Archive for December, 2005


A Christian Look at Torture

December 15, 2005

Senator McCain and George Bush have come to an agreement on the wording of a draft resolution on the issue of torture. This comes after several months of haggling over this issue where the President has indicated numerous times that he would not support any resolutions that tie the hands of our military investigators.

So what changed his mind? Apparently, it was the sentiment of the vast majority of Americans that do not want us to be seen on the world stage as being implementers of torture on anyone. Because of this, members of Congress look poised to overturn any Presidential Veto of a Torture bill. Because the President’s ratings are climbing again, he can ill afford to let Congress seem to be the leaders of the country.

One article from AP said,

McCain’s amendment would prohibit “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held. It also would require that service members follow procedures in the Army Field Manual during interrogations of prisoners in Defense Department facilities.

In discussions with the White House, a provision was added modeled after the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That says that military personnel accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a “reasonable” person could have concluded they were following a lawful order. The addition extends those rights to CIA interrogators, and McCain said from the Oval Office that they were “legitimate concerns.”

Lately, I have read several Christian commentators and bloggers who argue for a limited use of torture. Their argument is hardly a spiritual one. Their pragmatic approach is to give credence to the fear-filled idea that there will ever come a day when all that might separate us all from annihilation is the torture of a prisoner. If we have been placed in a position that the safety of our bodies depends upon causing pain to another, then the Sermon on the Mount is useless (ie. Turn the other cheek), the admonitions of Paul should be silent (ie. Be anxious for nothing) and the testimony of Revelation is a hoax (ie. They overcame him by the word of their testimony and by the Blood of the Lamb). I cannot foresee any situation that is so grim that God could not help us more than torture could.

I think we have developed this “Fail-Safe” scenario in our minds in response to television shows like “24” or “Alias” or “Mission Impossible” where the world’s safety does hinge upon one person torturing another for the “good of all mankind”, where Jack Bauer does divert nuclear disaster by cutting off the fingers of a terrorist. It is as if we echo the words of Rip Torn in “Men in Black” who says, “the Universe is always about to be exploded, torn apart or held for ransom. You get used to it”.

The Muslim world views us (albeit wrongly) as a Christian nation. They look at our military as a typical group of Christians invading their part of the world. They look intently at the Army to see if they will act any differently than their own police forces. Read this in the Recliner Commentaries and see the core values of the Muslim world when it comes to Christians. If we are against this in our hearts…and I certainly hope we all are…then we cannot condone our own military doing the same thing over there or here.

UPDATE: Although I don’t share his opinions necessarily, I find it fascinating to read an American Muslim’s response to the U. S. Military’s use of torture. Read about it here at his blog.


Help Thwarting the Thieves

December 15, 2005

A friend of mine heard about my dilemma with the ATM card being purloined and sent me this article written by an attorney. It gives lots of good advice about your new checks, your wallet and credit cards. It sounds like excellent wisdom.

1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.

2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put “PHOTO ID REQUIRED”.

3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the “For” line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won’t have access to it.

4. Do not put your phone # on your checks. If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks. (DUH!) You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.

5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel either here or abroad. We’ve all heard horror stories about fraud that’s committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards.

Unfortunately, I, an attorney, have firsthand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online, and more. But here’s some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:

1. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.

2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).

But here’s what is perhaps most important of all : (I never even thought to do this.)

3. Call the 3 national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves’ purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away This weekend (someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.


A Turn for the Worse? Maybe.

December 9, 2005

I apologize in advance to a section of this blog’s participants. Many of you are from outside Sacramento and Northern California, and therefore my regional comments are going to seem distant. Second, just as many of you are not basketball fans and today’s blog subject may be lost on you. But I hope to apply my observation to a much larger arena (no pun intended) than basketball and Sacramento.

Right now, the local basketball team, the Kings, are awful. I mean, they are embarrassing to watch. Three seasons ago, they lost only 2 of their 41 home games. Last night, they lost their 7th game at home out of 13. They sit in last place. This morning on the sports radio station the callers were blaming the coach, the players, the general manager and even the League. I believe two groups were not blamed that need to share it: The fans and the owners. Why those two?

The fans cause problems for their team because of such high expectations. Kings fans have had six playoff seasons in a row and the fans expect the same this year. As they begin to lose at home, the pressure builds near the end of the game. As the fans get nervous, so do the players. During last night’s loss to Houston, a television announcer commented (when Houston was losing by 13) that all the Rockets had to do was get close and the pressure of the fans would cause Sacramento to implode. That is exactly what happened. I predict that the Kings will put it together next time they go on a long road trip, believe it or not.

