Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year

As we enter a new year, let’s make some commitments:
to eat healthy (more fruits and veggies);
lose some weight (fill in the blank) ______lbs;
to spend more time with family (be specific);
to be more patient (especially with _______ and _______);
to be more giving (be specific);
and to save more money for retirement, college, or a rainy day (fill in the blank) $_______per week.

These are all very worthwhile, and I highly recommend these kinds of new year’s resolutions for a better (and maybe even longer) life.

Beneficial though they are, here are two better new year’s resolutions found in the Bible:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV)

Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 when he gave these two great commandments. So let me suggest that we commit to treat others as we would want to be treated, using as a guideline what God, through the Apostle Paul, tells us:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4, NRSV)

This, and all the other new year’s resolutions, aren’t going to happen unless we put God first in our lives. We need God’s help to do the right thing, and we need God have a more fulfilled life. So if God isn’t in your life at all, there’s bound to be a significant void in your life, an emptiness that only a relationship with God can fill.

One first step on this new path might be to go to church. No, the building isn’t going to collapse when you enter it. No, people aren’t going to stare at you like you came from outer space. Who knows? You might even like it: the music, the teaching on a Bible passage, the fellowship.

However you start off the new year, make sure God is made an important part of 2014. May you have a blessed new year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Heartless Congress

I don’t know how they live with themselves. Members of Congress accomplish little yet collect large salaries and have generous benefits. Their inability to act has caused a government shutdown, delays in appointments, and other problems. How can they look themselves in the mirror?

Now Congress has proven, once again, that they don’t care about the people they are supposed to be representing. As President Obama was in Hawaii playing golf and members of Congress went home to enjoy their large salaries and perks, many hard-working Americans lost their unemployment benefits. These people, through no fault of their own, have been unemployed for a long time. Because of the actions of the executives of banking and other financial institutions, who make huge salaries and enjoy large bonuses despite their actions, these “regular people” (who could be you or me) are out of work, may soon lose their house, and have drained their savings.

The incredibly lame excuse we hear from Congress is that they have to find the funding for any extension of unemployment benefits. Nobody has to “find funding” for disaster relief and other emergencies. Nobody has to find funding for pork barrel projects like bridges to nowhere. This country gives away billions of dollars in “corporate welfare,” billions to deadbeat people who don’t want to work and never made an effort to learn a skill, and we give billions to countries like Egypt. But we can’t give an extension to these people who did all the right things: got an education, acquired skills, worked most of their lives, paid their taxes, and have been solid citizens. And how does Congress take care of them in a time of need?

This is not a political issue but a moral one. That’s why I’m writing this – to wake people up to the reality of just how morally bankrupt Congress is. Shame on Congress! And shame on us if we continue to vote in these bozos. We’ll continue to get the kind of government we deserve.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

You Never Know...

You never know when you get out of bed what the day holds for you. There could be an unexpected life-changing event, or even a life-ending event. You just don’t know, but you should be prepared.

I was shocked when I heard the news of the derailment of the Metro North Hudson Line train at Spuyten Duyvil in The Bronx. I live along the Hudson Line and take the train when I go into New York City, so I am familiar with the turn where the derailment occurred. Four dead and 60+ people injured at a place that is named “Spitting Devil.” An uneventful train ride early on a Sunday morning turns into a nightmare. You just never know.

You never know when you get on that train, board that airplane, start the engine of your car, step onto a crosswalk, or even send your kid off to school. Life is full of surprises, not all of them pleasant. So what’s my point?

My point is that you should be in relationship with God so that when the unexpected happens, God will give you the strength to deal with it and get through it. Being right with God doesn’t inoculate you from life’s tragedies, but it will help you in and through them. And if one of these tragedies happens to be a life-ending event, having that relationship with God gives you the assurance of being with him when your earthly life is ended.

The world is a dangerous place, with most of that danger resulting from people’s wrongdoing. Texting while driving puts others in jeopardy, as does impaired driving due to alcohol (DUI) and drugs. This callous disregard for others is sin. Punching innocent people on the street is sin. Notice, by the way, that these low-lifes punch old people and women mostly.

The world isn’t going to change very much, but you can change. While the rest of the world is deteriorating, you can rise above it by getting closer to God and living your life according to biblical principles. Just think of how much better the world would be if more people did that.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Obamacare and the Govt Shutdown

In response to this ridiculous shutdown of the government, I sent the following email to our to NY senators and our congressman:

Again we are seeing the dysfunction of Congress impacting the people negatively. What makes this government shutdown even more galling is that Congress continues to receive pay while hundreds of thousands of hard working people don’t.

Politics is the art of compromise, but Congress and the President have lost the ability to negotiate in good faith and compromise. As a result, the people suffer.

Lastly, I wish the Democrats would work towards fixing Obamacare’s many flaws rather than continuing to battle the Republicans to preserve a terribly imperfect plan that could eventually bankrupt this country. One of the major problems with Obamacare is that it doesn’t address tort reform. If Congress would introduce tort reform into the plan, costs would drop dramatically and the plan might be more acceptable to those who are currently opposed to it. See articles written by Bobby Jindal to get a good idea of what needs to be fixed.

Fraud is rampant in Medicare and Medicaid, and I can’t imagine what it will be like under Obamacare. Congress must introduce better controls into the plan to prevent costs from getting out of control due to fraud.

