Saturday, June 30, 2007

When Your Boss Is A Sleazeball

When walking into a job interview, it's pretty unlikely that your prospective new boss will tell you that he or she is a dishonest and unethical person. It is even more unlikely that the boss will tell you that you will be expected to be equally sleazy if you expect to keep your job. It's only after you take the job that you are likely to find such things out. Then such a boss may try to corrupt your soul as well. If you cannot be successfully tempted, you are likely to be fired.

Example: I once worked for a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Harvard University. The name of the company was "Tech Hi-Fi". They sold very expensive stereo equipment.

Whether or not it was worth that kind of money is highly debatable. We did sell name brand equipment from companies such as Klipsch, which (at the time) made speaker cabinets the size of small elephants. I remember that those speakers were very loud, but also very shrill sounding. Fortunately, their products have improved over the years.

I thought, when I was hired, that I was going to be a sales person there. Naively, I thought that some training would be provided, and I also thought that we would be furnished with literature with which to acquaint ourselves with the basic selling points and features of the various pieces of equipment which we had in stock so that we would know what to recommend in particular situations. After all, a mismatch between a power amp and a pair of speakers (in terms of wattage and other characteristics such as output impedance) can create big problems, such as heavy distortion or blown speakers. I was no expert, but I knew enough just from reading Stereo Review to know that that was the case. If we weren't told how to put together a compatible system which would please the customer for many years, how could we conscientiously and competently do our jobs?

However, when I asked for such information, I was blatantly ignored, or told that I didn't need to know such things in order to be a good sales person. Their idea of "training" me was to tell me to watch the sales people who had been there longer than I. So I watched and learned. I learned things I wished I had never learned. Among other things, I learned that the customers who provided the business with its bread and butter were held in derision by some of the sales people.

One day, one of the managers started bragging and laughing (when no customer was there to hear it) about an incident in which he'd sold a turntable to a customer. (This was back in the days before CDs ever came onto the market.) Knowing that carbon fiber tonearms were highly prized, he told the customer that a particular turntable had such a tonearm. In fact, the tonearm was not made from carbon fiber. It was just aluminum which had been painted black. This guy knew that that was the case. He was obviously proud that he'd deceived a customer in order to make a sale.

I criticized him for his lack of professional ethics. I told him that I would not be willing to knowingly lie to customers. In response, he ridiculed me for my alleged "naivete", and he implied that one of the requirements of my new job was to follow in his footsteps in that regard.

Part of the reason for my unwillingness to lie to customers was that I was a Christian who took morality seriously. My Bible said that one should treat others as one wished to be treated. I was just silly enough to believe it. But it wasn't just a matter of religious conviction. It was also a matter of common business sense.

How do you suppose that customer felt when he got home, accidentally scratched the tonearm, and discovered that the tonearm was actually aluminum painted black? I know how I'd feel. I'd be very angry at the sales person who had lied to me for the sake of a sale. Not only would I resolve never to buy anything there again, but I would very likely tell friends about the experience whenever the subject of audio equipment came up. I would demand a refund, and I might even contemplate suing the business in small claims court if I didn't get satisfaction.

In the long run, if enough people were treated in such a shady way, it would be sure to harm their business. But I soon realized something about my professional "mentor" at that store. He didn't care about the long run. He was there to make a quick buck and then skedaddle before anyone in the outside world got wise to his tricks.

There was just one little problem. I was that little problem. Once that manager saw that he couldn't intimidate me into approving of his tactics, he saw me as a threat. So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by what happened not long after that.

I was called into one of the back sales rooms and told that they were "letting me go". I wanted to know why. I was never given any concrete answer to that question. Instead, I was told that I "just wasn't working out". It left me feeling mystified for a little while, until I started replaying past incidents in my mind and realized that there was a connection between my unwillingness to lie for the sake of a sale and their unwillingness to keep me on the payroll.

There's a principle of reciprocity, in this life or in the next. What goes around comes around, even if it sometimes takes a while for such justice to be made manifest.

It's possible that the guy who lied about the turntable made a few extra sales as a result of his dishonesty, but I wouldn't want to be in his shoes on Judgment Day, unless he repents.

As Jesus asked: "What profits a man if he gains the entire world but loses his own soul?"

I discovered, only a few months after being fired, that the store had gone out of business. There's a lesson in there somewhere, I think.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Even Christians Get The Blues

If I were a perfect Christian, I would always be upbeat and positive. I would always be confident in the Lord's protection and provision. I would never become fearful, worried or distressed. But I am not a perfect Christian.