But the owners also must take responsibility. They have spent the last four years going on the cheap for new players. They are so preoccupied with building casinos and purchasing companies that they haven’t wanted to lose money with the Kings. After all, the team sells out every game, so they have scrimped and saved by only paying for five good players at a time. Now, they have no decent bench players at all. They also have no star to rely on in stressful times (one of maybe four teams in the league without a legitimate go-to-guy).

I am curious to see how their demise affects this city. For the last five years, as the Kings have been winning, the city has also seen unprecedented growth, both in terms of people and property values. Most home values have tripled since 1999. During that time, the number one value in town was “success”. This affected the religious community as well. Every church in town has been compared with the other churches in town to see who was the meteoric star on the horizon. Now, the housing market has collapsed. Now, the Kings are collapsing. Now interest rates are rising, so no one can re-mortgage their home again to buy more toys with. Now, Sacramento has to live like the rest of the world again. I will be surprised to see if it has a positive affect on the community.

As you look at your community, you will see seasons like this. Seasons when everything that had been going right suddenly takes a turn for the worse. Usually, three things happen during that time. First, those who were only there for a good time will leave. Fair weather Kings fans won’t renew their seasons tickets. People will grab whatever equity they can and move. Second, some will begin to complain bitterly about how much they hate the town. They won’t move, but they will make others miserable by their comments. Third, a much smaller group will decide to start making a difference in the areas that matter the most. This is usually when prayer champions and new, important ministries are often born.

I wait to see what will come of this downturn. I hope it is the release of new God-things.

UPDATE: You might find this blog entry from Internet Monk interesting on this issue I bring up here.


Learning from the Koru

December 7, 2005

I was reading a portion of Steve Taylor’s new book, “The Out-of-Bounds Church” and he remarks about something he calls “Koru Theology”. The Koru is a fern that grows in the South Pacific and is one of the primary symbols of New Zealand.

Here is a picture of a Koru…notice the repetitive shape, and how much it follows the designs of fractal geometry.

Here is just a portion of what Taylor says about the concept pictured by this fern:

At the heart of the fern sits a tiny, curled frond. If it’s given space, it unfurls…and the fern cannot grow unless it is given a clear path toward the sun. So the Maori burn off undergrowth to encourage new life. The cycles of death and decay are the compost of the new. This is Koru Theology.”

Taylor’s book is about new concepts of understanding our relationship with God and what the Church will look like in the next few generations. He comments on how today’s church often focuses on the past and its failures. The Koru promises that if someone is given enough light (Truth directly from God) and space (the place to make mistakes), they will grow and create something that has never existed before, a shape never seen. He believes that we hinder each other’s growth by insisting that people focus their lives on the structures of the past and examples from the past instead of being birthed into new examples of what Christ wants to build upon this earth.

In another place, Taylor says,

“Koru theology invites us to discover the possibilities of who we might become rather than dwelling on who we have been. The brokenness of the past needs to become the ground upon which the new life is built.”

I believe that Taylor is seeing something profound. There is a tendency in any human endeavor to rely upon traditions for acceptable behavior. Unfortunately, the primary purpose of Tradition is not behavior but passing down unchangeable truth. For instance, one generation might pass down the truth that the Bible is a valuable guide for life and practice. For some people, that might mean sticking to a particular translation of the Bible because it represents good scholarship and accurate rendering of the Greek and Hebrew into English. For another generation, that might mean having the Bible on PDA, CD, Computer, iPod, Cell Phone and Screen Saver. These are new ways to honor the Bible that the last generation would never have thought of.

I recently had someone tell me that they thought computers were evil because they were used for Pornography and that we shouldn’t put the Bible there. The same case could be made for paper, since that is where porn started, isn’t it?

Look at the Koru and see your future. If given space, you can be whatever God wants you to be.


Two New and Fantastic Google Helps

December 5, 2005

A few years ago, we were deciding as an organization where to put our online presence and which search engines to focus on. Yahoo and Altavista were the two main search sites at the time, but I had just discovered Google and their game plan was vaguely reminiscent of how Microsoft began to take over the market. I advised our web guys to design our site so that we came up on the first page of a Google search.

Little did I know at the time that Google would soon become an English verb. I have no idea for sure, but I suspect that Google has become a verb in other languages as well (especially Chinese and Spanish, the other two main languages on the Internet).

Because of our long-standing relationship with Google, I go there often for several purposes. First, because they really do cover the Internet Search business better than anyone else. Second, because they have great toys masquerading as programs. And they’re all free. Let me mention two of these free services that you will want to check out right away.

