over her shoulder. The poor hero hopped off, too, heading in the other direction. So I was romanticizing it, but I had been on the bus for over an hour; I was mildly insane by that point.
Keisha and I made our escape at that point, too, giving up our search in Oxford Circus and returning to familiar territory — the Starbucks in Angel with two floors and magnificent heating. We were freezing cold and dripping wet, and we had spent nearly two hours getting there.
As I settled down with my Eggnog latte (Ã¢”šÂ¤3.05, but I so deserved it), I picked up the assignment for the literature class:
No traveling at all — no locomotion,
No inkling of the way — no notion —
‘No go’ — by land or ocean — [:]
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds —
Ã‚Â©1984-2007 Chick Publications, Inc. Reprinted without permission as fair use (parody).
“I can never willingly invest any number of my fellow creatures with that unlimited authority which I should refuse to any one of them.” — A. Tocqueville