Some days are better than others. Sometimes I am able to enjoy the day in a relatively carefree manner. But when funds start to run low and I don't know where my next paycheck is coming from, I start to think about just how close I am to the possibility of a disaster which will leave me homeless and living in the street or in a homeless shelter.

On past occasions, my depression has become so severe that I have contemplated suicide. I've also experienced physical symptoms, in recent years, which I know are direct results of the depression. Shortness of breath, an excessively fast heartbeat, tingling in my extremities (such as my fingertips) and other similar symptoms have accompanied some of my episodes of depression.

It's possible, of course, that those symptoms have been tied to the hypertension I discussed in an earlier blog post. But it's also possible that at least some of the hypertension is directly attributable to the depression. Stress is listed as one of the causes of hypertension, and an unemployed person who is running out of time and money is generally under a lot of stress.

Nevertheless, the Lord has taken me through those times of depression, and I'm still alive and kicking. Well, alive at any rate. I don't do a whole lot of kicking.

Considering the fact that I've been unemployed for the bulk of 2007, I have done fairly well in comparison with similar experiences in the more distant past. But I've still had moments of anguish, despair and fear during the past year, and even in the past few days.

When I experience such moments, I find that the best way to find relief is to fight back. I have to actively speak positive thoughts which are full of faith in Christ, even though those thoughts may not reflect the way I am really feeling at the moment.

Sometimes, I remind myself of various scriptures which encourage me. At other times, I sing a little song to myself. It goes like this:

God is gonna' take care of me,
even though how is hard to see.
Faithful to him, I have got to be,
for God will take care of me.

In the middle of the darkest night,
I have got to put up a fight,
resist the Devil with all my might,
for I'm walking by faith and not by sight.

Is it a magical formula which instantly makes all of my worries disappear? No. But it does seem to help a lot.

Sola Scriptura versus Calvin Johansson

Many years ago, my family attended Kingsway United Methodist Church in Springfield, Missouri. At the time, the choir director there was a man named Calvin Johansson. He subsequently went on to become a professor in the music department at Evangel University, which is run by the Assemblies of God church.

On virtually every occasion that I can remember, my interactions with Calvin were pleasant. He was always nice to me and the rest of my family. I have no personal animosity whatsoever towards the man.

Nevertheless, it pains me to see that he continues to undermine the work which God is doing in the lives of people who believe, as I do, that popular music styles are compatible with deep Christian devotion and heartfelt worship of the Creator.

What makes the whole thing particularly ironic is that I seem to recall that Calvin was involved at one time in the music program at Evangel Temple Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri.

For those who aren't familiar with "ET", it was once the unofficial church for the "Jesus freaks" who spent a great deal of their free time at the New Wine Coffeehouse in Springfield during the early seventies. More than any other church in Springfield, Evangel Temple was the church where one was most likely to meet young believers in Christ who enjoyed listening to Christian rock music. I like to think that the pastor of Evangel Temple, David Rees-Thomas, was the Chuck Smith of the Ozarks. Not only did he look a bit like Chuck (with a similarly bald head), but his open embrace of people who dressed like hippies was similar as well.

(For those who don't know, Chuck Smith was the pastor of Calvary Chapel, which was probably the most prominent and successful church during the years known as the Jesus Movement. Chuck visited Evangel Temple once, when I was attending that church, and he delivered a very potent message pertaining to the power of love.)

I still remember feeling particularly blessed when Larry Norman visited Evangel Temple and performed in the remodeled barn where they met for worship services, prior to building the sanctuary which they now occupy. In fact, "ET" was my primary church throughout most of my high school years. That was a direct result of having been introduced to the church by a shaggy-haired "Jesus freak" named David Thomas, who was one of my closest friends even though he was quite a few years older than I was.

I also recall that Evangel University hosted concerts by some of the earliest contemporary Christian musicians, such as Chuck Girard (for whom I was the opening act at Evangel in 1977) and Andrae Crouch & The Disciples. Andrae really rocked the house when he performed at Evangel! It was one of the best Christian concerts I'd ever attended. I also remember attending an excellent concert at Evangel, back in the 80's, featuring DC Talk and DeGarmo and Key. Come to think of it, Evangel is also where I heard Christian rock musician Randy Matthews in concert.

The idea that one of Evangel University's primary music professors has chosen to spend so much of his time attacking a style of music which has often been featured in various events sponsored by his own university just doesn't compute for me.