The first is their free Graphics program called Picasa 2. You can download it absolutely free by going to this site and clicking on the free download icon. I have never used a graphics program better than this one. Of course, there are programs like Photoshop that do much more, but most of the functions of Picasa take one or two clicks of the button and you don’t need an entire encyclopedia of instructions to use it. From eliminating redeye in your pictures to changing the backgrounds, Picasa will do it all with a few clicks. Best of all, the moment you start up the program it will ask you if you want to catalog all your graphics chronologically and with small thumbnails of each one. That feature is worth getting the program all by itself. You can search so easily for the right picture for scrapbooking, multimedia presentations or for sending to your cousin to catch him up on the latest in your family.

The second program is one you use right on the Google site. Caution: It won’t sound that great from my description, but trust me: This one you will use! It is called Google Book Search. You can access it by going to this site. Once you are there, type in words or phrases. I prefer to use phrases (using quotation marks) as that will narrow down your search. Millions of books in publication over the last half century are on this site in their FULL TEXT. They will find that phrase in all the books and list them by frequency. You can then research every occurance of that phrase in each book, and even go back two pages or forward in order to research the context. This is an extremely valuable tool for anyone doing research for term papers, speeches, sermons…or just trying to find a good book on a particular subject.

For instance, last week I was speaking on an aspect of prayer called a “Prayer Shield”. It is a very technical term, and I didn’t expect to find many books that mention it. I found a host of books, and in each one of them, the index was also viewable…which lead me to more books. I found the most valuable information in one book, and discovered I already owned it. Now I knew which page to look on. Google book search is like having the entire library searchable by text. Don’t believe me? Try any phrase of any subject you might be interested in. My kids, who are in college, got onto this service (a free one of course) during the semester and they will never go down to another library again.

If you’ve tried either of these programs, tell us what you think of them.


Maybe Not the Happiest Place for all

December 3, 2005

When I concluded teaching at a prayer seminar this week, my wife flew down to Orange County and joined me for a couple of days spent in togetherness and relaxation. Once again, Hotwire afforded us the luxury of living in Luxury for a night, giving us a $350 hotel room for under $80. The next day, we went to California Adventure Park, part of the so-called “Happiest Kingdom on Earth” to take in the rides, sights, sounds and happenings of Anaheim’s largest taxpayer.

Normally, we have gone when the place is jammed with families seeking desperately to enjoy themselves…and I emphasize the “jammed” part. I have never been there when disneyland was only half full. Usually the lines make the gasoline shortage queues look positively bearable. But, for several reasons, it was relatively uncrowded. First, it was a weekday, so most of the weekend warriors were resting up. Second, the weather was not supposed to be very good (it fooled everyone and was sunny and mild). Third, people are between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and so out-of-town travelers were noticeably absent. Fourth, and most important, we went to the side of the park where little kids have few exhibits to enjoy.

Therefore, we had most of the park to ourselves.

But, that being said, those who were there didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves. I noticed by about 2:30 p.m. that the kids who were there whined, cried and had to be consoled virtually nonstop. My wife figured this was due to their missed naps. I countered that I wanted a nap about that time, but she wouldn’t let me sit on a park bench like a wino. The adults spent most of their time in one line planning where they would go next – before even going on the ride they were in line for!

I had a classmate in college who was always studying for the next class. Therefore, he was never in any of the classes he sat in. What a waste of money and time. As I look back on that day, I realized my enjoyment came from spending the hours talking and laughing with my wife. The people we saw enjoying themselves were the ones that were using the rides and exhibits as a pretense for why they were really there: To spend time together. One cute couple had a Mickey Mouse bride-and-groom matching outfit on. One can only assume they were on their honeymoon. You could have spilled them out of the River Rafting ride and it wouldn’t have changed their mind on the value of that day.

One family (who sadly cut in front of us rudely…but they still were having fun) did it the right way. As they waited for a ride on the “California Soaring” ride, they read together the biographies and stories of planes and pilots littering the walls. Dad then said he would quiz them later and give them prizes for who came up with the most right answers. The kids spent the entire time reading, learning and interacting with mom and dad. One of the kids turned to me and asked me if I knew what the speed of sound was. I told him 598 miles/hour…I was off by almost 200 mph I found out. The boy was ecstatic to learn and to spend time with his dad, who obviously saw disneyland more as a pretense to let his family know he valued them, than as a primary means of entertainment.

Well done, Dad. I would give you 10/10 for style, but you cut in line in front of me.

%d bloggers like this: