Monday, June 18, 2007

Darfur and Climate Change

According to the headlines, the current United Nations General Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon, has suggested that the killing in Darfur was caused by global warming. Apparently, sub-Saharan Africa has been drying for the past two decades, and Ban attributes the drying to “man-made global warming.”

Is there something to global warming? Probably. Pouring tons of carbon into the atmosphere very likely has caused some unintended consequences. Nonetheless, even the celebrated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made predictions and pronouncements more modest than Al Gore’s hyperbolic hysteria.

Even if drought conditions in sub-Saharan African could be directly attributed to carbon emissions (which is impossibly complex), the problem in Darfur is not drought. It is genocide. The Sudanese government and allies who are racially Arab have been systematically slaughtering black Africans. Unlike the conflict in other parts of the Sudan, both sides are Muslim. The killing in Darfur is based almost solely on ethnicity. Over 300,000 are dead, and the number is climbing. The United States Holocaust Museum has a helpful summary.

The problem in Darfur is sin. Evil had darkened the human heart. Rape, murder, genocide are not caused by climate change. Although droughts can make life horribly difficult, they do not force people to exterminate their neighbors.

Why then would an intelligent man like the U.N. General Secretary blame global warming? I honestly don’t know. Perhaps, it is easier. Perhaps, it is easier to sign treaties to cut carbon emissions than to change hearts and minds. We all want to do something, but who wants to do the hard work of changing hatred to love?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Beautiful Television

I watched Special Report with Brit Hume on Fox News this evening. At the end of each program, Brit usually offers a short comedy bit via David Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel. Tonight was a little different. Brit offered video via YouTube from Got Talent, the British program that inspired American Idol.

In the clip, Paul Potts, a mobile phone salesman from South Wales, sings opera. On first glace, Potts does not strike an inspiring pose. He looks just like everyone else. Then, he sings. He brings you to tears. Shows like American Idol usually bring people down to bring ratings up. What a beautiful moment on television.

It reminded me of that scene in Shawshank Redemption where Tim Robbin’s character, Andy, plays an record of opera over the loudspeaker of the prison. Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, another prisoner, comments…

"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."

For just a brief moment, the ironic, sarcastic, and crass world in which we live dissolved away.

UPDATE: Paul Potts sings "Con te partirĂ²" in the Semi-Final.

FINAL UPDATE: Paul Potts wins!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Socially Redeeming

I had the opportunity last week to hear an interesting exchange between Dennis Prager and Christopher Hitchens. Dennis Prager is a conservative radio commentator who has taught and written on Judaism, Russia and law. Christopher Hitchens is an author, journalist and literary critic. He is also an avowed atheist having recently published, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

During this exchange, Prager is trying to get Hitchens to avoid a blanket condemnation of everything religious.
PRAGER: If you were in an American city that you were not familiar with, alone, late at night, and you couldn’t find your car in a bad neighborhood. You saw ten men walking toward you would or would you not be relieved to know that they just attended a Bible class?

HITCHENS: Not relieved. Not alarmed either necessarily, but not relieved. It’s irrelevant to me in other words. If they had just come from studying Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, then I would feel positively cheered up. Or if they were members of the local Thomas Jefferson Society.
I have heard Prager’s question before, and until now, I thought that it was clever. Hitchens impresses me here. He handles the question deftly. Although I, unlike Hitchens, would be relieved to find out the men had attended a Bible study, I also would be relieved if they were members of the Thomas Jefferson Society. Frankly, I would even be relieved to find out that they had just attended a concert of Bach concertos, or a class on oil painting, or a lecture on thermodynamics.

Prager’s point is a modest one. Let’s allow for the tolerance of religion because it has socially redeeming value. He succeeds in making his point. However, this defense of religion on the basis of social value is ultimately a weak one. Hitchens and I can provide a multitude of other socially redeeming activities. Moreover, we can find religious activity that is not socially redeeming. What if the Bible study in question was sponsored by the Aryan Nation?

I have listened to many of the church gurus who preach that the church must meet the needs of people. We want well-adjusted, self-actualized folks who stay in school and don’t do drugs. That’s okay. The church should strive to be socially redeeming. However, we exist for deeper reasons. We confess that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.” If we forget that, we may have a hard time justifying our existence.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Few Thoughts At Arlington National Cemetery

This last week, our family was on vacation in Washington D.C. On our last day, we visited Arlington National Cemetery. I’ve been to the nation’s capitol twice. Surprisingly, this was my first extended visit of the cemetery. The place was beautiful, somber and serious. My family watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. The ceremony was rehearsed. Every motion was planned. There was nothing spontaneous here. Nonetheless, every moment suggested respect and honor. Echoing Abraham Lincoln‘s words about another military cemetery, the dead laid here have consecrated this ground, “far above our poor power to add or detract.”

In the recent issue of First Things, Joseph Bottum has a fascinating article entitled, “Death & Politics.” It deserves reading and rereading. The topics range widely and subtly. Bottum is trying to grasp at something deep and mysterious. He concludes…
These are dangerous waters to stir to life, but without them we lack thickness, seriousness, and purpose in our political endeavors. We create true communities only when we have shared dead. Everything else is artificial, and adventitious, and temporary, and incomplete. This is a frightening truth, for the dead we share may be those we kill instead of those for whom we grieve. But dangerous or not, it remains the human condition.
Death may hold clues to our search for meaning. Unfortunately, we don’t see it. Our modern world tries to avoid death by cheating it or hiding it away. We idolize youth and youth culture, and we are unsure how to deal with the elderly. There is even now a movement in Europe called “anonymous death” where the dead are buried in unmarked graves without ceremony. In a world where madmen try to create meaning by spilling blood, we ignore the metaphysical role of death at our peril.

It’s interesting. I accept the notion of “substitutionary atonement.” Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins, taking my punishment. Our congregation will even sing, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” Still, I can understand those who are uncomfortable with the imagery. The whole thing sounds a bit gory. Nonetheless, if death and fear of death lie at the root of the human condition, the spilled blood of Christ makes even more sense. Jesus Christ experiences what is quintessentially human (at least in its fallen state), death. His sacrifice consecrates his life. By dying on the cross and rising again, Jesus destroys death’s grip on who we are.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Newsletter: Calling and Commitment


Our Calling:
We are equipping the Church for the life of faith.

Our Commitment:
Relying on the grace found in Jesus Christ,
we glorify and enjoy God in all things.

Holding closely to the truth of God’s Word,
we ask with courage difficult questions of our faith and life.

Loved by God,
we show compassion respecting each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Guided by Christ’s commands,
we strive to love God, to love our neighbor, and to make disciples.

Approved by the session, March 2007.