What’s wrong with Iraq this time around

Iraq was about all we talked about at work today, before the grisly incident of today became public. Actually I should say other people talked. I didn’t do much but listen.

This is about all I have to say.Last time around, I wouldn’t say we were above reproach, but there was something very different. Last time around we were liberators. George Bush went on the air and told the Iraqis we treated their prisoners with kindness. We stood in stark contrast to Saddam Hussein. We got in, did our work, then got out. We fought more like Israel than like the United States of the late 20th century.

Whether we were justified in going back in and going after Hussein isn’t an argument I want to broach. Someone asked me several months before we did it what I thought. I said I knew we were going to have this war. It was just a question of when, and how long.

It’s been a lot longer than the last go-round.

The stories of brutality to prisoners ignited controversy. Who’s responsible? Was it justifiable? As I listened to people arguing about it, I tried to place myself in the role of a soldier guarding these prisoners. Let’s say a superior told me to do something to them. If I’m the one doing the smacking around, it doesn’t matter if I was just following orders. The guys in the Nazi death camps were just following orders too. They have a conscience. They’re guilty.

But the Nazis worked in fear of retribution, you say.

Do you think our soldiers had no fear of retribution if they didn’t carry out orders? Doing the right thing might not get you killed on the spot in the U.S. military, but do you think it might keep you from getting promoted? Do you think you might be the one picked to go into harm’s way? There’s still plenty of room for retribution in today’s U.S. military.

Harry Truman had a sign on his desk. It read, "The buck stops here."

Today it’s not very clear where the buck stops. It’s pretty clear who those Islamic militants blame. All of us.

So what’s the right thing to do now?

Part of me wants to go back to George Washington. Washington warned against getting too tangled up in international affairs. World Wars I and II were different–we were dragged into those. Kicking and screaming all the way, in the case of World War I. We haven’t fought many good wars since those.

Part of me says it’s a different world today, and it’s not realistic to be the world’s only superpower and ignore international affairs.

Part of me asks what I would do if I were Donald Rumsfield or George W. Bush.

Well, I’m a Promise Keeper. One of the Promise Keepers’ mantras is that the man is responsible for what happens in his house. Even if someone else in the household does it, the man had something to do with it, so he has to bear some of the responsibility. That same attitude goes into the workplace, and any position of authority.

Frankly it keeps you honest.

If I were Secretary of Defense, I think I would have to step down. Not because I want to, and not necessarily because people were calling for me to. The reason? To send a message.

So, what of these militants who did this despicable and, frankly, disgusting act?

Some will call for a war on Islam. That’s not the way to show what freedom is all about. If I may go back to my childhood for a minute, when I was growing up, I was always told I was representing more than just myself. I was representing the orgainization I belonged to–be it the Boy Scouts, or the school I went to. So I needed to show people what those things were all about, through my actions. I didn’t always do it perfectly, and I still don’t. But I can honestly say that I did at least try.

Through our actions in the Middle East, we need to be showing these people what Freedom–yes, capital "f"–is all about.

We sure did a better job of that in 1991 than we’re doing now. Sometimes I wonder if we’re trying.

So what if we change our ways? Will we win them over? Not tomorrow we won’t. Freedom isn’t free. In this case, it’s starting to get really expensive. But I think it might have been cheaper if we’d done it right from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong: Either way, it would have been a long and painful process. But maybe it would have taken one century instead of twelve.

We got our man. We got his obvious successors. We didn’t find what we were looking for. We accomplished some worthwhile things, but we kind of look bad too.

I think we have to decide whether we are willing to pay the escalating cost, or go back to George Washington.

Hey Royals: This St. Louisan still believes

OK, OK. So I was in Kansas City over the weekend for a Promise Keepers event, and I saw the Royals’ obituary in the Kansas City Star yesterday. It was a great season, they said, but it’s over.
Well, it wasn’t technically over. It could have ended today, if the Minnesota Twins had beat the Detroit Tigers (which they did) and the Royals had lost to the Chicago White Sox. But the Royals thumped the Best Team Money Can Borrow 10-4, helped in part by their own borrowed gun, Rondell White.