Let’s start working for the people and stop the dysfunction we are seeing in Washington.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Historical Truth vs. Revisionist Fiction (Part 3)

This is a continuation of a post on how we are being deceived by revisionist history, particularly regarding American and Israeli history. However, I also want to briefly look at The Crusades, another misunderstood historical event.

The Crusades

One could certainly question why the Church got involved in waging war, as it did with the Crusades. We also know there were atrocities done by the Christian forces, although such things seem to happen in most wars – even by “the good guys.” Today Muslims, and those unfamiliar with the history and background of The Crusades, portray them as wars of aggression and imperialism, with evil Christians attacking peaceful Muslims in a kind of Christian jihad. To this day, Western nations seen as interfering in Muslim regions are referred to as “crusaders” by Muslims. This reveals that the Muslims view struggles with the West as primarily religious in nature: Islam vs. Christianity.

While the Muslims cry out “God is great!” (Allahu Akbar) we in the West are pushing God out of our society. Many no longer attend church, and some are abandoning (and even denying) our Judeo-Christian heritage – even at the highest levels of government. I wonder, will God bless us in our struggle against Islamic terrorism? Should God bless and protect a people who are rejecting him? Take a look at the Bible, especially Israel’s history, and you’ll get the answer.

Getting back to The Crusades, they were more geo-political than religious, although there was certainly a religious aspect to them. By the early 1000s, the Islamic armies had taken over a huge amount of formerly Christian lands in the eastern Mediterranean. The Byzantine Empire had grown smaller and smaller as a result, and it wouldn’t be too long before the Muslims were at the door of Constantinople. If that city fell, Europe lay wide open.

So the Byzantine Emperor asked the Pope if he, the most powerful man in western Europe, could organize an army to help the beleaguered Byzantines keep the Muslims from taking more of their land and eventually reaching the gates of Constantinople. In addition, it would be an opportunity to take back from the Muslims the Holy Land with all of its religious sites, sort of a fringe benefit. Knowing the risk of the Islamic armies breaking through into Europe, the Pope convinced the European kings to contribute to this “Crusade” to take back the Holy Land and protect Europe.

After initial conquests and occupation, the European crusaders were eventually pushed out of the Middle East by the Islamic armies. As predicted, the Islamic armies continued to whittle away at the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople fell to them in 1453. They continued into the Balkans and got to the gates of Vienna. Much of Europe rallied to the cause and defeated the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Some of the Balkan countries are Muslim to this day as a result of their occupation by the Islamic Ottomans.

So the Crusades were primarily campaigns to halt Islamic conquests and to regain Christian lands lost earlier to Muslim armies. They were not wars of imperialism to take land from innocent and peaceful Muslims as they are popularly portrayed. Although there was certainly a religious element to the Crusades, the main aim of these military campaigns was to defend the weakened Byzantine Empire from further loss of lands and protect Europe from Islamic conquest.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Historical Truth vs. Revisionist Fiction (Part 2)

This is a continuation of a post on how we are being deceived by revisionist history, particularly regarding American and Israeli history. The earlier post looked at Israel and the Palestinians, so now we’ll look at the United States.

The United States

In the United States, we see some aspects of our history distorted and the Constitution misinterpreted. While these misrepresentations are happening in a number of different areas, it is especially disturbing in those areas in which God and religion are being marginalized.

Most Americans don’t understand our own history, and so we end up believing the lies or the omissions by which our history is being distorted. It is now widely taught that America is not, and never has been, a Christian nation. That is a topic for another post, but America was settled by Christians, and is still a Christian nation because that’s the majority religion. That doesn’t mean other religions are excluded – it just means Christianity is the dominant belief system and the basis of our morals and ethics.

Historically speaking, the Pilgrims and others crossed the ocean to America, not always to escape persecution, but more often to establish Christian settlements free from outside influences. These settlements were to be guided by biblical principles. Our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution do, to a large extent, reflect biblical principles.

The second item I mentioned above is the misinterpretation of the Constitution, particularly the First Amendment. Again, this is a lengthy discussion for a different post, but ever since 1947 (Everson v. Board of Education), the Supreme Court has been moving away from the traditional understanding of the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment that goes back to its framers. Once that door was opened, the courts have continued to interpret the First Amendment to mean freedom from religion, that religion has no place in the public square, and that God and religion are to be marginalized in our society. This is also involves an interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” completely opposite from what he intended in his letter to the Baptist Church in Danbury, Connecticut, where he used that phrase). We have been so brainwashed by the anti-God anti-religion forces that very few Americans are aware of the truth.

I recommend Americans make the effort to learn their own history as well as the 20th century history of Israel and Palestine. Once you understand these, your outlook becomes quite different and you will see how we are being deceived.

I highly recommend talks on these subjects by Michael Medved (available on CDs or as a download). They are informative and very helpful.

In a future post I’ll explore another event that has been misunderstood, The Crusades, which has been the subject of revisionist history.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Historical Truth vs. Revisionist Fiction (Part 1)

Sadly, history is being distorted to fit certain agendas. We see this happening with respect to Israel and the Palestinians, and with certain aspects of American history. These subjects are too big to discuss in depth here, but I want to touch briefly on some key parts of history that are being distorted. I believe it is important for us to be aware that this is happening since people’s perceptions and government decisions are based on what is understood to be fact. Since most people are willing to believe what they hear about history in the media, anecdotally, and in school textbooks, these lies have become “fact” because no one bothers to verify what they are hearing. You tell a lie often enough, just about everybody will eventually believe it. I hope that after reading this you will be motivated to explore these subjects in more detail and learn the truth.


Yasser Arafat is the author of many of the lies concerning Palestinian and Israeli history. He portrayed the Jews as invaders of the Palestinian/Arab homeland, and the Palestinians as innocent victims of that aggression. However, claiming that Palestine is Arab ignores the fact that there has been a continuous Jewish presence in that area for over 3,000 years. If you are a person of faith, look at the Bible. You can see in many places in the Scriptures that God tells and even promises the Patriarchs and the Israelites that the land is theirs in perpetuity.

Arafat also denied the Holocaust, one of the most documented events in the history of the world. As a matter fact, he pretty much invented the concept of Palestinian nationhood. Technically, there had been no such thing as a Palestinian as it is understood today.

Until World War I, Palestine (the region, not a country) was sparsely populated. Jews from Europe started settling in their ancient homeland in the 1800s, joining the scattering of Jews who already lived there. They purchased land from the few Arabs living there, often at inflated prices. After World War I and the breaking up of the Ottoman Empire, the British ruled Palestine. During this British mandate Arabs from all over the Middle East were invited by the Brits to settle into the area. This was an act of anti-Semitism and helped lay the foundation for the problems we face today in that region.

After World War II, the United Nations divided that area, creating Arab and Jewish nations (Israel and Jordan). When Israel was created by the UN in 1948, those Arabs living in Jewish areas were told to leave by their Arab brethren in the surrounding nations. They were assured that the Jewish state would be annihilated soon, and they would be able to return to their homes. Many Arabs followed this bad advice and left, and they were put in refugee camps “temporarily.” Some Arabs chose to stay in the Jewish state, being assured by the Israelis that they would be safe. Today there are about 1 million of their descendants living in Israel. They are Israeli citizens, have representation in the Knesset, and are reasonably prosperous compared to the descendants of those Arabs who left in 1948.

Meanwhile, the Arabs who left the Jewish state in 1948 were never absorbed into other Arab countries once it became obvious Israel wasn’t going away. To this day, their descendants languish in refugee camps or in squalid settlements. Of course we feel sorry for these people, but we have to realize they are not the victims of Jewish imperialism. They were mistreated and misled by their own people, and they were not even invited to settle back in their homelands. They became people without a country, despite the fact that Jordan was established as the Arab counterpart to Israel.

Of course the Arab nations and those who do not know this history persist in blaming Israel for the Palestinian problem. Yes, it is a serious problem, but it is not the fault of Israel. Israel was legally created by the United Nations and has a right to exist. Moreover, it has the right to keep any land that it gained in the wars it fought. These were not wars of aggression on the part of Israel. They resulted from unprovoked attacks by Israel’s Arab neighbors (1948-1949, 1967, 1973) causing the Israelis to defend themselves. In the process of pushing back the invaders, Israel gained some land. The Arabs started the wars, and Israel finished them! What nation on earth would ever be told by the international community to give back land that they gained as a result of defending themselves from unprovoked attacks by nations that are dedicated to annihilating them? Yet, that’s what Israel is being told to do!

Israel did in fact give back the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in the interest of keeping the peace. Moreover, it has also given land for a Palestinian state, removing thousands of Jewish settlers in the process. And what thanks did Israel get from the Palestinians? Rockets being launched daily in an attempt to kill innocent Israeli civilians. After years of this Israel had enough and it attacked the Palestinians. Predictably the world was “shocked” at the aggressiveness of Israel against the poor Palestinians and condemned it for those actions. How ridiculous!

To show you how ridiculous such criticism is, what do you think the United States would do if Mexico shot off rockets from Tijuana into San Diego on a daily basis? I don’t think we would put up with it for very long. We would bomb or attack the sources of this outrage to stop it once and for all. But when Israel does the same thing, they get condemned. Like I said, it’s ridiculous.

What astounds me is how many Jewish people in the United States don’t understand this history and are quite willing to condemn Israel. Either they don’t know the history, or they prefer to be politically correct rather than standing with their own people. Interestingly, a good number of devout Christians are sympathetic to Israel, both from a practical as well as a biblical aspect. That doesn’t mean we believe Israel is correct all the time, but it does mean that we believe it has a right to exist, to defend itself with force, to protect itself (with a large wall, for example), and to keep the land that it won in these wars. All Christians and Jews should pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Israel is special in history and in also is the place where the Messiah will return.

In another post I’ll explore American revisionist history.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Should We Bomb Syria?

As I’ve mentioned before, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, life is precious. That’s why it is so heartbreaking to see the carnage taking place in Syria. What’s sad is that Syria’s neighbors, fellow Muslims, are doing nothing to stop it. Of course it’s easy to justify doing nothing by claiming it is an internal matter, a civil war, and nobody has a right to interfere in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs. However, what’s happened in Syria is also a crime against humanity and a humanitarian disaster.

The question becomes, do other countries have the right or duty to stop the killing of innocent civilians?

Looking first at Syria’s Muslim neighbors, I believe they should intervene using the following justifications:

(1) The raging civil war is causing a risk to each country’s security and threatens the stability of the region. Neighbors are being affected by the large influx of refugees into their countries. It is not just a Syrian “internal affair.”

