30 April 2009

great sex, beckham coming to the spurs, swine flu jokes, and a bit on manliness

As opposed to a regular blog post today, we’ll be addressing a couple of topics that may not be worthy of their own posts but as an aggregate make a nice little dent in the inter-web.

- Great Sex – Apparently, it is now cool for churches to talk about sex – a lot. They have sermon series based around sex, rent billboards with alluring images related to sex, and then use the internet to blog and tweet and pretty much beg for traffic using one magical word – “sex”.

I don’t know how I feel about all of this. Sex drives traffic, especially on the internet. So, maybe giving people a healthy view of such a taboo subject is good. But maybe the ol’ bait and switch is happening. And that would be bad.

Like I said, I don’t know how I feel. Would love to hear feedback on this one…

- Beckham Coming to the Spurs –
I like soccer. Sue me. And there is never quite as much ink spilled in the soccer community as when rumors emerge featuring Posh Spice’s husband.

The latest rumors have Beckham returning to LA Galaxy for the remainder of the summer and then signing with the Spurs after the MLS season. The Spurs? Tottenham Hotspur, of course. While they’re adding past-their-prime superstars, let’s see if we can get the Soccer Spurs to take Manu Ginobili as well. Just sayin’…

- Swine Flu – I have been trying all week to make swine flu jokes around the office. And I have to say that some of them have been quite funny. Still, I get more glares than guffaws. My question for you: Too soon?

I give up. Maybe you have some appropriate swine flu jokes that have been working in your office that you would be willing to share? Maybe you have some alternate advice for me here (Such as “Stop making swine flu jokes”.)…?

- Manliness –
My previous post here tackled the issue of the masculinity of Jesus. In that same light, I have to say that the general Christian-cultural push towards hyper-masculinity definitely bothers me. I think evangelical Christianity is so afraid of being encroached upon by "alternative lifestyles" that we are attempting to swing the pendulum as far in the opposite direction as we can. Now, we have to have manly retreats and use war metaphors to describe Jesus.

How about “NO”? How about the idea that all of this parading as manly men creates some character issues in us? Instead of celebrating being carnivores together and instead of chest-bumping while we secretly enable each other’s lusts… What if we commended each other on handling a tough situation with our wives with sensitivity and honor? What if we celebrate faithfulness and rebuke chauvinism? What if we actually championed a cause that honored our women as strong, beautiful beings that deserve our deepest love and loyalty rather than attempting to stroke our precious egos by painting them as weak-willed objects that would wilt without our testosterone?

I don’t lift weights and I don’t like camping. I am not particularly handy with a wrench. I often cry in movies. I like espresso and I like reading books. And my wife is not missing out in the slightest. I may never win her affection in a street-fight or impress her by finishing a 72 ounce steak in one sitting. I will, however, seek to honor her and build her and support her in every possible way. And if all of that isn’t quite enough, she has one promise from me that I think is the manliest possible statement: “I will never leave you. I am yours until the day I die.”

Comments? Think sex and church are great companions? Think soccer is stupid? Know a good swine flu joke? Disagree with my manliness comments and want to arm-wrestle to see who is right? No more posts coming until Monday, so leave a comment and we’ll discuss…

29 April 2009

manly jesus or meek jesus: how it is all missing the point

This morning, I checked in at The Church of No People blog (as I do every day) and was confronted with a typically wonderful post. In it, Matt (the author of the blog) took all of the "Manly Jesus" generalizations to wacky extremes. Even the title was designed to mock our incessant crying over the emasculation of Christ:
"Jesus Was a Scowling Heartbreaking Lumberjack"

I laughed at the not-so-subtle jab at our bizarre Christian culture and moved on...only to return later to a sack-full of comments by Matt's faithful readers - who were all legitimately swooning over how awesome Manly Jesus was. I was surprised, although I guess I shouldn't be.

In recent years, Western Christianity has become obsessed with protecting the masculinity of Jesus. He was a buff carpenter. He had guns. He turned over tables. He impaled Pharisees with his piercing eyes of fire. Whatever.

In some sort of societal inferiority complex, we have decided that we don't want to follow a peace-loving, grace-practicing, mercy-preaching Christ. Apparently, we want to rewrite Scripture - Blessed are the (Manly?), for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Like I said - whatever.

I don't really care. Jesus can be a pasty dude petting sheep with children or a ripped warrior straight out of Braveheart. If we spend even 5 seconds debating it, we are missing the point.

The point then is this: We might be a much different people if we cared less about how Jesus was represented in pop culture and cared more about how He is represented in us, His followers.

One more time for emphasis: We might be a much different people if we cared less about how Jesus was represented in pop culture and cared more about how He is represented in us, His followers.

life on the windowsill

One of my cubicle neighbors has a plant. Maybe it is some sort of violet. It sits in a pretty flower pot on the third floor windowsill of our shiny suburban office building. Separated from the outside world by a double-paned window and a thin layer of executive tint, the plant lives a life of relative safety.

Earlier this week, as rain poured from the sky, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the plant. Buckets and bathtubs full of life-giving rain soaked the earth and everything springing from it. And this little plant was missing out completely. Sure, it’ll get a splash of water here and there and maybe someone’s cold morning coffee. It might snatch a ray of sunlight through that tinted glass every now and then. But the true exhilaration of thunder and wind will never be known; the warmth of the morning sun will never be felt – not on this side of the window anyway.

Maybe safety and predictability of life on the windowsill is not the most glorious destiny for this little violet.

As I stare at the rain rolling down the glass, at the violet stretching ever closer in its attempts to get just a meager glimpse of the outside world, I wonder…

…how many of us live perched on such windowsills?

28 April 2009

post-karmic swine flu update

In addition to abstaining from sharing drinking cups and needles with pigs and avoiding the bacon aisle at the grocery store, we can now add frequent hand sanitation to the list of anti-swine flu measures being taken by yours truly.

My company has supplied all corporate bathrooms with jugs of hand sanitizer.

Stand tall, my friends. Together, we can defeat this evil virus. After all, these colors…err, germs…don’t run. Or something like that.

27 April 2009

jelly belly: of inauthenticity and brokenness

My cubicle neighbor gave me a bag of assorted Jelly Belly jelly beans last week. You know… This bag had 6 billion different jelly bean flavors, everything from Dr Pepper and Toasted Marshmallow to Cappuccino and Buttered Popcorn.

The fun in the bag was trying to differentiate between imperceptible color variations. For example, Cappuccino, Caramel Apple, Chocolate Pudding, Dr Pepper, and A&W Root Beer are all pretty similar shades of brown.

Imagine expecting a splash of icy root beer and getting a swig of cappuccino. Not refreshing. Same experience with the jelly beans.

How can two things that are outwardly identical be so different in experiential reality?

Surely, this is what so many wonder about Christians.

Attempts to engineer homogeneous facades and feigned righteousness set an expectation that cannot be rightly experienced in reality. And this is why we run into so many people who have been burned by inauthentic Christianity.

Some well-intentioned individual was taught that Christ removed all of our sins and so we shouldn’t sin anymore. Unable to meet that expectation (since our humanity mandates that we will continually fall well short of perfection), the individual decides to fake it. He buys the right clothes, listens to the right music, and preaches the right sermon. Only, somewhere in the recesses of his life, there is pervasive darkness.

Because of a lack of clarity and transparency, there is confusion. Ultimately, the people who chose to trust this individual and his words become wounded when they decide that a fraudulent messenger certainly taints the message. And another person who loves Christ walks away from the body to avoid the stench of deceptive religion.

We are what we are. Some of us are Cotton Candy and others are Cappuccino, all broken and in the active process of repair. We would be doing the world a great service to live in acknowledgment of that brokenness and love others in such a way that their belief is not contingent on how reliably sweet we are.

24 April 2009

manswers and urinal etiquette

Sometimes you find a pot of gold and you keep it all for yourself. Other times, you know you need to share.

I need to share.

I stumbled across this blog called To Every Man a Manswer. It is brilliant. You should go there. I’ve added him to the blogroll on the left side of the page, so you can see whenever he posts new stuff.

In particular, the blog has addressed one of my favorite subjects – male urinal etiquette (see above diageram). You should click here and read the full post.

san antonio, this could be you

This week, a story crept up that the parent company of the San Antonio Spurs (and WNBA Silver Stars and AHL Rampage), San Antonio Sports and Entertainment, was interested in bringing professional soccer to San Antonio.

The league that would serve as San Antonio’s first step into the world of pro futbol would be the USL, sort of the apprentice league to the top-level Major League Soccer.

Rather than considering this a foray into yet another minor league venture, San Antonians should recognize this as the first step up the MLS ladder.

Professional soccer has been steadily growing in the US and the MLS has been expanding as the country’s appetite for the sport grows. The sport has proven to be family-friendly and affordable. And not coincidentally, 3 out of the last 4 expansion MLS franchises have been awarded to cities that featured USL teams.

As a soccer fan, a USL team in San Antonio would definitely be a step in the right direction. To help make that step, a supporters club has been started in San Antonio. The Crocketteers exist to help establish professional soccer in San Antonio and to appreciate and promote the beautiful game once it arrives. Click this link to check out the Crocketteers website or to join the group for free.

22 April 2009

"i was in the pool": of shrinkage and flint, michigan

Where the economy is making life difficult for many formerly flourishing industrial cities, there is a glimmer of opportunity that comes in an otherwise counter-intuitive plan.

The Michigan city of Flint is a poster-child for the decline of auto-centric Midwest cities. Once a city of 200,000 and growing, the population of Flint has been cut in half over the last 4 decades. So rather than continue to watch and wait while their city decomposes and more city blocks become abandoned, Flint has decided to get proactive.

Flint, which has long been shrinking, will now assist its own shrinkage by bulldozing entire blocks and neighborhoods and returning the land to the forest that predates its population.

An interesting strategy, indeed, Costanza.

The New York Times Article Link

would you wait in this queue to vote?

In 1994, queues snaked for kilometers as South Africans took part in the first free democratic elections in that country since the fall of apartheid.

They vote again today and neither the queues nor the enthusiasm to vote have changed much.

I wonder... Would you wait in that queue to vote?

21 April 2009

urban wikitecture: architecture's newest craze

Due to the interest in yesterday’s blog post, I am going to use today to stay with the theme and uncover another architectural jewel, which happens to be the latest craze in the field.

In urban areas around the world there is a new sort of architecture emerging. It harkens back to the brutalist periods of decades gone by and simultaneously embraces the technology only recently uncovered in the internet age.

This new architectural style is called “Urban Wikitecture”, borrowing from the collaborative ideas in Wiki. Truly, this is architecture in its finest form. Where there is no budget for hulking, singular structures, citizens of Haiti, Mexico, India, and South Africa have embraced the new form that has taken the architectural world by storm.