So now what? The Twinkies have five more games. They’re off tomorrow, then they host the Cleveland Indians for two games before wrapping up their season at Detroit.

Meanwhile, the Royals have six home games against Detroit and the White Sox.

The Royals need to win five of six against a team they’ve dominated and against the only team in the division they’ve played poorly against.

Meanwhile, Cleveland has to revert to its old form and beat the Twins twice, and Detroit has to temporarily forget how to play like the 1962 Mets and sweep the Twins in three games.

Long shot? You betcha. But then again, in April everyone thought the Royals were a long shot to just finish over .500.

There’s a sign hanging outside the Fellowship of Christian Athletes building just across I-70 from Royals Stadium Kauffman Stadium. It still reads, “We believe.” In reference to the Royals–belief in God, I hope, is a given for those guys.

I still believe in both too.

Well, that was unproductive

I didn’t do much yesterday but lay around and read ancient Dave Barry columns.
Well, I fixed a longstanding problem with Debby’s site (debugging PHP code is such a pain when the curly braces don’t all line up) and I returned a batch of car fuses I bought a couple of weeks ago that it turned out I didn’t need. Six bucks is six bucks, you know. That’s lunch for two days if I’m careful.

Other than that, I took a nap. Actually I might have dozed off twice. I don’t remember. It was a tough week. On Monday I got paged at 11:30 at night with a tape backup problem and ended up having to go in to work to fix it. Tuesday was quiet. Wednesday and Thursday I got paged late. How late, I don’t remember. But late enough that I’d gone to sleep. Wednesday’s problem I fixed remotely. Thursday’s problem might or might not have been fixable remotely, but the operator kept talking about blinking lights on the tape drive (it’s an internal drive, and I’m convinced he was referring to the blinking lights on the hard drives) and multiple blinking lights on a tape drive usually indicates big trouble, I ended up going in. I stumbled through the problem and finally went home. It wasn’t a hardware problem.

On Friday one of my coworkers took a digital picture of a tape drive for me so I can ask pointed questions about the blinky lights if when the problem comes up again. Looking at the picture, now I remember: blinky lights on the left is big trouble. Blinky lights on the right is highly unlikely, so I guess that’s even bigger trouble.

On my way home from Promise Keepers on Friday, I told my buddies I fully expected to get paged that night about a tape backup problem. They all thought that was pretty awful. I got home, plugged my work laptop in and booted it up, intending to be pre-emptive. I didn’t want to get paged at 1 in the morning and get told a 9:00 backup job failed–not when I needed to be at church at 7 in the morning with an 11-hour day (minimum) ahead of me. As I was firing up pcAnywhere, my phone rang. It was one of the operators, and a backup job had failed. I went in and fixed it.

But, seeing as I didn’t sleep more than six hours uninterrupted any night this week and operated two nights on four (I know, when parenthood comes I’m in trouble, but I really work best on 7 hours during the week and 8 on weekends), I slept in yesterday. I was late for church. The 10:45 service. Pathetic, I know. Then there was a post-service meeting I’d forgotten about. Oops. So I was there for two hours. They mercifully cut it off at two hours. I was out of fuel and was getting irate at the weird questions some people were starting to ask.

Then I came home, got irritated that my SWBell e-mail still isn’t working (six days and counting–makes me wonder if they’ve ditched their Sun equipment for Windows NT), tried to remember how to set up my own mail server again, decided it was too much thinking, and took a nap instead. That set the pace for the day.

I’m hoping this week isn’t a repeat performance of last week.

The ten-minute guide to oppressing women

“Promise Keepers is here in St. Louis, but not without controversy…”
I’m surprised Promise Keepers doesn’t get more attention from the media, because you can always count on protesters. The biggest demonstration was a throng of militant abortion activists playing off this year’s “Storm the Gates” theme urging PKs to storm a local abortion clinic.

Strangely absent was Fred Phelps. He’s always good for a news story, although I would be afraid to interview him directly. I saw him at PK last year in Kansas City.

A half-dozen feminists were also protesting.