(2) Large numbers of innocent civilians – their fellow Muslims – are being brutally murdered by an out-of-control dictator.

(3) The use of chemical weapons violates international law, and begs the question: “If he’s using them on his own people, might he someday use them on us?”

So for those reasons I believe the Arab League has the right, and even the duty, to intervene and neutralize Assad’s military and bring him down.

What about other countries? I believe that the United Nations should pass a resolution authorizing a coalition to bomb Assad’s military installations, with the intent of neutralizing his military and ultimately taking him down. The UN should establish and enforce a no fly zone over the whole country.

If the UN doesn’t act, and it won’t, then NATO should. I don’t believe the US has the right to bomb Syria without some sort of international approval. Anything the US does must be done only as a part of a multinational coalition. If the US acts alone, I believe there are significant risks:

(1) We could get sucked into a broader war on the ground. We don’t want another Iraq or Afghanistan.

(2) Syria’s friends, such as Iran and Russia, may supply Assad with more advanced weaponry to use against us, causing US casualties.

(3) Syria’s friends might retaliate against us in some other way, and not necessarily military action directed against us. For example, Iran might attack Israel with missiles, and who knows how North Korea may take advantage of the situation?

(4) While the US would be bombing Syria for humanitarian reasons (which sounds like an oxymoron), many Arabs and other Muslims would view it as “Crusaders” killing Muslims and interfering in a Muslim country. While many Muslims probably couldn’t hate us any more than they already do, bombing might provide Al Qaida with a propaganda and recruiting bonanza.

Furthermore, any military action, whether by the UN, NATO, the US, or even the Arab League, could further destabilize the region and –worst case – unleash Armageddon. And of course, there’s always the oil supply to worry about.

So even if what Assad is doing is a crime against humanity, I don’t think the US has the right or the duty to intervene. Governments should always act in the best interests of their own country, and with all the risks, I don’t believe bombing Syria is in our best interests. While Assad’s use of chemical weapons and his killing of over 100,000 of his own people is appalling, it is not a direct threat to US safety and security. The US should not get involved, but pray for the people of Syria (as well as Egypt and other countries in turmoil). (This was sent to my Congressman and our two NY Senators)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Disaster Preparedness Part 2

As I wrote in an earlier post, households must be prepared for a major disaster, which could be either man-made or weather-related. Even if the disaster doesn’t hit your area, the disruptions caused by it could directly affect you for weeks, if not months. If a disaster does occur in your vicinity, you must be prepared to evacuate or stay in your house for an extended period of time, possibly for weeks.

That means you should maintain a list of things you must take with you, and a stash of things needed to keep you alive if you are stuck in the house. Plan a worst case: the assumptions that you won’t be able to buy anything for a month, the water will not be drinkable, and gasoline will be unavailable. Keep important papers (passports, birth certificates, etc.) in an envelope ready to grab in case you have to evacuate.

You may want to keep an inventory of the civilian equivalent of military MREs, bags of beans, canned soups, extra propane tank for the grill, bottled water, powdered milk (especially if you have children), candles. See the website www.ready.gov for more suggestions.

I don’t want to scare you, but if you think I’m an alarmist, let me list some of the possible disasters that could force you to evacuate or remain in your house:

Train derailment causing fire and toxic fumes, forcing evacuation. Happened recently in Canada.

Large factory fire causing damage and toxic fumes, forcing evacuation. Happened not all that long ago in Texas.

Nuclear power plant accident requiring evacuation, probably permanently. Happened in Chernobyl and in Japan following their earthquake.

Severe earthquake, possibly causing structural damage to your house or apartment building, forcing evacuation. There’s always a risk in California, of course, but an earthquake could also happen along the New Madrid fault in Missouri (which is due). It would cause widespread damage. The relatively small earthquake in Virginia a couple of years ago damaged the Washington Monument miles away and could be felt as far as New York (I felt it).

Tsunami: on the Pacific coast it might be caused by an underwater earthquake; on the Atlantic coast could be caused by landslide in the Canary Islands or sizeable meteor hitting the water.

Terrorist acts: such as blowing up key bridges and tunnels, especially along the East Coast; blowing up key rail lines; damaging refineries; setting off a dirty bomb in a major city. I’m not going to list them, but I can think of a number of bridges that, if out of commission for a period of time, would cause major disruptions in transportation resulting in delays in the delivery of vital goods.

Civil disturbances: In disaster situations, we see the best in people, and also the worst. If there are shortages of food and necessities, particularly over a period of time, there could be looting and rioting. Even if there are some supplies left in stores, you are better off staying at home and living off your inventory. Don’t risk going out and being injured, robbed, raped, killed, or mistakenly arrested.

No fuel: another possible problem could be severe shortages of fuel due to disruptions in supply caused by problems in the Middle East, an oil embargo, one of the above-mentioned disasters, or refineries shut down due to sabotage, natural causes, major repairs, or maintenance.

No electricity: collapse of the power grid due to weather, sabotage, or overload. Depending on how severe the damage is, could be without power for a week or more.

Other disasters, such as flooding, happening more frequently due to rising ocean levels; wildfires, such as we are seeing in the West; another Katrina or Sandy strength hurricane; large snowstorm, paralyzing cities and transportation for a week or more; a severe solar flare which could bring down the grid, fry electronics (including the computers that run your car), and cause major problems.

I hope none of these occur, but you know some of them will. As ocean levels rise, flooding will be more commonplace. We’ll always have a drought in one part of the country, and too much rain in another part. Whatever the problem might be, everybody should be prepared. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” some kind of major disaster will strike. The world is a dangerous place, and is made even more dangerous by terrorists who want to do us harm. Let’s pray we don’t have a widespread disaster, but smaller, more localized ones, so that repairs can be made and things can return to normal somewhat quickly. Let us trust in God but be prepared with supplies of necessary items.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Disaster Preparedness Part 1

For those of us living in a part of the U.S. that isn’t prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, or wildfires, we tend not to think about being prepared for such events. In the Northeast, we recently learned that we aren’t immune from the ravages of the weather. Two years ago we suffered damaging flooding from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee (particularly in Upstate New York and Vermont). Last year the coast of the Northeast suffered severe damage from Hurricane Sandy. Things are still not back to normal in many parts of coastal New Jersey, Staten Island, and Long Island. Repairs are still being made to the NYC subway system because of salt water damage resulting from when certain parts of it were flooded.

Not only are all parts of the country vulnerable to natural disasters of various kinds, but there is a growing risk of man-made disasters. Of course we’ve seen mass killings, such as happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at the Boston Marathon, and on 9/11. However, I’m thinking of terrorist activities that could affect millions of Americans, such as a cyber-attack.

Janet Napolitano just left her job as Secretary of Homeland Security. In a recent speech, she stated her concern about the significant risk of a major cyber-attack on the U.S. in the near future. Similar concerns have been voiced over the past few years, citing our vulnerability. A cyber-attack could bring down our creaky power grid, disrupt communications, halt all commerce, and bring transportation to a standstill. If such an attack were to affect a large part of the country, it could be weeks, if not months, before power could be restored and life begins to return to normal. Most Americans aren’t prepared for such an event. Even if the attack hits only New York City, it could affect the whole nation in some form or another. Major cyber-attacks and other terrorist plots in Europe could affect us as well.

Every household needs to be prepared for a major disaster. FEMA recommends keeping at least a 30 day supply of food, water, and other necessities, because you could be without power for that length of time. With transportation disrupted, stores and gas stations won’t be supplied, so you’ll need to keep a good inventory of non-perishable food, drink, toilet paper, and the like. You won’t be able to fill up the car because gas pumps will not be operating if the power is out, so keep at least a half a tank of gas in the car at all times. Gas stations with generators will soon be out of gas because of the demand. In case there are goods or services available to be bought, keep some cash on hand because credit cards won’t work See www.ready.gov for more information on disaster preparedness.

More on this subject in a future post.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Stop and Frisk Debate in NYC

The leading Democratic mayoral candidates in New York City are falling all over each other about who will be tougher in eliminating the police’s controversial “stop and frisk” program. However, some of the rhetoric doesn’t make a lot of sense. Let’s examine this policy and see what we can learn for both NYC and other cities where crime is high.

Before doing so, let me interject the reason a religious blog is talking about this subject. The bottom line is that the City of New York is trying to reduce crime in general, and violent crime in particular. It is trying to save lives. Every life is precious in the Judeo-Christian tradition, so it is appropriate that we, as a society, try to not only preserve life but to enable people to live up to their potential. With that in mind, let’s examine “stop and frisk.”

“Stop and frisk” is vulnerable to abuse, and should be used only when someone looks suspicious, is acting suspicious, or matches the description of someone the police are looking for. The police must assume everybody is innocent until proven guilty, meaning they should be polite and respectful when stopping someone on the street.

The police should take a photograph or video of the person they are considering stopping, if there is time. This allows others to see what the police observed in the event of a formal complaint or an audit.

The racial profiling argument against “stop and frisk” is misleading. If the police are patrolling in a mostly black neighborhood, they are going to stop mostly African-Americans. That’s not racial profiling – it’s simply the population they are dealing with.

Too many people, including children and other innocent bystanders, are being shot and killed high-crime neighborhoods. While being stopped by the police is not pleasant and is even humiliating, maybe that’s the price that needs to be paid for now to reduce violent crime – at least until a better program comes along.

According to the crime statistics, “stop and frisk” has been successful in lowering violent crime in NYC. That means fewer violent deaths of black men, and as mentioned above, every life is precious. Eventually, police, knowing there are fewer guns out there, will feel less threatened and will be less prone to shoot as well.

Certainly oversight of the program should be strengthened but why eliminate a program that is saving lives?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Miley Cyrus – A New Low

At the MTV awards show, popular culture reached another new low with the Miley Cyrus bump and grind dance routine. Sadly, her entertainment went well beyond bump and grind, to downright gross. Aided by Robin Thicke, who should know better, this spectacle was unsuitable for audiences of all ages.

I’m not a prude, but I do think there should be some boundaries, some standards of decency. About the only thing she didn’t do in her over the top display was full frontal nudity. While MTV likes to portray itself as edgy, this was going too far, even for them. Don’t they have any adult supervision at MTV?