From the very first, the use of rock music in the church was controversial. Some Christians claimed that such music was "of the devil". A lot of very hostile words were written by those who opposed rock music in all of its manifestations. Interestingly, very few of the Christian rock musicians who were attacked by their brothers and sisters in Christ responded in kind. In terms of the fruits of the Spirit, my observation was that the people who believed that rock music was morally neutral were far more Christ-like in their behavior than the ones who sought to discredit their music.

I read the anti-rock arguments and the claims about various things such as "backward masking", and I have to be honest: I thought that most of those arguments were irrational and scripturally unsound.

Don't misunderstand me. I would be the first to admit that Satan has frequently used rock music throughout the years. But then again, Satan has also used books on many occasions throughout the years in order to promote evil doctrines, beliefs and practices. Does that mean that books are inherently evil? Of course not. Marshall McLuhan notwithstanding, the medium is not the message. Whether one is talking about books or a particular musical style or the cinema (which many Christians have also opposed), the medium is precisely that: A conduit which can be molded to serve many different purposes, depending on the user's intent.

Yes, each medium has its own unique qualities, but most of those qualities are flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of worldviews and agendas, for good or evil.

Winkey Pratney, Pastor Rees-Thomas's brother-in-law, once came to Evangel Temple. I got into a discussion with Winkey, and it turned out that he was adamantly against rock music at that time. He said it was "angry sounding" music, and therefore, it couldn't possibly be godly.

I admired Winkey's devotion to the Lord, but I thought (and still think) that the argument was lame, for several reasons.

First, rock music doesn't all sound alike. Some rock music does indeed sound angry to some people, but even in such cases, it could be argued that what sounds "angry" to one person might sound "jubilant and victorious" to another.

Second, anyone who has ever bothered to listen to rock music knows that it spans a wide variety of emotions. The Beatles song "Yesterday" does not by any stretch of the imagination sound "angry". (Sad, yes. But not angry.) Nor does "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues or "Dust In The Wind" by Kansas. I could go on and on in order to demonstrate that such a characterization was ridiculously simplistic.

Third, anger is sometimes an appropriate emotion for a Christian. In fact, I would argue that any person who does not get angry when reading for the first time about a great injustice such as slavery or the Holocaust or legalized abortion is a person whose conscience has been anaesthetized or severely damaged. The Bible tells us to "be angry and sin not". Jesus was angry when he saw what the moneychangers had done to the Temple. So it's simply false to imply that anger is an inherently ungodly emotion. It's the context of the anger which determines whether or not it's an ungodly emotion. It's the lyrics (and the life of the singer) which give context to a song.

There may well be cases in which rock music is used inappropriately, but even then, it doesn't follow that rock music itself is evil.

Interestingly, I've read some things about Winkey Pratney, in recent years, to suggest that he wasn't completely rigid insofar as his opposition to rock music is concerned. Among other things, Winkie was close friends with Keith Green, who was considered by most people to have been a rock musician, notwithstanding one recent article (in Rolling Stone) in which an unbeliever derisively and ignorantly described Green as a "country musician".

If Calvin Johansson dislikes rock music, that's his prerogative. Every person has aesthetic preferences and aesthetic dislikes. People are entitled to their preferences and dislikes. What disturbs me is when people take their own subjective personal opinions and equate those opinions with the Word of God, in a manner which strongly implies that those who disagree with them are guilty of rebellion against the Lord.

Taking the Lord's name in vain is not something to be taken lightly. When a person says, "Thus saith the Lord," that person had better be extremely confident that he or she is actually speaking the words of the Lord. In my opinion, the test of whether or not a prophecy is legitimate is whether or not the alleged prophecy has a solid scriptural foundation.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of hip hop music. It's partly because of the fact that so much secular hip hop music glorifies moral values which are antithetical to Christianity, but it's also because I just find the music to be so incredibly dull.

Sure, hip hop sometimes has an energetic beat, but the beat is usually the result of digital looping, not the result of a real drummer playing rhythms which derive at least some of their interest from the small variations which make music interesting. Moreover, the lack of anything even remotely interesting or creative in terms of melodies or chord progressions makes me want to tell the creators of such recordings that there's more to good music than rhythm.

It has nothing to do with race. I am a huge fan of jazz, which to me is the exact opposite of hip hop, inasmuch as jazz (particularly bebop) features sophisticated melodies (and melodic improvisations) and complex chord progressions. In other words, jazz usually offers something challenging and meaty for a person's mind to grab hold of.