I didn’t see any incognito women this year, although I’m pretty sure I did last year. I saw some “guys” wearing really baggy clothes and sporting short but very feminine haircuts. Officially, PK is a male-only event. But I can’t imagine a woman in disguise getting kicked out if she’s recognized. PK really doesn’t have anything to hide.

Before I get into explaining what PK does and why, let me give my standard disclaimer: I’ve been to two PK events. I occasionally wear a PK t-shirt. There are some PK books on my bookshelf. I don’t know if I’ve read them. When asked if I’m a Promise Keeper, I answer yes. But I don’t agree with everything PK teaches. Since PK is inter-denominational, its theology is a very mixed bag. It’s heavy on decision theology, which bothers me a little. It’s very heavy on the Calvinist/Reform do-it-yourself attitude on grace, works, confession and absolution. There is confession, sort of, but no absolution. That bothers me. When you confess your sins, when you’re done, someone needs to reassure everyone of God’s forgiveness. Too often in Reform circles, there’s an unspoken “try harder next time” attitude. That’s present in PK. That’s spinning your wheels. But we already talked about that.

But I don’t agree with LCMS all the time either, and I’m on the board of directors of an LCMS church. So be it.

So I have some disagreement, but it doesn’t stop me from paying my 70 bucks to go and it doesn’t stop me from encouraging my friends to go.

So, how’s about some straight talk on PK?

Why no women? Mostly because they wouldn’t be interested. Last year, a one-time football coach named Joe White walked in carrying what looked like a telephone pole. Then he carried it up to the stage, put it down, grabbed an axe, and made a cross, right there onstage. Then he set it up. When he was finished with it, it took three people to hold up what he held up himself.

That’ll get a guy’s attention. And when a guy who can carry telephone poles around isn’t afraid to cry… That sends another message.

And then we found out he was dying of leukemia. This is what he was spending the rest of his life doing. So it must be pretty important to him.

This year, Joe White did almost the same thing, carrying an oversized cross around the perimeter of the Savvis Center rink in St. Louis. And at one point, later in the conference, he rode in on a motorcycle, rode up the stage, hopped off, and gave a 10-minute sermon on the power of God, in the style of professional wrestler bravado. It was the end of a combination video/skit that portrayed Jesus and the 12 disciples as a biker gang.

It’s not uncommon for a former football or basketball coach to come in and use sports metaphors to explain Christianity. It’s the language some men understand best.

Most women wouldn’t like it.

The other reason is that a lot of men act differently when women are around. Since getting right with God is a big focus of the events, it’s helpful if you help the men get over the act and be themselves before God.

What’s this take back your household thing? This is where the controversy arises. PK advocates that men take back the responsibility they’ve shoved off on their wives. Wanna know what form that took this year? A big, bald, burly black preacher telling us men to wash the dishes and take out the garbage. This isn’t about taking away a woman’s humanity. It’s about getting your butt off the couch, turning off the football game, and paying attention to your family.

Leaders give. Leaders serve. A real man serves. A real man gives, he said. Then he went on to say if you’re a man and you’re receiving all the time, he questioned their manhood. In more ways than one.

Both times I’ve gone, one of the speakers has advocated that the men take a basin and wash their wife’s feet (the way Jesus washed His disciples’ feet before the Last Supper) while confessing their shortcomings and asking forgiveness. Where’s the oppression in that? PK advocates humility and responsibility. Who wouldn’t want her husband or boyfriend to be more humble and responsible?

Above all else, PK advocates men taking the role of spiritual leader in their house. Many men are passive or apathetic about God. PK advocates that men pray for their wives and their kids. “My wife comes to me when she has a problem,” that same preacher said. “She doesn’t come to me because I’m a pastor, she comes to me because I’m her husband and she trusts my prayer life. Does your wife trust your prayer life, or must she turn to another?”

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve prayed for girls on a few occasions, with them present. There hasn’t been a one of ’em that didn’t like it. Women like it when a man prays for them.

Most of the women opposed to PK probably don’t understand that this is what PK teaches. Or they may be opposed to any conservative Christian movement.

Legalism is just the first sin all over again

I don’t have much time, so I just want to say one thing in response to the legalistic second message I heard at Promise Keepers last night.
The Fruits of the Spirit and God’s law are diagnostic tools. They are means to an end. Neither one is an end unto itself. Neither is achievable all by yourself. A guilt trip accomplishes nothing; trying to do them on your own accomplishes nothing but showing you how futile the task is.

I was sitting next to Pastor as we got this message, and he fumed through the whole thing. And at one point, one of us said, “We love this stuff, because it tells us exactly what we should do.” And the other of us said, “This is the first sin all over again. This is trying to be God.”

So listen. If you don’t like the direction your life is headed, if you look at your life and you don’t see what Scripture says your life is supposed to be, don’t make yourself a to-do list. Make this your to-do list: Tell God what you see. Tell Him you don’t like it. Trust me, He doesn’t either. Ask God to forgive you, ask Him to invade your life–yes, again–and humble yourself and ask Him to show you the way you should go. Let Him set your path straight.

The good deeds we do on our own are nothing but filthy rags. The only things we can do that are worthwhile are what God Himself enables us to do. Face it: You and I both need a designated hitter. But God’s willing to be that. Let Him.

Trust me. The fruits will come. Obedience will come. And they’ll be a whole lot better than anything you can do on your own.

The pressure’s off.

I gotta get going.

The best week of my life revisited

Well, I got word this week that my first video of significant length landed on the desk of the founder of Adventures in Missions. And he liked it.
It made its St. Louis debut the Sunday before last. I think it did its job. The subject was my church’s June mission trip to Belle Glade, and a number of the people who were there cried.

“God, send us some signs or something,” prayed the 15-year-old son of Christian author Tim Wesemann, about 30 seconds into the video.

Sign? You got it. A kid named Matthew set off an alarm in room 229 in the church where we spent our first night. So, for what seemed like an eternity, the PA system bellowed, “2-2-9.” And it beeped a lot too.

The minute he prayed and asked for forgiveness, it stopped. Things like that happened a lot that week.

That afternoon, someone looked up Matthew 22:9.

That became our theme. Which reminds me: We need to make t-shirts.

About halfway through, the words, “Wednesday, June 19, 2002: A night to remember” flashed up, simple white letters on a black screen. One of the girls turned back to me. “You got that on tape!?” I nodded. I shot at least three hours of tape that night. She reached back and squeezed my hand.

Let me tell you something about Wednesday night. I don’t know everything that was going through everyone’s minds that night, but by Wednesday, most of our kids (28 in all, I think) had been to the gates of hell and back. They were seeing the desperate situation the people in Belle Glade were living in, and although we’re middle-class white guys and gals from south suburban St. Louis, we live in luxury compared to any of them. We live in nice houses, drive nice cars, and get to eat pretty much anything we want, whenever we want. We don’t have to worry about any of our basic needs.

In Belle Glade, “affordable housing” often means four concrete walls, a concrete floor and roof, some kind of bed, and a 110-volt outlet to plug a hotplate into. A sink is a luxury. A lot of “discount” stores selling low-quality food abound. The food is affordable but not worth the prices they’re forced to pay for it. Blaxploitation at its finest. It’s pretty sickening.

And on Tuesday, there was an incident. One of the kids from our downtown VBS, an eight-year-old, got into a fight with a 13-year-old. The eight-year-old was everyone’s favorite. His was probably the saddest story we’d heard down there. But there was something else about him too. I had limited contact with him (I worked the other VBS) but I can attest to it. He drove me nuts most of the time. But I liked him.

Well, the angel they’d seen that morning flashed his other side. At one point, he had a big rock that he was ready to throw at the 13-year-old–a big-enough rock that if he beaned him with it with enough velocity, it’d do some permanent damage. And the fire in his eyes suggested he was more than willing–if not able–to do just that.

Being an adult, I’ve seen people who have such polar extremes. Not everyone in their early teens has yet–and let’s face it, Oakville, Missouri is pretty sheltered. Seeing two people willing to fight, perhaps to the death, over something that warranted at most a minor scuffle represented a major loss of innocence, especially for the girls.

And the adults from the neighborhood wanted to just let the two kids fight it out and call the police when it ended. One of our adults intervened, broke up the fight, and seperated the two, and a group of people talked to each of them. We didn’t have any more problems of that sort with those two for the rest of the week.

On Wednesday, a couple of teenagers hopped onto the roof where we were holding our other VBS. They threw off a soccer ball and football that had been thrown up there. One of them also picked up a five-pound iron weight, attached to a belt–a crude gang weapon–that was up there. A number of kids were playing in front of the building. He pitched the weight off the top of the roof. He probably wasn’t thinking. And he probably didn’t care, to be honest. The weight came down off the 12-foot roof (he’d probably pitched it up a bit higher, so it may have fallen 18, even 20 feet) and hit a little girl on the head. It bounced off, like a rubber ball. She wasn’t hurt at all. She was scared because she didn’t know what happened, and because our kids were terrified–you know how kids are, they get scared when adults think there’s supposed to be something terribly wrong–but completely unharmed.

Those were just the major events of Tuesday and Wednesday. Enough other things happened both days to fill a book each.

End long digression. Wednesday night was a crescendo. Georgia-based worship leader Joey Nicholson was singing songs and leading us in worship, and his song selections seemed especially poignant that night. Emotions were running high and our kids were exhausted. Our kids were crying, hugging each other, encouraging each other… The total opposite of the all-too-common cold and impersonal church service. At some point, one of the boys in my subgroup–Matthew, he of 2-2-9 and a source of a lot of gray hair for me, prior to that day–walked up to the stage and knelt down to pray. And he stayed there. The rest of the kids stayed pretty much where they were, singing, crying, hugging, consoling, for about two songs. He was still up there alone, praying and it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to budge. Our pastor tried to inconspicuously walk up there. Well, that didn’t exactly work. He walked up, put his hand on his shoulder, and knelt down next to him, talking to him and praying with him. The next thing I knew, all 28 of our kids were up there with them. By the time I knew what was going on, I was one of about five adults still standing. We didn’t waste much time joining them. I ran my handheld camera as I walked up and knelt down, but then I turned it off. What was going on up there was between each of us and God. I wasn’t going to invade that.

We were up there for about an hour, praying for each other.

It was a Lutheran altar call, I guess. No decisions for Christ there–Lutherans believe that’s pointless, because it’s God who empowers us to come to Him–but there were plenty of people talking to God about what their present life looked like and asking God what He wanted them to be doing with it, instead of what they were currently doing with it.

With all due respect to Promise Keepers, 10 PK rallies can’t match the intensity of those few hours that night for the 43-or-so people who were there. Yeah, it was that significant.

That was the self-indulgent memories portion. My gift to those who went, pure and simple. The remaining 19 minutes were about the various ministries we participated in while in Belle Glade. I’ll make no bones about it–it was a propaganda piece. The group that organized our trip had been talking about pulling out of Belle Glade, making our trip the last one there. After seeing so many lives transformed, I wanted to convince them not to do that.

They’ve told us their plans to pull out are history. Mission #1 accomplished.

There were 38 of us who went on the trip, but according to LCMS records, our congregation has 1380 members. Obviously it’s not realistic to send 1,380 people, but a congregation our size can send more than 38. I wanted to make the people who didn’t go jealous, so they’d want to go next year.

Time will tell if that works. Right now it looks like it will.

And I had a fourth objective too. There are lots of churches in Belle Glade. Most of the churches we came in contact with weren’t doing much outreach. I don’t know why that is, and I’m not going to speculate. But here’s what happened: 38 white guys and gals from St. Louis came in for a week. They didn’t have a clue what they were doing. But every ministry we touched caught fire. By the end of the week, every time a group of us walked down the street, someone stopped them. “Where are you from?” And when we’d answer, “St. Louis,” the people would say, “We’ve heard about you.” Then they’d tell us what we’d been doing. Then they’d thank us.

So the question in my mind was, if 38 St. Louisans can come down and spend a week and lots of great things happen, what can the churches that are down there do the other 51 weeks out of the year?

To my knowledge, the video’s been shown at two different churches, one in Belle Glade and one in Wellington, an affluent community a half hour away.

I hope they’re insanely jealous too.

Not that any of that was going through my mind as I watched. No. I was noticing how the audio needed to be normalized, and how a few of the shots desperately needed either to have been shot on a tripod or a healthy dose of post-production image stabilization, and how awful the lighting was and how nice it would have been to be able to do some post-production color correction.

Powerful? Sure. Worthy of winning a Telly? No way.

But the media director at church just told me to win a Telly. She didn’t tell me when. So there’s always next year.

But if we go back next year and I make a video about it and we win a Telly, I’ll betcha the Telly still isn’t the highlight of my year.

Nimda ate my weekend…

I left for Promise Keepers as planned late Friday morning, but not before I had a hectic morning with Nimda. Nimda didn’t spread too far (it seems most people got it from visiting Web sites, and in a lot of cases it was just pieces of it sitting dormant in browser caches), but we had no way of knowing that until we visited virtually every PC on the network. That takes a while–especially when you find people with anti-virus software that came free with a PC they bought in 1995 or 1996 whose definitions were last updated when Ace of Base was popular.
So we have a good argument in favor of kicking Norton AntiVirus into managed mode. And with the large number of unpatched copies of Internet Explorer out there, we’ve got an argument in favor of some kind of site management software so we can push installs.

The choice is pretty simple: Fork out the bucks for site management, or pay me enough overtime to make a downpayment on a house. It’s pretty obvious which decision makes sense.

As for PK, I learned a ton, and the bus ride to and from KC was fun. My buddies and I scored the very back seats. A couple of guys brought their early teenage sons, but for the most part, we were the young rowdies on our bus. (The kids in senior high were on the other bus.) I’ll talk about that later, when I have time to do it justice.

I worked 11 hours today, so I’m tired. I think it’s time for some quality time with my pillow.

Wrapping up the week with thoughts on oppression

I’m on my way to Kansas City to torque off NOW… I’m going to a Promise Keepers rally. I heard you go to things like that to learn how to oppress women. Although the way I read the PK message, it’s more along the lines of this: Get off the couch, turn off the football game and pay some attention to your family.
So, anyway, I’ll be spending some quality time at Arrowhead Stadium, far away from any computers. I’m rooming with three other guys my age, so this weekend will be just like college, only with better roommates. Those of you who’ve e-mailed me, I got your mail (I think), and I’ll get to it when I get back.

Speaking of oppression… One of my buddies e-mailed me at work with a link to a Fox News story (I can’t find it now). His only comment? [sigh]

The story, which I can’t find now like I said, talked about people forcing others to take down their flags because the United States is oppressive. (Yeah, buddy! The answer to oppression is more oppression! Rock on! Gotta get me some o’ that!) So when I wrote back, I was less succinct than he was:

If they feel oppressed, then let's ship 'em to Indonesia for a few years and then we'll see how they like the United States after that.

Bastards.

It’s an unfortunate fact of human life that we don’t all get the same opportunities. I go into the inner city and see lots of people who never had half the opportunities I had, even though they live all of about 15 miles from where I grew up. I feel bad about that. That’s part of the reason why I do some volunteer work. And when someone comes up to me and asks me to teach them how to do something, if it’s something I know how to do and how to teach, I do it.

Truth be told, I don’t run into complainers very often. Usually I run into people who are just trying to make the most of what they do have. I admire that. The reason why I have stuff is because my parents’ parents (on both sides) were the masters of making the most of what you have, and they taught my parents how to do the same, who in turn taught me.

And oppression is relative. There are plenty of people who will risk their lives and everything they have to be the poorest, most oppressed people in the United States, because that’s better than anything they’d attain back home.

In Indonesia, women are treated like sheep and cattle. They have no choice about wearing makeup–they can’t, period. Not that it matters because they have to wear veils. They have to cover themselves head to toe. The world would come to an end if one of them flashed an ankle. And you can’t go out–even dressed like that–without permission from your husband or brother.

We’ve got a long way to go.

As do they.

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