Monday, February 27, 2006

It's Time for a Book Burning

No, I'm not talking about censorship--I need some heat!

It is 63 degrees in my office. I know this because I brought a thermometer with me to find out just exactly how cold it is. 63 degrees doesn't sound so bad, and it wouldn't be if I were outside. However, right now I am in my office trying to type handouts and grade essays. I am running a space heater (that's the only reason it's 63 degrees in here), and I'm wearing a quilted down throw over my lap. I am refraining from putting my coat back on until I just can't stand it any longer. I would put on gloves to keep my fingers nimble (typing and writing is quite the challenge), but then it would be impossible to write or type.

I'm sure you are thinking that this is a temporary problem that will be better tomorrow; however, that is not the case. It is always cold in here. In fact, it stays so cold that I run the space heater even in August. To complain does no good. The pipes in this building are old; heat will never reach the cold dungeon deep in the bowels of Old Main.

I guess I should look on the bright side. I can leave a tuna sandwich out on my desk all day without any fear of it spoiling, and I'll have a refuge when global warming gets really bad.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Bloggers, News Informers, and Enemies

On 7 Feb. 2006 in a U.S. Senate Judiciary hearing on wartime executive power, Senator Lindsey Graham made these statements to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales:

The FISA statute, in a time of war, is a check and balance. But here's where I think I'm your biggest fan. During the time of war, the administration has the inherent power, in my opinion, to surveil the enemy and to map the battlefield electronically -- not just physical, but to electronically map what the enemy is up to by seizing information and putting that puzzle together.

And the administration has not only the right, but the duty, in my opinion, to pursue fifth column movements.

And let me tell folks who are watching what a fifth column movement is. It is a movement known to every war where American citizens will sympathize with the enemy and collaborate with the enemy. And it's happened in every war.

And President Roosevelt talked about, "We need to know about fifth column movements."

So my friends on the other side, I stand by this president's ability, inherent to being commander in chief, to find out about fifth column movements, and I don't think you need a warrant to do that.

Graham went on to say, however, that when such information seems to implicate individual citizens, the administration must not be allowed to persue investigations independently without judicial oversight.

What constitutes, for Mr. Graham and those who think along the same lines, a “fifth column” movement? When the War on Terror (now being referred to by the Pentagon as “The Long War”) began, the President said that “You’re either for us, or you’re against us.” The attitude of the war supporters has been that those who speak against the war are undermining the mission and placing our troops in danger. Does a “fifth column” include only those who, as Graham said, “sympathize with the enemy and collaborate with the enemy,” or does that definition also include those who don’t sympathize with terrorists but genuinely oppose war or disagree with the President's policies?

Here are some highlights of a speech given 17 Feb. 2006 by Donald Rumsfeld at the Council on Foreign Relations in which he outlines the need for the military to engage in more effective communications within the various media:

Our federal government is really only beginning to adapt our operations to the 21st century. For the most part, the U.S. government still functions as a five and dime store in an eBay world. Today we’re engaged in the first war in history—unconventional and irregular as it may be—in an era of e-mails, blogs, Blackberrys, Instant Messaging, digital cameras, a global Internet with no inhibitions, cell phones, hand-held videocameras, talk radio, 24-hour news broadcasts, satellite television. There’s never been a war fought in this environment before.

[ . . . ]

The growing number of media outlets in many parts of the world still have relatively immature standards and practices that too often serve to inflame and distort, rather than to explain and inform. And while al Qaeda and extremist movements have utilized this forum for many years and have successfully further poisoned the Muslim’s public view of the West, we in the government have barely begun to compete in reaching their audiences.

[ . . . ]

What complicates the ability to respond quickly is that, unlike our enemies, which propagate lies with impunity with no penalty whatsoever, our government does not have the luxury of relying on other sources for information—anonymous or otherwise. Our government has to be the source, and we tell the truth.

[ . . . ]

We need to get better at engaging experts from both within and outside of government to help communicate, to rapidly deploying the best military communications capabilities to new theaters of operation, developing and executing multifaceted media campaigns—print, radio, television and Internet. But let there be no doubt: The longer it takes to put a strategic communication framework into place, the more we can be certain that the vacuum will be filled by the enemy and by news informers that most assuredly will not paint an accurate picture of what is actually taking place.