But just because hip hop isn't my personal cup of tea, does that entitle me to say that hip hop is unfit for use within a Christian context? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding "no"! There are quite a few Christian hip hop groups and artists. Some may be better than others musically, and some may be better than others when it comes to lyrics and lifestyles which are consistent with the Christian faith, but that could be said of Christian musicians playing in virtually any style of music.

I think that we Christians get into real trouble when we begin to equate our own subjective opinions with God's eternal truths. A lot of so-called "fundamentalists" seem to be incapable of sticking to the fundamentals. Instead, they want to make up new rules as they go along, even though those rules can't be found anywhere in the scriptures.

"Thou shalt not dance", for example, is a scripture I cannot recall reading anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the scriptures which do refer to dancing invariably do so in such a way as to suggest that the Lord sees dancing as a good thing! Yet, for many fundamentalists, dancing is absolutely forbidden. That makes no sense at all to me.

Yes, there is a way to dance which is extremely carnal, to the point that I have difficulty understanding how any Christian could participate in such dancing. But it is not dance itself that is evil! Any good thing can be perverted and distorted in such a way as to dishonor God.

It's been almost four decades since Larry Norman recorded "Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?". Isn't it time for Christians to stop sniping at each other about "issues" that ultimately don't amount to a hill of beans? The world outside the church looks at us and laughs, sometimes for good reason. Let's focus on winning the lost to Christ, and not on promoting our divisive little pet theories which have little or no foundation in the scriptures.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Life Under Pressure

When it comes to health, I have been relatively blessed. Some folks struggle with diseases and medical conditions which are deadly, or so deblillitating as to make a normal life almost impossible. Up to this point, my primary medical problems have pertained to dental health, and to occasional incidents or episodes (such as the time when I broke my leg on my 12th birthday while roller skating, or the time when I got pneumonia and a kidney infection when I was in the 11th grade in high school).

By "incidents" or "episodes", I don't mean to suggest that there was no pain involved. My broken leg was excruciatingly painful. Ditto for some of the dental problems I've experienced.

I also had a recurring problem (for four or five years, at least) with bursitis in my right hand, following an episode in high school when I broke that hand doing something stupid. At one point, I thought that the bursitis would be a problem for the rest of my life, but it eventually disappeared. I was extremely grateful for that fact, since it had hindered my piano playing and typing in a major way.

The pneumonia wasn't exactly painful, just incredibly uncomfortable, in terms of the extreme chills which I experienced in spite of the fact that it was a warm spring afternoon.

Eventually, whether it took weeks or months or years, most of my previous serious medical problems healed or cleared up to the point that life got back to normal. I still remember the salt pills they gave to me in order to cause me to sweat enough to cause the fever to break.

I find myself thinking about my medical history today, because I just had an experience on Thursday which shook me up a bit. I had gotten an appointment at the Illinois Eye Institute in order to have my eyes examined. My father was an optometrist, so he did all of my eye exams when I was young. But that's no longer an option, since he died in 1999.

I don't recall that Dad ever tested my blood pressure during any of his optometric exams. But things have changed in the optometric profession. Apparently, many optometrists now test blood pressure, because it's part of the procedure which enables them to detect eye diseases such as glaucoma. So they tested my blood pressure on Thursday. My score was 190/130. The manner in which the optometrist and his assistant responded to that information made me think that it was a very serious matter indeed. In fact, I had to sign a release acknowledging that the optometrist had recommended that I see a doctor immediately, and that I'd declined the opportunity to do so (mainly because of my financial situation).

I went out and looked for a book about hypertension, at the downtown bookstore which sells books to DePaul University students. I found a book entitled High Blood Pressure for Dummies. What I learned, from that book and other information sources, made me aware that I was going to have to start taking medication on a regular basis. I also realized that I was going to have to be more conscientious about limiting my consumption of things such as coffee, salt and other things which can increase one's blood pressure. And I'd need to try to get more exercise, even though I've never been extremely overweight.

(Drinking and smoking were not an issue, since I don't do those things anyway.)

Unlike a broken leg or a case of pneumonia, I get the impression that hypertension is something people often need to treat for the rest of their lives. At some point in the near future, I'll probably need to buy a blood pressure monitor and take regular readings. A good blood pressure monitor (the kind that automatically inflates and stores histories of one's readings) is about $100 or so.

I have a lot of items on my agenda, and having to spend part of my time focusing on treating and minimizing my hypertension is not my idea of fun. Having to limit my salt doesn't thrill me, either, because I almost never put salt on my food anyway. (About the only exception would be boiled eggs. And Mrs. Dash makes an excellent substitute for salt, I have found.) Most of the salt in my diet is coming from the fact that I eat out a lot at fast food places, which typically oversalt their food.

I've never understood that. Why can't they just put salt and pepper shakers on the table, and let their individual customers decide whether or not they want salt on their food? It would certainly increase their business to do so, since there are probably a lot of people who currently avoid eating there precisely because they don't want to aggravate their hypertension.

McDonald's is particularly bad about that. They put more salt on their fries than I would normally choose to use, even if hypertension wasn't an issue. I've never asked them if it was possible for them to serve unsalted fries, but I think I'm going to look into the matter now.

Knowledge of the fact that hypertension can put a person at increased risk for heart attacks and strokes is particularly sobering for me, since I know that my maternal grandfather had hypertension, and he died of a stroke (which followed a heart attack) at age 65. That's just 14 years older than I am now. When you're 14 years old, 14 years sounds like a long time. Not so when you're almost 51 years old, as I am.

But even though dying young could hinder my attempts to accomplish certain things in life, it's equally frightening (if not more so) to contemplate the degenerative diseases, such as glaucoma, which can be caused by hypertension. As a photographer and artist, I need my eyesight. For that matter, even those activities which don't pertain directly to visual art require the ability to see well. Musicians need to be able to see the computer screen, for example, in order to use programs such as Sonar or Finale. While it's true that musicians such as Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles have managed to play music in spite of their blindness, it's nevertheless true that blindness would be a real hindrance to almost any activity in which I wanted to be engaged. So I can't afford to take the matter lightly.

I'd appreciate your prayers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

When Church Becomes A Real Circus

When it comes to clowns, the Church has had its share. (Jim Bakker and his former wife Tammy Faye Messner come to mind, particularly when I think of all the makeup for which Tammy Faye was infamous.) So I guess it should come as no surprise that some churches should seek to attract attention by imitating other aspects of circus performance.

On Sunday night, during the service at City Church here in Chicago, Pastor Kent Munsey made a short presentation pertaining to the fact that it was Father's Day. Then he mentioned that his father, Steve Munsey, had joined us in order to present the Father's Day message. Kent said something to the effect that we might smell the odor of lion and bear. I didn't smell anything particularly odd, so I thought maybe it was some kind of inside joke pertaining to his dad. Then I noticed the two large cages on the state, covered with sheets. The cage on the far side of the stage wasn't entirely covered, however. Looking more attentively, I saw that one of the cages contained a small black bear, which was pacing back and forth. I couldn't see anything inside the other cage, but I assumed (based on the size of the bear) that they must have a very young lion inside the second cage.

When he took the stage to deliver the message, Steve Munsey began to talk about King David, and about how David had persuaded King Saul that he was able to defeat Goliath when none of the other Israeli soldiers were willing to fight the Philistine giant. Previously, as a shepherd, David had fearlessly protected the flock from a bear and a lion. So he was ready to take on Goliath. Saul was persuaded, and we all know the rest of the story.

Considering his youth, Kent Munsey is a fairly confident preacher. But this was the first time I'd ever heard his father speak. To say that Steve Munsey is a dynamic preacher is an understatement. He could aptly be described as a blend between a preacher and an entertainer. He likes to use dramatic presentations in order to drive home the points of his sermons. Some would say that that's a bad thing. Others would say that in a world where the Church is often dismissed as irrelevant and boring, a little bit of risk taking is needed in order to shake people up and make the message of the Bible more accessible to people.

During a suitable point in his presentation, Steve pulled back the sheet in order to reveal the small black bear inside. Later, he did the same thing for the lion cage. I was surprised to see that the lion was full grown. He was physically magnificent, with a full mane which was well groomed.

It was clear that the lion had spent a lot of time in front of human audiences. He was silent throughout most of the presentation, even though the Praise Team played its usual rock music. The only time that the lion got visibly upset was when a couple of actors dramatized the confrontation between young David and Goliath. The dwarf playing the part of David approached the "slain" Goliath, fake sword raised high, in order to pretend to cut off Goliath's head. When he got close to the lion's cage, the lion apparently (and not surprisingly) saw the upraised sword as a threat. He lunged for the dwarf. We were all glad that the bars of the cage stood between the two of them! Otherwise, I shudder to think what the newspaper headlines might have said. ("Lion Mauls Dwarf In Chicago Church Service", probably.)