I know what Cyrus was attempting to do. Taking a page out of the Madonna playbook, he was reinventing herself, as Madonna has successfully done several times in her career. Cyrus wanted to go from the squeaky clean Disney character Hannah Montana to a sexy Madonna-type adult. However, she overshot her goal and went beyond sexy to slutty. Of course she also presented herself as a terrible role model for girls. I’m sure there will now be an outbreak of Miley-type dance routines appearing on YouTube done by everybody from pre-pubescent girls to 20-somethings. Sexting will be on the rise once more as well.

Besides the obvious (at least I hope they are obvious to you), there are two other problems with what Cyrus did:

First, this will cause body-image problems for girls who aren’t built like Miley Cyrus.

Second, Miley and Robin reduced girls and women to sex objects by their sensual exhibition.

I hope Miley just fades away – that this ends up becoming her unintended swan song. That would show that there are limits, that we still have some standards of decency, and that such over the top performances don’t insure success, Madonna and Lady Gaga notwithstanding.

If her performance does end up launching a new career for her, then God help this country and western civilization.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Lack of Conscience

What is conscience? “The sense of consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character, together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good.” (Miriam Webster Dictionary, © 2013).

It is sense of knowing right from wrong, given by God to help people behave as they should. While conscience can be modified by cultural influences, it is remarkably consistent around the world and throughout history. Murder, stealing, lying, and cheating are considered wrong is just about every society. The Apostle Paul alludes to this in Romans 2:14-15a:

When Gentiles, who do not possess the [Jewish] law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness. (NRSV)

In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul mentions that it is by God’s grace that we have the strength to follow our consciences and so what is right:

Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so, not according to worldly wisdom, but according to God’s grace. (NIV)

In the above verse, “worldly wisdom” refers to the lies of this world that lead us astray. As I mentioned above, our consciences can become corrupted by worldly influences, as we read in Titus 1:15-16a where Paul wrote about some people this happened to:

Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. (NRSV)

A good conscience is not enough, because it can get corrupted. We all need God’s grace on an ongoing basis, along with constant exposure to biblical teachings in worship or in a Bible study. Otherwise, all that we are taking in are the ungodly things portrayed in the media: sex, violence, murder, cruelty, self-centeredness, etc. Eventually we become so saturated with this steady flow of garbage that our consciences become numb.

Not sure about this? Think, then, about the three boys in Oklahoma recently, who were “bored” and so decided to kill someone at random. They killed a baseball player from Australia just for something to do. Think about the two 16 year olds in Spokane, Washington, who randomly killed an elderly World War II veteran for no apparent reason. Where were their consciences? Did they ever go to Sunday school or church and learn about morals? How were they raised by their parents to know right from wrong?

Think about all of the other crimes committed these days, and how they reflect a lack of conscience on the part of the perpetrators. Some crimes are done for personal gain, such as scams, identity theft and robbery. Others are done just to be cruel and for no other apparent reason: computer viruses, hacking, and cyber bullying. Just recently we had two significant acts of treason in which two different individuals leaked classified information.

Gangs and gang-related violence has become a serious problem, especially in many large cities. Look at the killings in Chicago. These gang members have no respect for human life, and obviously no conscience. Sadly, innocent people get caught in the cross-fire and die (including little children).

As I mentioned in earlier posts, we can continue to exclude God from our lives and our society and face the consequences. Or parents can train their children in faith, morals, and ethical behavior (including by example), and send them to Sunday school so they can learn about God. We’ve got to reverse these trends, but we can do so only with God’s help. Watching our country descend into lawlessness is not a pretty picture.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Arrogance of Power

I am absolutely amazed at the audacity of some celebrities, sport figures, and politicians when it comes to wrongdoing. First of all, I’m shocked at all the wrongdoing that occurs – don’t they realize they’ll eventually get caught? Paparazzi, investigative reporters, and a familiar face make it difficult for them to do much of anything in secret. There’s always somebody who wants their 15 minutes of fame and is willing to expose what these celebrities have been doing.

Second, I’m amazed at how some of these offenders, who betrayed trust, want us to forget and act as if nothing happened. The Bible says we are supposed to forgive, but I believe that commandment applies primarily to one-on-one situations. With the celebrity sinners, we might forgive since we ourselves weren’t hurt by their actions, but do we really want to put them into positions of trust? Many of them think we should.

The most glaring example is Anthony Weiner. He was caught with his pants down (and sent the photo of it in a text message). He left the House of Representatives in disgrace, reconciled with his wife, and then did it again! Now he’s running for mayor of New York City, asking us to forget about his sordid acts and the humiliation of his wife by his behavior. I believe he must earn our trust, something he hasn’t been able to do so far. I believe his run for the mayor is pure ego: “I’ll show them.”

The disgraced Vito Lopez, who sexually harassed many women, is thinking of running for office once again – I believe for the same reason – ego. I hope nobody votes for him.

Elliott Spitzer was a good Attorney General of New York State and probably would have made a decent Governor had he stayed in that job. However, he had to quit because of his patronizing of prostitutes. That’s a betrayal of trust of the marriage covenant, not to mention tacky and disgusting.

Now Spitzer is running for Comptroller of New York City, the city’s chief financial officer. Is he someone we can trust? He might be, because he seems to have learned his lesson, appears to be repentant, and wants to be a productive member of society once more.

Alex Rodriguez, like so many sports figures, wanted an edge. Unfortunately, he tried to gain that edge by using performance enhancing drugs, and allegedly encouraging other athletes to do the same. It is sad that so many sports and teams have been compromised by such actions. The famed cyclist, Lance Armstrong, paid a stiff price, as have others who didn’t “play fair” by using drugs. A-Rod is now appealing his suspension, and I believe his appeal is driven mostly by ego. He should take his penalty like a man. You do the crime – you should be prepared to do the time.

Why do all these things happen? It’s the human condition: humans have an inborn propensity to do wrong. That’s why we must have laws to control human activities, police to enforce those laws, and the courts to punish offenders who break them. As people drift further away from the Judeo-Christian tradition and knowledge of God, behavior will get worse. Leaders will get more corrupt.

People of faith should share their faith with those who aren’t attending worship on a regular basis so that we as a society can reverse this trend away from God. Parents should train their children in faith, morals, and ethical behavior (including by example), and send them to Sunday school so they can learn about God. We’ve got to reverse these trends.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Order vs. Anarchy: The Ten Commandments (Part 3)

Some of you may have questioned what I wrote in earlier posts, that anarchy and chaos will result if a society does not observe the Ten Commandments. Of course it’s not really about the Ten Commandments, but about a relationship with God. Out of that relationship comes observance of the first four commandments. Out of that relationship with God and observance of the first four come observance of the last six, with the result being a better and more humane society. – not a perfect society but one that is more just, fairer, and more caring.

Despite this, there are those who are working hard to eliminate God from American life, using a gross misinterpretation of the Constitution as its weapon. As a result of this progressive elimination of God, American society has deteriorated. If you don’t think there’s a correlation, look at life in the 1940s and 1950s compared to life today.

If you don’t believe our society could get worse, look at Germany. That country was the most cultured in Europe: music, opera, art, literature, cinema. Before World War II it was a leading scientific research center. Most scientists elsewhere had to learn German so they could read the research papers coming out of Germany. German theologians were at the forefront of biblical and theological studies. Their academic works have an influence on theology to this day.

How could such a “highly evolved” society deteriorate so quickly? How could someone like Hitler gain such influence on a people brought up in a Christian, tolerant, and cultured milieu? I suspect at least some of the problem was that religion in Germany had become cold, stale, and uninspiring. The liberal theology coming out of the universities left pastors confused and skeptical. How can you effectively preach when you aren’t sure what you believe yourself? So German society deteriorated, decadence set in, and many of the people took their eyes off God. In doing so, Hitler became their god. We can’t let the true God be eliminated from our public consciousness.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Order vs. Anarchy: The Ten Commandments (Part 2)

This is a continuation from an earlier post about the Ten Commandments.

Our founding fathers understood this need for God, the Bible, and religious practice in society, as we read in some quotes:
“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.” — President George Washington
(The “eternal rules of order and right” refer to the Ten Commandments)

“It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.” — President George Washington
(He recognized that without a transcendent moral compass, a nation would soon sink into anarchy)

“I have lived a long time and am convinced that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” — Benjamin Franklin, 1787
(He recognized that God is involved in human affairs)

“Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” – William Penn
(Although he wasn’t a founding father, his sentiment is true. If a people don’t follow the Ten Commandments, then harsher laws will be put into place to restore order)

“Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.” — President Ronald Reagan
(Although Reagan was old when he became president, he wasn’t a founding father. However, he understood that following the Ten Commandments gives freedom – the flip side of William Penn’s statement above)

Despite all this, there are powerful forces at work trying to eliminate God, religious practice, and the Ten Commandments from our society. If they succeed, and they appear to be – at least for now – then the result will be disaster. We are seeing it already in rampant drug usage, crime (both violent and white collar), cheating and immoral behavior (sports stars, politicians), high divorce rate, and a generally ruder and cruder society. Today’s younger generations did not live back in the 1940s and 1950s, and so have no basis of comparison between life today and life back then. While life then certainly wasn’t ideal, we didn’t have the magnitude of problems we are seeing today.

We must get back to a nation “under God” so that we can truly have “liberty and justice for all.” If we continue down the path we’ve been following, I shudder to think what will happen.

More on this topic in a future post.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Order vs. Anarchy: The Ten Commandments (Part 1)

The Ten Commandments are summarized as follows (with broader understanding in parentheses):
1. You will not worship other gods.
2. You will not make any idols.
3. You will not make wrongful use of the Name of God.
4. You will observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.
5. You will honor your father and mother (and all lawful authority).
6. Do not murder (or hurt anybody).
7. Do not commit adultery (or commit any sexual sin).
8. Do not steal (or cheat).
9. Do not bear false witness (or lie, gossip, or misrepresent).
10. Do not covet anything that belongs to someone else.

There are two parts to this list:
Commandments 1-4 have to do with our relationship with God.
Commandments 5-10 have to do with our relationships with others.

If our relationship with God is good, our relationship with others should be good. If we have little or no relationship with God so we are not following the first four commandments, then our relationship with others won’t be as it should be and we will end up breaking most of the last six commandments.

God put into place the Ten Commandments so that we would be able to live the kind of life God intended for us: having the right relationship with God and one another. God wants us to have an orderly and caring society rather than anarchy and chaos. Because Europe and the Americas have a Judeo-Christian heritage, we see there a respect for life and a more humane society than is typically found elsewhere.