Does Donald Rumsfeld consider those bloggers who oppose the war and/or criticize the Bush administration's policies to be “news informers” who are not not telling the truth—unlike our government who always tells the truth? Are the people who vocally disagree with the President’s policies the same people that Bush said are “against us”? Does putting a “strategic communication framework into place” simply mean being louder than the enemy, or does it mean going so far as to silence all opposing views?

How long will it be before those who have the “wrong” opinions are considered enemy sympathizers who need to be silenced or even punished for their views?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Free Speech is Going to Become Costly

Today I'm back in class teaching my students about proper documentation of sources. I'm very meticulous about this, and those who don't follow instructions to give proper credit to borrowed material will not receive a good grade on their essays. During the last few class periods I have spent most of the time on technical aspects of writing essays. That's not nearly as fun as discussing controversial issues--something we do periodically to help with our argumentative strategies.

Lately, however, class discussions have not been fun for me. We had a discussion in one of my classes last week that resulted in one student having her feelings hurt, and in fact, this could have turned into a serious situation if she had decided to complain to the administration. I don't think I or any of my students did or said anything wrong, but the fact is that in this day and age, people who get their feelings hurt can cause problems for other people who meant no harm. I thank God that that didn't happen this time.

But the thought stays with me that one day it could happen. And that makes me very nervous. Because I allow students to voice their opinions--whether they are "good" opinions or not--I could be held responsible for the content of those opinions. The university was always known as a place where free speech is valued, but society today has made the free expression of ideas very difficult. If you know "what's good for you," you'll keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself when you're at a public university.

And it's only a matter of time before we start getting into trouble for expressing our opinions in our blogs.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Good Books but no Coffee

Today I am enjoying a quiet afternoon at the library. My classes are meeting here today and tomorrow so that I can help them with research, so I thought I'd just have my office hours over here too. I'm getting a lot of work done, but the Starbucks downstairs is calling my name begging me to come and buy an overpriced latte. I am trying very hard to resist. Knowing that I'll have to pack up my stuff and carry it with me to keep it from being stolen is a good incentive to stay put for a while. I sure wish we could have coffee in the main part of the library.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sacrifice and Daily Bread

For the past few weeks in BSF we have been discussing Abraham and his faith in God. This week we looked at the famous incident in which God tested Abraham’s faith by telling Abraham to offer his son on the altar as a sacrifice. Abraham, in his faith, obeyed God, and God stopped Abraham before he was able to take the knife to his son. God then provided a ram for Abraham to offer on the altar in the place of his son. Abraham was overjoyed by the turn of events and gave God a new name, Jehovah-Jireh, God who provides.

God had made a promise to Abraham to make him the founder of a great nation, to make him famous, and to bless him so that Abraham would be a blessing to others. He had also promised to fulfill this promise through Abraham’s own offspring. Abraham had great confidence in God’s willingness to follow through on this promise even in the prospect of the death of his son, and he was willing to give up the only visible means of the fulfillment of the promise because God had proven himself faithful to Abraham before.

Jesus teaches us that we also can depend upon God to follow through with his promises for us. In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, he teaches his listeners about kingdom behavior and what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom. To Jesus, to obey God’s laws means more than a simple adherence to a set of statutes; it means more than simply not doing wrong to others; rather, it means cultivating a desire to go beyond treating others with civility to developing a real concern for the needs of others. It means showing a genuine love to all regardless of who they are. Jesus promises his listeners that those who obey these laws of God will find themselves to be great in God’s kingdom. In addition to this, to those who adhere to this teaching, Jesus promises rest from their weary and burdensome life. He tells us that we no longer need to worry about matters of everyday living such as where our next meal will come from or what we will wear. Jesus says that if we seek to be righteous by following God’s precepts, if we make God’s kingdom the main concern of our hearts and minds, God will meet these daily needs.

Most of us would readily admit that we do not have the type or intensity of faith that Abraham exhibited. Indeed, most of us have not cultivated the faith to take Jesus at his word about this promise from God. Sure we have faith that we will enjoy a better life when Jesus returns, but we don’t take Jesus at his word that we don’t have to have any worries about our future during this lifetime. Jesus said plainly that if we have God’s kingdom as our primary concern—if we go about practicing kingdom behavior now in this lifetime—we will have no need to worry about tomorrow. What does that really mean? I think it’s safe to say that as we go about our daily lives doing our regular work, if we make it our additional job each day to make the concerns of other people higher than our own concerns and if we take concrete steps to bring comfort to others (as the good Samaritan man did), God will see to it that we will have our daily needs met.

When God’s people wandered in the desert after fleeing slavery in Egypt, God provided bread for them daily, and he wouldn’t allow them to store more than what they needed for each day. God’s people learned to have faith that the bread would come every morning. Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” not “Give us enough bread to last a year.” Don’t worry about tomorrow, Jesus says, because we have enough to be concerned about just dealing with today’s problems. God knows what you need, and if you practice kingdom behavior now, God will take care of those needs; you don’t need to worry about it.

Most of us are extremely concerned about our futures. If we were really honest, we would admit that providing for our own future security, and our children’s security, is the main factor that governs how we live our lives each day. As an example, we work extremely hard to ensure financial security for our future, making sure that our children’s college fund is fully established and fully funding our 401k’s. We call this being prudent, and certainly, the bible advocates the need to make preparations for future hardships such as storing up food from the harvest for the winter (taking a lesson from the ants: Proverbs 6.6-8) or as when Joseph stockpiled grain to get his people through the upcoming famine. We certainly should exercise the common sense that God gave us and prepare for the needs of the immediate future. And certainly, God doesn’t frown upon our saving for retirement. However, like Abraham, we should be prepared to offer as a sacrifice the visible means of our future comfort and security when we see that others are in need.

If we believe that God will provide for our needs, then it shouldn’t alarm us to give up the security that we sought to provide for ourselves. To sacrifice his son meant to Abraham that the future God had promised was in jeopardy, but he trusted God enough that he went ahead and made the sacrifice and believed that somehow God would replace what was lost. In the same manner, we should have enough faith to believe that God will replace what we sacrifice in an effort to bring aid and comfort to others. God will give us what we need for today, and he’ll give us what we need for tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

Today I am now closer to the age of 50 than to the age of 20. That's sort of scary to think about, but when I really consider it, I don't really feel completely like a grown-up. Does one ever feel completely grown up? In a way, I sort of hope not.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Response to ajmac

The following is a response to a comment by ajmac to my previous post, "Real Freedom." Ajmac said:

Your sarcasm is neither persuasive nor funny. What do Christians in other countries have to do with it?

I'm curious: Do you disagree that American Christians experience freedom in the temporal sense to a far greater degree than any Christians throughout history?

Thank you for visiting, ajmac. My post was not meant to be funny. I think I assume correctly when I say that the regular readers of my blog knew exactly what I was talking about.

As for your questions, Christians in other countries have everything to do with it. It seems that many American Christians equate the flag and the U.S. with Christian values. While I certainly don't disagree with being patriotic, I believe it is rather arrogant to assert that the values represented by the flag are equal to the values represented by the cross, which is what the window sticker I referenced seems to do.

In the church where I attend bible study, there was a display of the flag and the bible side by side with the words "I pledge allegiance" written above the display. How must that look to Christians from other countries who may happen to attend that church? That display and the sticker seem to send a distorted message about American Christians--that we place equal value on Christian values and the flag. Brotherhood with Christians from other nations takes a backseat to allegiance to the flag, it seems.

As for your second question, of course I don’t disagree that American Christians experience more temporal freedoms than other Christians. We American Christians are free to speak out against the church or the government when we believe them to be in the wrong. We are free to come and go as we please, and we enjoy tremendous economic freedom, much more so than people in other nations. Is this, however, the true freedom that Jesus spoke of? Jesus said that those who obey his teachings are the ones who are truly free.

It is obvious from Jesus’ teachings that he did not endorse the accumulation of material wealth, but this is a “freedom” that many Americans enjoy. However, how free are we really if we have lots of stuff but our credit cards are maxed out and we have to work overtime to pay for it? How are we truly free if what we are working so hard for can be destroyed in the next hurricane or fire or tornado? When we lose these things, we begin work all over again to get more of them. How is that true freedom? And for those whose economic situation will not allow them to accumulate things but everything in our society says that we don’t fit in if we don’t have all the latest gadgets, how is that true freedom?

Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light and that those who trust completely in God and make his kingdom their primary concern will not have to worry about having their temporal needs met, yet American Christians’ yoking of the flag with the cross indicates that we do not really trust in God and that many of us treasure the temporal more than the eternal.