What is more, these Urban Wikitecture societies have catapulted to the forefront of the global fight against climate change, utilizing landfill space, otherwise unusable lots, recycled materials, and smaller building footprints to do their part to keep their communities carbon neutral.

In what I am convinced is the quietest architectural revolution in recorded history, millions are now participating in Wikitecture and millions more are waiting in line for their chance to contribute.

In common vernacular, we call these communities “shanty-towns”, “squatter camps”, and “slums”. They are overcrowded, stinking cesspools of humanity. They are fuming, rotting deposits of the least of these, often featuring sewage flowing along the narrow footpaths and mortality flowing in the exact same direction.

These communities are built on contaminated sites, landfills, junkyards, and abandoned lots using cardboard, corrugated metal, straw, and garbage. They often feature crime rates that are double those in more traditional dwellings and are estimated to house hundreds of millions of people worldwide. They average around 100 sq ft per dwelling and in each dwelling will sleep 4 or 5 human beings, crammed together like dogs. But they are not dogs…

These are the people that I think of when I see churches like the one from yesterday’s post. I wonder what $191 million would do for them. I wonder what message we are sending to the world about our priorities. I wonder what gospel we’re reading and I wonder what Jesus we follow.

20 April 2009

"what is $190 million to the author of all life and existence?" and other pertinent questions inspired by christ the light cathedral

What does $190 million buy you these days? For a few folks in Oakland, California, $190 million buys you one brilliant church - Christ the Light Cathedral. Well, the physical building anyway.

(Link to details/slideshow...)

So the questions are these…

(Scratching at the telephone pole protruding directly from my retina…)

Am I a hypocrite if I lament this church but not all expensive buildings (that is to say that if this were a concert hall or soccer stadium, I would probably applaud)...?

Would a $2 million dollar structure have been any more or less pleasing to the Creator of the Universe?

What is $190 million to the author of all life and existence?

And does God really care about how much a building costs – as if money was a big concern for the Almighty?

Is God pleased that artists labored to show their love for Him or is their labor idolatry in itself?

Is this different than a starving artist painting a representation of God in her loft, exhausting all of her savings for the supplies?

As much as any recent post, I am anxious to see what turns up in the comments here...

19 April 2009

voting for the people's man: the economist on south africa's elections

From http://www.economist.com/printedition/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13491950

THE outcome is not in doubt. But the elections that will be held on April 22nd will still be the most important since South Africa’s first fully democratic ballot in 1994. The African National Congress (ANC) will win by a landslide, as it has always done over the past 15 years. The new parliament will then elect the country’s president, now certain to be the ANC’s leader, Jacob Zuma. But what will happen afterwards? Will Africa’s biggest economy continue along the path to a stable multi-party democracy? Or will it sink into despotism, as so many other African countries did after liberation?

South Africans may well consider that outcome impossible. Democratic institutions are robust. Elections are free. As a member of the G20, South Africa hobnobs with the richest and most powerful countries in the world. Its post-apartheid constitution is among the most progressive. Its judiciary is impressively independent, its press unfettered, its civil society vibrant. Many Africans are nevertheless deeply worried about what might happen to the country under a President Zuma and an all-powerful, perhaps even vengeful, ANC.

The heady ideals of Nelson Mandela’s “rainbow nation” were bound to give way to greater realism. But it has gone beyond that. Many now share the “disillusionment, resentment and rage tinged with despair”, of which André Brink, an Afrikaans author and former anti-apartheid campaigner, writes in his recent memoir. Since the ANC first came to power in 1994 an estimated 800,000 whites have left the country, taking their skills with them; 4.5m, representing 9% of the population, remain. Crime has certainly played a part: though figures are hard to compare, South Africa has one of the world’s highest murder rates. But the dominance of the ANC has also been a powerful factor.

Whites are not alone in their pessimism. “We are in a bad place at the moment in this country,” laments Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a liberation hero turned government scourge. After the nation had thrown off the shackles of injustice and oppression, he had hoped to see a new age of freedom and justice for all. But “we have let down our guard and quickly forgotten the struggles of our past…Please allow us old people to go to the grave smiling, not with our hearts broken.”

The manner in which Mr Zuma’s eight-year tussle with the courts was brought to an end has shocked South Africans. On April 6th the supposedly independent National Prosecution Authority (NPA) announced that it was withdrawing all charges of corruption, racketeering, tax-evasion, money-laundering and fraud against the ANC leader. The actual merits of the case were not in question, it said. Nor was the prosecution in any way flawed. The issue was the (alleged) manipulation of the timing of the announcement of the charges in an apparent attempt to thwart Mr Zuma’s political ambitions. This made it “neither possible nor desirable” to continue with the prosecution.

Yet the grounds for dropping the case were puzzling. The charges against Mr Zuma had been serious. He was accused of accepting more than 4m rand ($596,000) between 1995 and 2005 from his friend and former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, in exchange for using his influence to help secure government contracts for Mr Shaik’s companies. Sentencing Mr Shaik to 15 years imprisonment in 2005, the presiding judge said that the payments to Mr Zuma “can only have generated a sense of obligation in the recipient”. President Thabo Mbeki promptly sacked him as his deputy. A few days later Mr Zuma was indicted in his turn. He has always denied the charges.

Both Mr Zuma and Mr Shaik claim that the money was intended as a loan, part of which Mr Zuma says he has now repaid, though he does not say how much. Now that the charges have been dropped, he says he feels vindicated; but he has not been acquitted. A cloud of suspicion still hangs over him. He has never properly explained his relationship with Mr Shaik. It did not help when, last month, he announced that if elected he would consider granting a pardon to his friend. Three days later Mr Shaik, suffering from hypertension and depression, was released from jail on “medical parole”, normally reserved for the dying. He had served two years and four months of his 15-year sentence.

The rise of the goatherd
Born of Zulu peasant stock, Mr Zuma herded his grandfather’s goats rather than going to school. He joined the ANC in his mid-teens. From then until he was almost 50 he devoted his life to the liberation struggle, first as a prisoner on Robben Island (with Nelson Mandela), then as an activist in the armed underground, and finally as the ANC’s head of intelligence. He never had to worry about money; the party took care of that.

But on his return from exile at the end of apartheid in 1990, he found himself with no settled home, no solid job and no money. It would not surprise South Africans if, like many others who had sacrificed their lives to the cause while others at home grew rich, he felt he was owed something.

Financial wrongdoing within the ANC’s ranks is widespread and tolerated, though many have been prosecuted. A poll taken shortly before Mr Zuma’s charges were dropped showed that just half of ANC members believed him to be innocent. Yet nearly three-quarters continued to support him “wholeheartedly”.

From 1994 until 1999 Mr Zuma served as the local minister for economic affairs and tourism in his native KwaZulu-Natal. But his pay was meagre, his lifestyle lavish and he already had three wives and numerous children to support. At one point he thought he might throw it all in. But Mr Shaik and his brothers, who had worked alongside him in the underground, persuaded him not to, arguing that the country needed leaders like him. For ten years Mr Shaik picked up Mr Zuma’s tab for virtually everything, from his luxury homes and expensive cars to his traffic fines and children’s schooling. All this is well documented. In African culture there is a sense of obligation to help relatives and friends in times of need. Mr Shaik’s level of care, though, appears to have gone beyond the call of duty.

Mr Zuma insists that there was never any case against him. Nevertheless, after the dismissal of the charges, he strove to sound presidential. Now was not the time for vengeance, he told reporters: “We have a country to run, not individuals to chase.” His allies take a different view. They are baying for blood, accusing Mr Mbeki—whom Mr Zuma’s allies in the ANC ousted as party and then as national president—of being behind a plot to bring down Mr Zuma. At a “victory” rally on April 7th Zwelinzima Vavi, leader of Cosatu, South Africa’s biggest trade-union federation and one of the ANC’s partners in the ruling tripartite alliance with the Communists, demanded that “Number One, that big man…must answer in court.”

This is typical of Mr Zuma’s tactics: he lets others do the dirty work for him. One of his most-feted “bully boys” is Julius Malema, leader of the ANC’s powerful Youth League. Decried by his detractors as an arrogant dimwit but lauded by his comrades as a sharp and gifted speaker, the chubby-cheeked 28-year-old delights in provocation. The woman who accused Mr Zuma of rape in 2005 must have had a “nice time”, he suggested, otherwise she wouldn’t have stayed for breakfast. Helen Zille, the feisty (white) leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) and a former anti-apartheid campaigner, was a “racist” and “colonialist”. The Congress of the People (COPE), a new party set up by ANC rebels after Mr Mbeki’s undignified ouster last September and now the ANC’s first serious black-led challenger, was nothing but a “Western puppet”.

Occasionally Mr Malema is deemed to have taken a step too far, as when he declared last summer that the Youth League was “prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma” if his prosecution went ahead. The public uproar was such that the ANC felt obliged to rap him over the knuckles. But otherwise he is almost never reined in, leading to the assumption that the ANC top brass, including Mr Zuma, do not altogether disapprove.

Dressed in natty designer suits and matching silk ties, the beaming Mr Zuma, seeks to reassure his white audiences, gathered in air-conditioned five-star hotels, with his down-to-earth wit and technocratic (often rather boring) speeches. But dressed in a bright-yellow ANC T-shirt and shades, belting out his “Umshini Wami” (“Bring me my machinegun”) theme song to his adoring black supporters in sweltering sports stadiums, he is a different man. Then he makes blunter, more sinister remarks, as when he called on potential defectors to COPE to think again. “It is cold out there if you are out of the ANC,” he warned them. “Very cold.”

The positive sideAfter 15 years of uninterrupted, virtually unchallenged power, the ANC has evidently succumbed to many of the vices of one-party states: arrogance, nepotism, corruption, intimidation. Hardly a day seems to go by without some new scandal. Yet it has notched up some remarkable achievements, starting with the bloodless transition from white minority rule to full multiracial democracy. The ANC government has set up Africa’s only broad-based welfare state, providing cash benefits to 12.5m people compared with just 3m in 1996. To help get people out of the sprawling, squalid shanty towns it has built 2.7m low-cost homes, housing around 10m people. Some 80% of all households are now connected to electricity and clean water—up by a third since 1996. More than half of state schools no longer charge fees. Free health clinics are gradually being set up. After years of shameful denial of any link between the HIV virus and AIDS, some 60% of the 5.7m infected are at last receiving antiretrovirals. Violent crime may still be appallingly high, but it has been falling in almost all categories.

At the same time, a new black middle class has sprung up. An estimated 2.6m of South Africa’s 39m blacks (about 80% of the total population) now earn at least 6,000 rand a month, with many earning a lot more. That may not seem much by Western standards, but it is more than what nearly half of their compatriots earn in a year. These new rich go out to restaurants, drive cars and buy the latest fashions in air-conditioned malls. Most of the wealth, though, is still in the hands of whites—not so much because of discrimination, but because they have higher skills. Although absolute levels of poverty have dipped, the gulf between rich and poor is still widening. South Africa is now one of the most unequal countries in the world.

This has changed voting patterns. For the first time, South Africans will probably vote along socioeconomic lines as much as racial ones. Of the ANC’s supporters, the vast majority are black (96%), poor and little educated. The DA has an exactly opposite profile: predominantly white (around 64%), with a good sprinkling of Indians and coloureds (mixed-race), but almost no blacks. Its supporters are also older, richer and much better educated.

COPE fits neatly between these extremes. Its supporters are multiracial (about 60% black and 18% white), middle class, relatively well educated and well balanced across all age groups. Like the DA, the new party, with a bishop as its presidential candidate, likes to present itself as morally upright, with a commitment to rooting out corruption and upholding the constitution. But its image has been tarnished of late by the alleged link between a number of its main backers and the “conspiracy” against Mr Zuma.

South African elections are based on strict proportional representation. In the last national poll, in 2004, the ANC won a record 70% of the vote; the DA came second with 12.4%. This time the situation is more complex. About 3m more people have registered to vote and, with the buzz surrounding the emergence of COPE, turnout is also expected to be higher. This, combined with an unusually large number of undecided voters, makes it difficult to predict the results. Most pollsters are suggesting that the overall ANC vote will fall only slightly, to 61-64%, that the DA will get 11-16%, and that COPE will come a close third with a commendable 9-15%.

Because of Mr Zuma’s closeness to Cosatu and the Communists, some predict that he may preside over a radical shift to the left. But this seems unlikely, not least because some of his staunchest allies include wealthy black capitalists, who would resist such a move. Like many liberation fighters, Mr Zuma was once a member of the SACP, but quit in 1990 and went on to give his full backing to Mr Mbeki’s market-friendly economics. Although he has big plans to extend the welfare state, he also thinks it important to attract foreign investors. The high (fourth) place given to Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s highly regarded finance minister, on the ANC’s list of parliamentary candidates suggests he may want to keep Mr Manuel on in the post he has occupied since 1996.

Mr Zuma remains an enigma. When asked about his intentions when he comes to power, he simply says the ANC’s policies are his too—abroad, apparently, as well as at home. Asked for his reaction to the government’s “quiet diplomacy” on Zimbabwe and its backing for Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, in his struggle with the International Criminal Court, Mr Zuma merely said that his approach would be the same as his predecessors’.

Recession’s shadow

With South Africa sinking into its first recession after 16 years of expansion, the challenges facing the next president are daunting. Business confidence is at a ten-year low. After growth averaging around 5% a year between 2004 and 2007, the economy is expected to contract by around 0.8% this year. Mining and manufacturing have been in free fall for six months. Exports and retail trade are following suit. Despite the boost given to the economy by preparations for next year’s football World Cup, which South Africa is hosting, and a government stimulus package of 690 billion rand over the next three years, the downturn will cut jobs and increase poverty. Only those who have held a “formal” job for at least four years may claim unemployment benefit. But, for the moment, voters seem to blame the global downturn rather than the government.

Will Mr Zuma be up to the job? Whites, in particular, are alarmed by his lack of formal education; his flamboyant polygamy (he recently married his sixth wife, 30 years his junior); his irresponsible attitude toward HIV/AIDS, as revealed at his rape trial; and his hidden years with the ANC underground, particularly as head of intelligence. In its 1998 report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission accused the ANC in the 1970s and 1980s of “gross violations of human rights” and of “routine [use of] torture to extract information”.

A puzzling future for him, tooThen there are those worrying stray comments. He wants to review the status of the Constitutional Court (which has several times found against him), “because I don’t think we should have people who are almost like God in a democracy.” He loathes the press, which has certainly not been kind, slamming a “vicious media campaign designed to find me guilty in the court of public opinion”. His talk of rooting out the “lazy, corrupt and incompetent” from government sometimes suggests a purge of those he dislikes.

But Mr Zuma is as adored as much as he is loathed. After the heroic, aristocratic Mr Mandela and the aloof, technocratic Mr Mbeki, most South Africans seem to welcome the prospect of having a man of the people as their president. Mr Zuma is a good listener and a skilled conciliator. He works hard, and has impressive energy for a man just turned 67. He can exude great charm when he wants to.

Will he make a good president? That is hard to tell. It could go either way. The hope is that South Africa will continue along its current path of democratic progress and growing prosperity. But Mr Tutu will have to wait a little longer before being certain whether he can go to his grave smiling, or with a broken heart.

17 April 2009

risk part 2: of paralysis and destruction

Yesterday, I admitted my love for the game of RISK, which probably ended any debate as to whether I am a nerd.

And I finished the post with a big question, especially for followers of the Way.

Where are we allowing risk to paralyze us?

I think that "risk paralysis" is the primary driver of our inaction, especially for the Christians following the open-door/close-door philosophy. You know…

“Well, I know I should stop ___________, but I’m just waiting on God to close that door.”

“I know that the Scripture says I should ____________, but I’m waiting on God to open that door for me.”

Such ideas are difficult to accept...

What is clear in Scripture is clear. What is darkness is darkness.

God doesn’t need to close all strip clubs in order for a man to know that dropping dollars on dancers are probably not God’s best intentions for him.

God doesn’t need to cause a global collapse in the diamond industry to show a woman working for a diamond mining company that profits off slave labor in Africa that her employment enables slavery and probably fails to honor God’s creation and heart.

And yet, the baseline tremor that causes our inaction is risk.

The man at the strip club doesn’t live a transparent life in community, doesn’t confess his darkness, and doesn’t acknowledge his brokenness…all because of the risk of being judged. He could lose his family. He could be asked to step down from leadership. He could lose his standing in the community.

The woman at the diamond company lives a life of justification. Because the risk of being unemployed for the sake of Godly principle…of being homeless or hungry…of being mocked for her naïve idealism.

Scripture is clear that all darkness will be brought into the light anyway. So, we can admit our fears. Our lusts. Our pride. Our brokenness. Our darkness.

Taking a job is a risk. Quitting a job is a risk. Getting married is a risk. Not getting married is a risk. Being vulnerable is a risk. Being invulnerable is a risk. Becoming a missionary is a risk. Not becoming a missionary is a risk. Having a difficult conversation is a risk. Failing to have a difficult conversation is a risk. Standing against injustice is a risk. Quietly allowing injustice is a risk.

Where is it that we are so afraid of a negative outcome that we fail to act? Where is it that we are ensuring an undesirable outcome all the same in that inaction?

Risk paralysis is a mortal danger. Life, as in the game of RISK, features illusions of safety and security. The safety of the self-induced siege is tempting. And yet the reality is that eventually the growing army banging at the walls of the city will eventually crash through. Eventually, the darkness will be brought into the light. Eventually, the apparent “safety” of inaction will be the very cause of our destruction.

16 April 2009

risk part 1: of little plastic cannons and the fullness of fatherhood


I love the game of RISK. Little plastic infantry-men, cavalry, and cannons…and dice. I can’t help it. I love RISK.

In the game, you move your fake plastic armies around a simplistic world map in an attempt to conquer lands, grow military might, and eventually conquer the other players on your way to global domination.

Every move in RISK is exactly what the game title implies. Risky. Attacking leaves one vulnerable in defense. Becoming overly conservative leaves one vulnerable to growing threats abroad. RISK is usually won with a combination of consistently focused internal dialogue and luck.

Life is not dissimilar.

Every life decision is full of risk. And generally, the axiom holds true that with great risk comes great reward.

Having children means that one is willing to risk the health of the mother through pregnancy and birth. It means that one is willing to risk complications in a child and long nights in the hospital if something should ever go wrong. It means that one is willing to risk pouring love (and emotional, spiritual, and financial resources) into a being that is not required to give an equitable return on that investment.

But the fullness I feel as I hold my child tightly, the overwhelming joy and hope that I experience as I look into her eyes and find trust on the deepest of levels, and the indescribable way that my heart overflows when she recognizes my face and gives me a smile that I would swear is reserved for Daddy…

Hard to imagine that I once swore off children. Having spent too much time in Children’s Hospitals with a sibling, I vowed to never take that chance myself. And yet as God stretched my heart and dredged my soul into a deeper place of understanding, I began to sense that maybe there was beauty and fullness and glory in becoming a father. And the risk, no matter where we go from here, has been rewarded beyond my wildest imagination.

So, how do we process risk? And where are we allowing risk to paralyze us?

More tomorrow from me on risk…where are those risks in your life? What are the possible consequences of acting? Of failing to act? Leave a comment. Share.

15 April 2009

tax day and the church of no people

The post today from The Church of No People was so good…so perfect…so wondrous…that I had to share it with all of you.

The usually witty Matt has outdone himself with today’s “Tax Day: Quick Make a Charitable Donation”.

Do yourself a favor. Click the link. Then come back and stare in awe at the Landmark for Jesus. You remember.

14 April 2009

highest and best use: of possibilities, potential, and the life we lead

Ever heard of the real estate principle known as “Highest and Best Use”?

Highest and Best Use states that the value of a property is directly related to the use of that property; the highest and best use is the reasonably probable use that produces the highest property value.

So whether one is looking at scrubby Kansas prairie or urban land in Manhattan, one has to think through the same things. Both tracts have a best use, a value ceiling. No two tracts are the same. And no two tracts are perfectly comparable.
We are much the same aren’t we?

All of that to say that I think we all have a highest and best use. I think we all have a value ceiling, a place where we fit the groove that was ultimately designed for us.

But just like real estate, our highest and best use is governed by some important factors. To be considered an option for best use, the option must be:

* legally allowable
* physically possible
* financially feasible
* maximally productive

So, I could say that my highest and best use would be to become a world-class weight-lifter so I could rip phone books in half for Jesus. Fortunately for the world (and Jesus), that is not physically possible. I am skinny. Plan to stay that way.

I could say that my highest and best use would be to adopt and lovingly raise two dozen South African children. That, however, is illegal. Americans are not allowed to adopt South Africans.

Sometimes our best qualities (or our favorite talents and skills) are not what the world needs from us. I love to write. I have been told that I should consider writing professionally. Maybe. But maybe my best is so far inferior to the best of the best that I should consider something else entirely. Or maybe this venue is the proper one for my writing. Maybe the highest ad best use for my writing is in this blog. Maybe the highest and best use for my life is not this blog.

I wonder how many of us have actually sat and considered our highest and best use. Because I have this feeling that a lot of us spend our lives seeking the highest and best uses of others. The religious seek to become preachers or worship-superstars. The ambitious seek to become billionaires or professional athletes. All of us seek draining activities for the applause and approval they bring without considering whether they are maximally productive.

So where would we find ourselves...if we found ourselves in the position that offered the highest and best use?

13 April 2009

windows: of criticism and the path to completion

Humans are critical by nature. We rarely pass up an opportunity to criticize something, be it architecture, art, or fashion. In fact, criticism is big business.

Among the most popular television shows (ever) is American Idol, which is basically an excuse for America to gather around a TV to criticize people who are vastly more talented than any of us watching at home.

Sports are tremendous criticism drivers. Who blew the game? How did the coach botch the plan? In our absurdity, we have countless television channels, radio stations, and internet sites devoted to re-hashing the performances of young men who either shoot, kick, throw, or swing at various balls.

Ever heard of FoxNews? CNN? Talking heads argue all day as to who is right or, more often, who is wrong. Often, the talking heads get so excited in criticizing each other that it is easy to forget the issue they were debating in the first place.

And yet, as ugly and divisive as criticism can be, I find it to be at the heart of all improvement.

Beautiful architecture, for instance, doesn’t just happen. New York’s Chrysler Building didn’t just leak out of a draftsman’s pen. Prague’s Dancing House wasn’t finished after one draft. Beauty is labored over, criticized, re-designed, labored over again, re-criticized, re-re-designed and eventually made complete.

If we are wise, if we truly desire to live out our full potential, we have no choice but to surround ourselves with a community that can breathe truth into us, no matter how painful. We have no choice but to ask those who love us where we fail, where we fall short, and where we miss the mark.

In wisdom, it makes sense for us to invite criticism, ask for input, and then seriously search out ways to improve. In wisdom, it makes sense to have people see in us what we cannot see in ourselves. After all, no one looking out a window can rightly see what that window looks like from the outside looking in.

If we are to be beautiful, if we are to achieve the fullness that was designed for us, we are going to have to be willing to be labored over, criticized, and re-designed.

All on our path to being made complete.

rockin robin

Allow me to present a link to one of my two or three favorite clips from the best show on TV today.

Link - The Andy Bernard Cell Phone Prank

Enjoy the day.

11 April 2009

jesus is...

Jesus is not an idea.

Jesus is not a religion.

Jesus is not a system of rules and regulations.

Jesus is not a moral code.

Jesus is not a philosophy.

Jesus is not history.

Jesus is divinity in humanity. Flesh, bones, blood, and tears.

Jesus is Savior.

Jesus is King.

09 April 2009

the cross

It is too easy to forget.

paper towels and the office restroom

Yesterday, we addressed the male hand-washing pattern in the restroom. Today, we address the folks who exit the bathroom door using paper towels to grab the handle. This is a free-flowing blog-entry that may touch on mature subjects. You have been warned.

So, I have noticed this disturbing trend of people grabbing the restroom door-handle with paper towels as the exit the restroom after a use and hand-washing.

On the surface, one may think that it would make perfect sense to use the towel. The restroom door handle is assumed to be filthy since it shares a room with other things that are assumed to be filthy.

Yet, there is an argument to be made that the handle may be the cleanest surface in the bathroom, being exclusively touched by freshly-washed hands.

Still, even if that argument did not hold true...even if we assume that some joker purposely avoids cleanliness and then rubs his hands on the door handle…how does grabbing it with paper towels help?

In my office, after we exit the restroom, we then have to re-enter our offices, going through another series of doors. That’s right. More disgusting door handles. Only now, paper-towel-door-handle-guy just uses his hands, sans towel. How is it different? Whatever diseases and bacteria rest on the restroom door handle probably rest on the other door handles of the building as well.

So, in closing, the only thing that would make sense to me is if the restroom-handler/germaphobe would carry around a package of paper towels to cover and sheath any necessary grasping or holding of common objects.

A simpler idea: keep some hand sanitizer at your desk.

08 April 2009

washing hands and the irrational order of the men's restroom

We have an issue, people. There are all kinds of irrational behaviors in the world, but two particularly egregious examples have gone on unreported for too long and both take place in the men’s restroom.

Today, we address the male hand-washing pattern in the restroom. Tomorrow, we address the folks who exit the bathroom door using paper towels to grab the handle. This is a free-flowing blog-entry that may touch on mature subjects. You have been warned.

So, what is the deal with the way we’ve been taught to wash our hands as men in the restroom? I think we have it all wrong and can only explain by highlighting a few of the details of a man’s typical day.

Man wakes up.

Man showers, washing all body parts.

Man goes to work, holding various things, pressing various buttons, and touching various surfaces with his hands.

Man drinks coffee.

Man goes to use the restroom.

Man uses restroom*.

Man washes hands.

Man dries hands.

Man goes back to work.

Now, follow me here. Wouldn’t it make sense for a man to wash his hands before using the restroom? I mean, his hands are the dirty appendages at this point right? So why do we wash the hands after addressing a clean area of the body with dirty hands? If we washed our hands before addressing that (still-clean-from-the-morning-shower) specific area of the body, wouldn’t we leave the restroom with perfect cleanliness?

Somebody help me out here…

* - Only applies to usage involving “#1”. Other types of usage change the equation for obvious reasons.

07 April 2009

of dust, vapor, and the fullness within

Have you ever been on Google Earth or Google Maps and just started dragging out from that spot you're on?

Have you ever recognized the enormity of this place we inhabit? I mean...Stef and I "own" (meaning we owe the bank another 29 years of payments on) 0.18 acres of this planet. We own a skinny lot in an old neighborhood that is 2 miles from the core of the 7th largest city in America, which happens to not even register in the Top 150 largest cities in the world.

We are nothing. Vapor. Dust in the grand scheme.