More on this topic in a future post.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Royal Baby

I am fascinated by the attention being paid in the United States to the royal baby and the royals in general. We broke from England and established a nation that had no king or queen, only elected citizens who were supposed to serve for limited periods and then go home to resume their lives. Yet there seems to be this inborn desire for a king.

Over in Newburgh, NY during the Revolutionary War, one of George Washington’s officers suggested that he be made king once the new nation was established. Washington not only rejected this suggestion but was angry with the officer for even suggesting such a thing. Sadly, we’ve turned the presidency into a sort of royal office with special music played when the president enters the room (“Ruffles and Flourishes” and “Hail to the Chief”). Is that really necessary?

Because of this natural tendency to want a king or queen, we Americans follow the British royals as if they were our own. However, we have our eyes on the wrong king. We should remember the words of Psalms 47:6-8
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.

Let us follow what we read in Psalms 145:1-3
I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.

God is above all earthly powers. Let’s keep that in mind and turn our eyes toward God, the creator and sustainer of life.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Classism in America

With the recent verdict declaring George Zimmerman not guilty of murder in the killing of Trevon Martin, there’s been a lot of talk about racism in America. These are good discussions to have, but missing from much of rhetoric is another “ism”, classism. Let me give you a few examples of classism:

Suppose you were walking down a city street late at night, and a young black guy in a hoodie and jeans approaches you. Would you be apprehensive? Most likely you would.

Now, suppose you are on the same street late at night and a well-dressed young black man approaches you. Would you be apprehensive? Most likely you would not.

What’s the difference? The well-dressed young man is perceived to be of a better class and therefore less likely to rob you than the supposedly lower class guy. We trust better dressed clean-cut people of any race.

My guess is that if Trevon hadn’t been wearing a hoodie, he might not have been followed by Zimmerman. Wearing a hoodie that hides your face automatically makes you suspect in some people’s minds.

But dress isn’t everything. As we saw, we’d be apprehensive if a black guy in hoodie and jeans approached us late at night on a city street. Now suppose we noticed that he’s carrying a Bible. Would we be less apprehensive? I suspect we would.

While racism in various forms certainly does exist, so do other “isms” that are just as pernicious. Why do we have such persistent prejudices? It’s the fallen human condition. If you had a society in which the inhabitants were homogeneous except for the color of their eyes, do you think there would be no prejudice? My guess is that the brown-eyed people would hate the blue-eyed people, and vice-versa.

As long as we keep our eyes (no matter what color) on people and not on God, we’ll fall short. As long as we ignore God’s command (found in various forms in most religions) to “love your neighbor” and “do unto others” then we’ll have prejudice, persecution, tribalism, and war.

Let’s keep our eyes on God, who created heaven and earth (and it was good), and made human beings in his image.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Zimmerman Verdict

A lot has been written recently about the verdict of “not guilty” for George Zimmerman. Nevertheless, I would like to add my two cents’ worth concerning the case.

First of all, I do believe Zimmerman was profiling Martin. The young man was wearing a hoodie, which automatically makes him suspect in some people’s eyes. Second, of course, he was black. As Martin’s father stated in an interview, if Martin hadn’t been black this whole thing would not have occurred.

Second, I believe that Zimmerman was the aggressor in that he followed Martin when he was told not to do so by the 911 operator. Who ended up on top of whom is almost immaterial, because Zimmerman continued to pursue the young man for no reason except, in Zimmerman’s eyes, Martin didn’t belong there.

So I believe that the verdict should have been manslaughter, but the jury saw it differently. Sadly, this will set back race relations in this country. Blacks will feel frustrated and will believe that there is no justice for African Americans. There are no winners in all this, just losers. Martin’s parents have lost a son, and Zimmerman’s life will never be the same.

So where do we go from here? Hopefully, this sad affair will get us thinking about our own prejudices, subtle though they may be. While we might not go out and shoot somebody, we do harbor biases that may, at least to some extent, influence our behavior and attitudes. By the way, I’m referring to biases on both sides, not just on the part of whites. Martin referring to Zimmerman as a “cracker” may not be the equivalent of the “N” word, but it does reveal some prejudice on his part as well.

I'm Back!

After a prolonged absence, I am back to blogging. I know I haven’t submitted a post for quite some time, but the last six months have been very busy. As of July 1, 2013, I retired from full-time parish ministry. Since I was no longer pastor of the church I had been serving for 11 years, my wife and I had to move out of the parsonage. Since we were downsizing, the move required a lot of decision-making as to what to keep and what to discard. So the whole preparation and packing operation took several months. By the time we moved into our new place and got settled, we were exhausted.

Now that I have more time on my hands, I would like to resume blogging, hopefully providing you with helpful insights about religion and other topics. I also have a number of projects that I want to accomplish in my retirement, and we hope to take some nice trips. So I think we will both be pretty busy for the foreseeable future. Moreover, I believe God will reveal to us what ministries he would like us to participate in. I doubt if we will be involved in any full-time ministry – after all, we are retired. But I also don’t believe God’s going to put us on the shelf. It will be interesting to see what God has in mind for the two of us. But I think now is the time to focus on getting settled in our new home as well as getting into our new routine.

Although we are not from Dutchess County originally, we like it here and decided to stay in the area. I’m looking forward to communicating with you through the blog, and hopefully providing you with some thought-provoking opinions. You may not always agree with me, and that’s fine, but I hope to provide you with some insights that you might not get anywhere else.