Thursday, May 31, 2007

Did Someone say 'Amnesty'?

The rather bold initiative approved by the US Senate and supported by the president to address illegal immigration has prompted all sorts of scare-tactic e-mails in which those who don’t bother to read the proposal and learn more about exactly what it entails promise the imminent end of American civilization as we know it. Misinformation runs rampant especially when elected officials pander to a particular audience whose attention they happen to hold with promises to “do something” about this terrible problem, determined as they may be to protect our American way of life. And they manage to do this with well-placed sound bites long on rhetoric and short on substance. Hence the misinformation.

For those conscientious Americans who adhere to a lawful lifestyle in which they NEVER violate any law at any time, “amnesty” is THE dirty word which threatens this American way of life. This “travesty of justice” is the means by which illegal aliens are promised all the benefits of the American lifestyle without having had to pay their dues, coming into this country illegally, thus circumventing the legal process. After all, are we not a nation of laws? According to those who cry, “Amnesty, hell!”, these undocumented workers will automatically begin drawing Social Security benefits, overrunning public hospitals with demands for free medical services, and effectively bottle-necking the whole public welfare apparatus and stretching thin already very limited resources.

These fears are, for the most part, unfounded yet are given plenty of life through the sound bites of ambitious politicians and careless e-mails from the uninformed. It is not entirely unlike the days of Hitler when he successfully convinced much of the German nation that Jews were the foundation for every misery each citizen was enduring. He was able to sell it because, I think, human nature is such that we would much prefer to blame someone or something else for our perceived misery rather than to admit that we could perhaps do better for ourselves with just a little effort, competition notwithstanding.

This is not to suggest that those who oppose the Senate’s proposal are Nazi-like, and calling all opposition “racist” is also unfair. Rather, it is a suggestion that we may need to look a little more closely at exactly what fears we actually do have and whether we have a right to them. I suppose it’s ok to enjoy a self-pity party if we like, but it serves no purpose beyond enhancing our own level of misery and creating a problem that does not actually exist … or does it?

We have to deal in reality, and we must be careful about facts. Even more than this, we must become focused on exactly what it is we intend to accomplish. Are there really more than 12 million illegal aliens currently residing in the US? How did we manage to document that which is supposedly “undocumented”? Even if this number is fairly accurate, what of it? Are we proposing to deport each one? Will this solve the problem? My only point in bringing this up is that I don’t see that we are being very realistic in what we hope to achieve by so-called “immigration reform”.

Of course we live in a post-9/11 world and we always will, but we must not allow ourselves off the hook for proposing that which is logistically impossible but is, instead, politically expedient. This government does not have the capacity to locate, process, and deport 12 million persons. I would dare to suggest that at this time there are probably three immigrants entering into the US illegally for every one we deport, meaning that we will expend enormous resources to do nothing more than to spit in the wind. If my statement is even close to accurate, it would demand that border security is where any reasonable proposal must actually begin. In fact, it may be the only proposal we can reasonably deal with for the moment.

Having controls in place so that border traffic can be more carefully monitored and those coming into the US can be traced and accounted for has everything to do with border and national security and must not be brushed aside for any reason. Stringent requirements are necessary so that we can know who is coming into the US and why even as we are mindful that those responsible for the 9/11/01 attacks were in this country legally.

I think the burning question for citizens now is whether we can go backward from here. The debate seems to be centered on how to address the particular problem of illegals who are already here. In the national security vernacular, knowing who these people are and why they are here is of the utmost importance. In the world of commerce, there are many who do not want too many questions asked as it has been pointed out more than once that the American economy may take a major hit if all 12 million were to be rounded up and sent home. On the human rights front, we must acknowledge the potential for, and reality of, exploitation by those who play on the undocumented workers’ common fear of being sent back to their native country by paying them substantially less than what they should be rightfully paid. Whom will the undocumented workers report abuses to?

We cannot turn our backs on national security concerns nor can we turn our backs on the reality of unscrupulous employers who have as much to gain by keeping illegals here and in a state of fear as they have to lose if these workers are found and deported. We also must confront the certain knowledge that public service resources can only go so far. The US Congress has its hands full in this remarkable balancing act as they seek to address the concerns not only of currently registered voters but also those of potential, future voters as well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Once More for Clarity

US Senator and presidential wanna-be Hillary Clinton has proposed some very broad and sweeping economics ideas in her vision of allowing the government to “once again work for all Americans”. One problem with her proposals is that this vision of “once again” is nothing short of socialism and is not a “return” to anything this government has done before. The other problem is that the proposals only seem to apply to those in the private sector who have enjoyed success at great risk and those who may have risked nothing and are currently enjoying nothing except maybe financial and economic mediocrity. Those in the middle keep getting honorable mention, but I fail to see the applicability.

Economic incentive is one thing; redistribution of earned rewards is another. The government can do much to encourage US investment in its own work force and offer programs to help finance worker training and education – such programs and government incentives already exist - but this is not the direction in which Sen. Clinton’s proposals seem to be headed. Reading the broad and rather vague statements made, they come across as nothing more than a massive welfare program that promises something for virtually nothing to those who may be contributing almost as much as “nothing”, but the welfare will be financed not from government funds but from the pockets of private enterprise. Her campaign is beginning to sound a lot like Al Gore’s 2000 campaign in which he promised something for virtually everyone, effectively attempting to buy votes at government expense.

Have we really become so lazy and complacent in our personal ambitions that such rhetoric from a political campaign can actually have traction? The fact is that we are NOT “in it together” because there will always be those who are willing to risk more than others. Senator Clinton suggests this country looks down on those who do not have a college degree, but this preparation is part of the total risk package. One is not guaranteed financial success by virtue of a college degree, but it is a very expensive – and calculated – risk that many are willing to take in an effort to pursue their own goals. Many others are not willing to go this route.

I will agree that not everyone is cut out for college, but student grants and loans are also available for those who have a desire to attend a trade school or junior college. There are also incredible opportunities in the US military for those who are willing to work hard and take sometimes extreme risks, all for a noble purpose and with great expectations that the rewards will at least equal the effort put forth to make the most of it just as with school or any other endeavor. It must be remembered, though, that when students pursue their own goals and work hard to achieve their own personal ambitions, they are necessarily focused on their own expectations with scant attention paid to social obligations. I dare say that even the noble Ms. Clinton was mindful of, and focused on, her own personal and professional ambitions while in school in pursuit of her own dreams and goals and perhaps still is.

This is not to find fault with Senator Clinton’s own ambitions and subsequent accomplishments as well as whatever the future may hold for her. The fact that she is as successful as she has become speaks volumes about what is so great about the free market system as it is, the same system she believes now needs a little government tweak. Nothing can be deemed perfect, of course, but she was in law school when a woman in advanced studies was not the norm. She made her own opportunities through her own determination and hard work, and she is now reaping the rewards that can come from such efforts. Why would she suggest that the system as it is, is not sufficient? Simple: she’s running for public office.

Beyond everything else, however, is the question that is uppermost in my mind: if these proposals are so important and are such good ideas, why would she choose to wait until after she is elected to the office she currently seeks rather than offer them now from the office she currently holds? Have none of these proposals been offered by her in the US Senate so far? Is this not presumably the reason voters of New York allowed her to serve them again? Surely she cannot believe that these ideas would only be good for the US if she were to be successful in her quest for the White House especially when she insists that the gap between rich and poor is so great now. Apparently the poor and disenfranchised will have to wait at least another couple of years.

If the good senator is serious about all this and that there truly will be “special privileges for none”, I would respectfully submit that she start with her own millions and her own salary which is well above that of the average American household. When the members of the Congress are willing to take pay cuts instead of allowing that despicable practice by which they are granted an automatic annual pay increase - without a for-the-record vote (read “special privilege”) - that the “average” American worker does not have and cannot count on, we can then take seriously such ridiculous proposals as these. When we can hear such rhetoric independent of a political campaign, we can begin to believe that politicians – especially this one – truly have the best interests of the population at heart and are absent an ulterior political motive.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Market Forces, OPEC, and the Consumer Mentality

I do not pretend to understand exactly how the world oil market works and judging by comments from various economists (professional or otherwise) and politicians, it would appear I’m not alone. What I do think is clear, however, as world oil prices remain relatively steady and gasoline prices continue to rise in the US, is that market forces are at work producing these record-high prices at the pumps that could adversely impact the overall US economy.

Not long ago, there was an e-mail making the rounds encouraging consumers to refrain from gasoline purchases on May 15 in an attempt to force a supply glut, deny the oil companies some revenue, and ultimately push down the price of gasoline. The problem with such an idea, as nice as it may have sounded, is that it would only force some to buy gasoline on May 14 or wait until May 16; consumption would not have been necessarily affected, and market forces are all about supplying a demand.

Another e-mail that is still making the circuit is one that calls for a boycott of Exxon/Mobil stations in favor of any other company in an attempt to force a price war. This could have limited affect on pump prices only because consumption will presumably remain the same. Considering that there is likely a rather complex – if convoluted – refinery market also at work, it is unlikely that Exxon/Mobil would not be able to sell or trade their refined products one way or the other.

With the Memorial Day weekend approaching, there is speculation that consumers have no intentions of staying home but may still choose shorter trips in an effort to save on fuel purchases. In the end, however, I would submit that consumption will still spike because of the added trips that might not normally be taken on other shorter weekends.

The US House of Representatives recently passed a bill (345-72) sponsored by US Rep. John Conyers, D-MI, that would allow the US government to sue OPEC under US anti-trust laws in spite of the fact that Energy Department representatives testified that world oil prices have had little effect on US fuel price spikes in the last three months. These spokespersons reminded the House that increased consumption and increasing demand is a major contributing factor in the increasing prices at the pump along with US refinery capacity that cannot keep up with steadily increasing consumer demands as well as the annual switch from winter to summer blends and future demand speculation. The bottom line is that the consumer does indeed have the last word on gasoline prices, and our word seems to be, “MORE”; artificial manipulation of the market by government intervention will not resolve this.

The House bill has a nice ring to it and there can be no doubt that OPEC is a potent enough force to manipulate world oil prices, but there can be trade ramifications as pointed out by the White House. Since we already know that OPEC can manipulate the market, how can we believe that OPEC will somehow stop manipulating the world market under the threat of US legal action? Surely the US is not OPEC’s only trade partner.

Hence the White House objection. If OPEC’s trade with the US is adversely affected by congressional action, one of two things could result: OPEC production could be curtailed thus resulting in higher prices, or OPEC could boycott the US market altogether thus also resulting in even higher prices and outright shortages which would likely produce disastrous results for the overall US economy. It might also be remembered that in the 70’s as fuel prices continued to climb as a result of OPEC’s actions, this nation responded with the Windfall Profits Tax against US energy producers the results of which were even greater dependence on imported oil (extending even to today) because US producers found it cheaper to import rather than explore, develop, and produce domestic resources.

Energy companies have been reporting record profits since fuel prices began to spiral out of control, so it goes without saying that any congressional action with an appearance of “fighting back against big oil” will be met with tremendous public approval which could reap huge political payoffs in the next election year, but it will accomplish little else. The bottom line is that consumption is the key to record-high fuel prices and will continue to be so for as long as our perpetual thirst for gasoline exists.

The More Things Change, the More they Remain the Same

Pentecost Sunday is traditionally regarded as the birth date of the Christian Church, the day when the apostles saw yet another Promise fulfilled of Help that would be granted to them so that the Gospel of the Lord would continue to be proclaimed throughout the world not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. To be sure, the momentum begun by Christ Himself is given new life and it is an important day in the life and the history of the Church, but there is little attention given to the fact that Pentecost itself is not a “new” holy day established only within the context of the New Covenant. There is more I think we need to consider so that we may more fully appreciate what is taking place in Jerusalem with the apostles and with those who were there to bear witness to what is described in somewhat remarkable terms, to say the least.

Shavu’ot, also known as the Festival of Weeks (due to the count-down of weeks from Passover), is the second of the three major festivals with historical and – I think – theological significance in that it commemorates the giving of the Law at Sinai. The emphasis on the “giving” of Torah is significant in that it is the revelation of YHWH; the Lord has chosen to make Himself known to the nation of Israel. The gift itself was the revelation that began the process of forming a nation, and the nation was given its “marching orders”.

Why this revelation as commemorated in the Festival of Weeks should be important to us is because another revelation has taken place, and a movement has been given its “marching orders”. When Jesus was on this earth, He promised His disciples help from above. The “Advocate” would come to them so that they would “remember” all that the Lord needed them to remember as they would go about their ministry. Although it has been suggested that there is no particular similarity to the Christian day of Pentecost, I beg to differ. For the Lord’s purpose, I think it is highly significant and similar. Why we must be aware of the historical implications is perhaps for commonality.

Israel as a nation was being bonded as a single entity with common law and common purpose. There was – and is – only one standard of conduct and behavior, and the Law seems unambiguous as we know it. There are standards of worship, standards of holy days, standards of sacrifice, and standards of community and personal conduct. This law would serve them not only once they arrived at their ultimate destination but also on the journey.

Like the Israelites who wandered the wilderness for generations on their way to the Promised Land, “the land of milk and honey”, we are also on a journey that must never end until we are safely home. Throughout this journey, we need guidance, protection, and strength but we must also have a starting point. But more than a point of origin but rather, a relay in Pentecost, we are promised that we are not alone. The historical Pentecost for us, then, must be a beginning only in our renewed commitment while remembering that the journey of faith began long ago and must necessarily continue.

Like the Israelites, we will navigate through uncharted territory and face temptations that may threaten to overwhelm us. In many ways, it may well feel like aimless wandering with no real sense of purpose, but this is when we try to go it alone. Sometimes we will fall flat on our faces, and sometimes we will incur the wrath of the Lord who “chastens those whom He loves”. We will take some bumps and bruises along the way, and we will not always have a clear idea of where we are headed or when we will arrive (“It is not for you to know of the time or place”). The only sure thing we can count on is the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit who will be our “pillar of fire” by night and “cover of cloud” by day.

It would appear that in the course of events from Eden till now, the revelation offered to us from the Lord, rather than “new”, is “RE-newed”. It might be suggested that the process of restoration had somehow lost its momentum and needed a boost sort of like a car’s battery that loses its charge. The battery is still good but regular maintenance along the way had been neglected, so what perhaps should have been achieved by the Law of Moses lost some traction because the spiritual nature of the Law was overlooked in favor of the legalism of the Law.

For historical consideration, it must also be remembered that the entire purpose of Israel’s existence was to glorify and make known “to the nations” the name of the Lord God. It would be unfair to make a general statement that Israel failed, but we must be mindful of what Israel and Judah endured as a result of their misdeeds and disobedience. We must also be mindful of the sort of treatment Jesus endured at the hands of the religionists and “legal specialists”. In Israel, however, it is to be remembered that any who were willing to be circumcised would be allowed into the Covenant of Abraham. In fact, it was required. To move from one direction to another was to become a part of something new, something different. It was – and still is – a Covenant that comes from only one God, one Creator who is now and forever.

So to be renewed with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is to be renewed with a restored sense of confidence and purpose, to be given the marching orders to PROCLAIM THE NAME and make known to the nations by Word and Deed the glory of the Lord and His divine call to all of mankind to enter into His Covenant of Restoration, to find peace and hope, to be restored to the Divine Image into which we were created.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Mitt Romney: how high the wall of separation?

The “wall” that separates the Church from the US government is that same wall which allows us all to worship as we see fit or to abstain from worship altogether. The fruit of the Spirit which should be a result of our experiences with the Divine manifests itself in the lives we choose to lead. Why is it, then, that a man who is not a member of a mainline denomination yet presents an impressive resume of integrity, determination, and accomplishment and has a family anyone would be proud of and has been married to the same woman for all his married time is suddenly suspect in the eyes of conservative evangelicals because his religious dogma does not suit them?

It is even more laughable when the rate of divorce among evangelicals is compared to the much lower rate of divorce among Mormons. Depending on the source, agnostics and atheists have a lower rate of divorce than evangelicals. Presumably both religious groups read the same Bible (although the Mormons also have their Book of Mormon) that speaks of the same Jesus with the same teachings on marriage, yet one group seems to take these teachings more seriously than the other even though the group with the higher divorce rate is typically very vocal and judgmental (and with a tendency to literal biblical interpretations) toward those who do not ascribe to the same theological doctrines, again reading the same words attributed to the same Man who said, “Judge not…” and “plank in your own eye while worrying about the speck in another’s…”, etc.

None of this is to suggest that other potential candidates who have suffered through one or two divorces are unfit to serve as president of this nation. Oddly, however, Rudy Giuliani is currently leading the Republican pack in the national polls and is giving the evangelicals fits not only because he is on his third marriage but also because he is pro-choice. If the evangelical voter base is as broad as it once seemed to be, then, why are Mr. Romney and Mr. Huckabee not rating higher than they currently are? These gentlemen are pro-life, conservative, married only once, and are seemingly devoted to their respective faiths.

If it is that America is “ready” for a woman president or a black president, how dare we suggest that America is not “ready” for a Mormon president? Senator Clinton is a female and will always be a female. Likewise, Senator Obama is black and will always be black. These traits are a part of the total fabric of their being; anything less, and they would not be who and what they are. What they are not, however, is traditional in the strictest sense of being a white, male, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. Gender and race alone, however, are not qualifying nor disqualifying characteristics for the nation’s highest office though these two presidential wanna-be’s are at least partly defined in such a way because America is “ready”. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen.

So Mr. Romney is a member of a church that is somewhat secretive and relatively closed to outsiders, as evidenced by his wife’s family being excluded from the marriage ceremony that took place inside the temple because they are not Mormon. This is a practice that has presumably been in place for years. Is it such practices as this that could cause evangelical Christians to be suspicious of what Mormons do and how they do it?

Consider this. Whatever goes on behind these closed doors is as much a part of who Mr. Romney has become over the years as Senator Clinton’s gender is to her and Senator Obama’s race is to him. What Mr. Romney has learned in having been a part of this church feeds and informs his sense of right and wrong, helps him to remain faithful to his one and only wife and, together, raise a decent family, and maintain a sense of ethical behavior that has faced no serious challenge beyond the hunting license thing. Yet according to some evangelicals, America is not “ready” for a Mormon president?

Also consider this. America was apparently “ready” for an admitted adulterer (though professed Baptist and, presumably, Christian) as president, reasoning that these indiscretions alone should not preclude anyone (or maybe this particular one) from serving as chief executive of the nation. How does this not speak to the fundamental character of the man while another man’s Mormon religion is somehow a threat? Granted, we are talking about two different voting blocs but the gist of the inconsistency remains.

Evangelicals need to be very careful moving forward into this election season with this dogmatic chip on their collective shoulder. It already is that they are, as other common-interest groups are, much maligned because of the radical actions of a few self-proclaimed “leaders” who take sound core beliefs and values to such an extreme as to alienate religious moderates and some conservatives and then render what should be a “good news” message moot to non-believers. One cannot help but to wonder whether evangelicals would rather be judged on what they proclaim to believe or how they choose to live.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Whenever I am confronted with a troublesome Bible passage, I reach for commentaries in an effort to broaden my perspective. There are very few passages I’ve not heard preached in different denominational settings with different understandings which, in accordance with my feeble mind, only add to my confusion. It can also be unsettling that we can never be quite sure that we have it exactly right. Reaching for that lofty ideal can sometimes make matters worse because then we’re stuck with persons each of whom insists that he or she is “right” and everyone else is wrong, causing division among believers who should be united in mission, purpose, and faith.

It’s not a bad thing to be open enough to listen to a perspective or opinion that may differ from our own in an effort to gain a broader insight into what such passages may have meant when they were first written, but many among us are not historians and have no real interest in antiquity beyond how it is relevant to us in our contemporary culture. We can see what was written 2000 years ago but because of the near-constant conflicts among the Church’s various denominations, we are left with more confusion than certainty about the direction in which we are called to move.

The differences are even more profound when we get into an apparent conflict between what is written in the Hebrew scriptures and what is written in the New Testament scriptures such as what Peter seems to have encountered in Joppa (Acts 11:1-18). The Torah is, in my opinion, very clear about what are regarded as unclean animals and thus prohibited from the Jewish dinner table. Yet Peter had a vision that seems to suggest to him that the law which renders certain animals unclean and thus not fit for consumption is no longer applicable, that if anything – even an unclean animal – is blessed by the Lord, it must no longer be considered unclean.

By the same token, the Jews were historically prohibited from intermingling with Gentiles out of concern that they could be easily influenced to reject the Lord and His laws and assimilate themselves into the pagan culture. The Lord called the Jews forth for a reason; they were to be set apart from the rest of the world for HIS glory and not for their favor. And this is part of the reason why the people were concerned that Peter would be dealing with “uncircumcised” people – the Gentiles. These were not people of God; they were UNCLEAN; they were not of the covenant which had been established with Abraham. And according to custom and law, the only way these unclean persons could be allowed into the culture is by circumcision.

Something has happened since the time of Abraham. Remember that circumcision is the sign of the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham. It is the mark of faith and distinguishes the people of Abraham from all the others, and the covenant is – as written – for all time (Genesis 17:9-13) which would mean that there is no ending. There is no reference to a cut-off (no pun intended) date. In fact, I am not aware of any written reference to a “shelf life” for any biblical covenant. We have to remember that it is the Lord Himself who initiated ALL covenants, and the Lord is nothing if not faithful and consistent, never-changing: “I am the Lord; I do not change.”(Malachi 3:6a) Yet Paul, “as to the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5), argues extensively to the Galatians that circumcision is meaningless and has nothing to do with the condition of one’s heart.

The Law as handed down to Moses prohibits the consumption of certain animals, a prohibition that did not seem to exist during the time of Adam even though unclean animals were part of the lot of animals ordered onto the Ark of Noah (Genesis 7:2b). Exactly why certain animals were deemed to be unclean beyond the lack of cud-chewing is not clear, and it is all the more unclear as we consider that the animals were put on this earth for the benefit of man. Why the Lord created unclean animals to begin with is a mystery we may never figure out though I would suspect that it has everything to do with the ecological circle of life.

Still, Peter was a faithful and devout Jew. It seems clear that he would not dream of knowingly violating the Law and may have even felt like he was being tested … AGAIN! And while it may seem that the entire issue is about clean and unclean meat for human consumption (some actually believe that it was at this moment when pork, for instance, was suddenly “approved”), I think the message that Peter was getting is much more profound that kosher law.

The real issue for Peter – and for us - is not food but humanity as it must necessarily be for all believers. Up to this point, we are still reading of Jews who likely considered themselves to be FAVORED of the Lord rather than CHOSEN for a purpose. The same might even be said of unclean animals such as pork which we seem to have no problem eating. Perhaps it is that swine has been created for a particular reason but not necessarily for human consumption. So then the same must be said for Gentiles, those non-Jewish persons who were still created in the Divine Image; not FAVORED necessarily but certainly CHOSEN for a reason. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me; I chose you.”

Who are we, then, as Peter asks of himself, that we would question the Lord’s blessing upon someone with whom we have theological and doctrinal differences? Who are we to question someone whom we might consider to be unfit in the eyes of the Lord when we cannot possibly know the purpose the Lord had in mind when that person was created IN THE DIVINE IMAGE just as we were?

Peter was at peace with himself after coming to such a realization just as we will be when we finally and fully understand that we are indeed a blessed and redeemed people – as are all others whether we believe it or not.