And, dust as we are, we are filled with these swollen hearts that are designed for love and worship and justice and hope.

My child...is so incredibly precious to me. I cry at night as I feed her, as this bond between her and I becomes ever stronger. I hold her and desire incredible things for her. To Stef and me, she has become this consuming everything that our world now revolves around. And she is vapor. One of almost 7 BILLION people on this earth. Lucky enough to be born in a country where food is abundant and safety is so ubiquitous so as to be completely taken for granted. There are hundreds of millions who are not nearly as fortunate, hundreds of millions who wake up every morning with cramps in their empty stomachs.

We are nothing. And yet somehow we have been chosen to be filled with everything. Dust. Vapor. Vessels of God's infinite love.

06 April 2009

a tale of two trees

I have two 80-year old pecan trees in my backyard. And, as you probably are aware, spring has sprung. And yet only one of my pecan trees has sprung. They are 15 feet apart and one is in full bloom while the other rests dormant. I have begun to wonder if something could be wrong with the still-bare tree. I have begun to wonder if it could be diseased.

I have begun to wonder if I am really that short-sighted.

I guess this whole thought-line has been lying just under the surface for some time now.

How can this be right and that still be right? Especially if this and that seem to be at odds with each other...

I think it is some time in our youth that we decide that our way is the best way. After all, it is the best way that we know. Some of us hold these ideas much longer than the world should allow, becoming adults with narrow minds, becoming relational one-way streets.

For me, Africa opened me up to a lot. Culture shifts and spiritual shifts offered an alternate reality. And alternate realities are as valid as primary ones.

So I am trying. I am trying to practice the Truth that rests within me. I am trying to accept different ideas of what is best and different interpretations of what is absolute. I am trying to trust that God might grow us all at different rates and that simply because two things looks starkly different doesn't mean that one has to be sick, that one has to be untrue. I am trying to trust that He might use parallel stories with perpendicular truths and that He might direct all of the eyes related to either back to Himself.

I am trying. And waiting for that second to tree to bloom - just like it has every year for the better part of a century.

05 April 2009

a sunday morning at home

The wee one had a rough morning on Sunday, so we decided to check out lifechurch.tv together.

From Bella Areah

04 April 2009

angels in the dust

Watched this film on Friday...Amazing.

03 April 2009

scanwiches, peeps, and dunkin donuts: links for your weekend

A couple of great, nonsensical links for your weekend, courtesy of my friend Steph. (Steph has a blog that you can check out here: http://steph-infection.blogspot.com/)

Ever thought of executing Peeps, the popular Easter marshmallow men? No? Me neither. Someone did, though and they’re sharing the experience with us. http://www.100waystokillapeep.blogspot.com/

When is the last time you cleaned out the fridge? If you are still thinking, then it’s been too long. Let the Periodic Table of Condiments that Go Bad help you decide what to keep and what to trash. http://www.backtable.org/~blade/fnord/condiments.html

Ever had a sandwich and wondered what it would look like if you smashed it on a scanner and uploaded that picture for the world to see? Enjoy. http://scanwiches.com/

And, my personal favorite… Think you have what it takes to design a new donut for Dunkin Donuts? Well, they’re willing to let you try. Click this link and design a donut. If you win, I want a cut of the prize money. https://www.dunkindonuts.com/donut/

02 April 2009

of pink pants and billy joel: why i am no longer a passive spectator

Let’s get something out in the open here.

I watch American Idol. My wife has been a choir director, music instructor, voice coach, and piano teacher. That is to say, she knows a thing or two about music and singing. So, what was once an irritating show that got immediately turned off in favor of sports programming or nature shows (or static), has now become must-see TV in the Burkholder house. Combine that with the fact that we don’t have cable (meaning that manly things like NBA basketball and the Deadliest Catch aren’t available to us anyway) and you have yourself a recipe for a big heaping spoonful of weekly karaoke madness and Ryan Seacrest.

I maintained some pride in recent years, as I could with full confidence assert that I had never voted. I was a passive spectator. I was…until this year.

I am all about Scott McIntyre. That dude is awesome. He is everything that the over-glamorized, over-dramatized, look at me competition is not. He is humble and respectful. He is simple and sincere. No crazy makeup. No theatrical treatment of American musical classics. Just a man and his piano. And some pink pants. And some Billy Joel hair. And some wicked chops on the keys.

When all of this gets sorted out, maybe he and I should get an apartment together…

(Take it easy, Champ. Why don't you sit this next one out, stop talking for a while.)

01 April 2009

the hanover street muslim bakery: of simplicity and profundity

Sometimes simple things bring with them profound reminders.

A little girl at the church I attend sells bread every Sunday to raise money for a church program.

And to smell the bread, to tear into the still whole loaf...It brings back a flood of memories from my time living in South Africa.

In smelling the bread, I am transported back to this Muslim bakery on Hanover Street in Mayfair, Johannesburg. To walk by it was to be attacked by hunger pangs, as fans blew the fresh-baked air out into the street.

In tearing and eating the bread, I am transported back to the long, hilly walk home from church in Johannesburg. I am reminded of making the walk through Brixton and down to Auckland Park. In 2004, I would often walk home with a friend or two and we would occasionally stop and buy a loaf of bread with our combined money. Something like 5 rand would do the trick (50 cents today) and the two or three of us would share in the breaking of bread in a really authentic way. There were days when that was the only meal.

A simple loaf of homemade bread from a little American girl takes me on a tour of the Africa of my memories. Simplicity and profundity. Not so far apart.