When I was young, my maternal grandparents lived in St. Louis. It was almost unheard of for our family to visit St. Louis without taking at least one trip to the city's excellent zoo. Consequently, I'd seen quite a few lions in my life

During one of our visits to the zoo, my mother and brother and I were all standing just outside one of the lion's cages. Suddenly, my mother cried out in a startled tone of voice. One of the big cats had relieved itself, shooting a potent stream of urine right into my mother's face!

On Sunday night, I couldn't help but be reminded of that earlier incident. Nevertheless, despite my awareness of what could potentially happen to anyone standing near a lion cage, I went up to the stage after the service ended in order to get a closer look at the lion. He was very beautiful.

Later on, I was walking down the stairs towards the stage when my foot somehow got wedged between one of the seats and the floor, sending me sprawling in a most undignified manner. In addition to the embarrassment caused to me by the incident, my leg got severely bruised, and hurt for a couple of days. It's still a little bit sore. But it could have been much worse. The lion could have gotten loose and turned me into cat food.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Doubletalk and Civil Rights

Is right or wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of race? It used to be that most people would answer that question with a simple yes or no. The racists said yes. Civil rights leaders and those who were inspired by such leaders said no.

These days, however, it seems that a lot of people can't give a simple yes or no answer to that question. Their answer: It depends. On what? On the race or ethnic identity of the person who is the object of the discrimination, of course.

Most people continue to argue that it's wrong to practice racial discrimination if the person who is harmed by such discrimination is black. Strangely, however, a lot of those very same people seem to believe that it's perfectly permissible to practice racial discrimination if such discrimination benefits black people and hurts white people. In other words, the ends justify the means. According to such a worldview, there is no such thing as objective right and wrong.

The justification for such unprincipled doubletalk is usually that it is necessary to temporarily suspend principles in order to remedy problems caused by past acts of discrimination. The trouble with that utilitarian view of ethics and morality is that it undermines the idea that racial discrimination is inherently wrong. In the name of civil rights, there are those who would attack the philosophical foundation which made the civil rights movement possible and credible in the first place.

And it isn't just about black and white anymore. It's gotten to the point that some people believe that all racial and ethnic minorities are entitled to special treatment, regardless of whether or not there is any history of discrimination against them in the United States.

Affirmative action which amounts to discrimination in favor of black people might be (and is) unprincipled, but at least there is some type of tenuous connection between affirmative action programs for black people and very real injustices suffered by such people in the past. Not so with some of the other groups which are now claiming that they, too, are entitled to benefits which would be awarded to them in a discriminatory fashion, solely on the basis of the fact that they belong to minority groups.

For example, consider an article which recently appeared in the 6/14/2007 issue of New City (a free newspaper which is distributed in Chicago). The article is entitled "Baghdad On The Lake". On the surface, the article appears to promise a balanced look at how the many Iraqis living in Chicago are coping with the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, the article doesn't live up to that promise. In my opinion, the writer disproportionately represents of the views of those Iraqis who oppose the war in Iraq, with only a passing nod to other Iraqis who do not. But that isn't the part of the article which I find to be the most disturbing.

The following paragraph, which deals with the subject of discrimination, sounds like something straight out of George Orwell's book 1984:
Hanania notes that discrimination also affects Iraqi-Americans' economic standing on a more official level. Since the city government does not consider Arabs or Assyrians a "minority," they are not eligible for many support programs, grants and services. If they are struggling financially, their only option for public assistance is to enter the general welfare program.
In other words, their only option is to be treated the same way that economically disadvantaged white people are treated! Evidently, that constitutes a tragedy in Ms. Schenwar's opinion. According to her, failure to discriminate in favor of Arabs and Assyrians (by making them eligible for race-based "programs, grants and services") constitutes discrimination against them. I don't understand the logic of that argument. Saying that failure or refusal to discriminate constitutes discrimination sounds a lot like saying that day is night and night is day.

Thanks to political liberals in the United States, we now live in a world in which virtually all minority groups in this country think that they are entitled to special treatment, no matter what injustices may or may not have been perpetrated against them as individuals by the United States government or by the citizens of this country.

Discrimination against white men, on the other hand, is considered by some people to be the very essence of justice. Never mind that the particular white men who are discriminated against in the name of justice may not have done anything whatsoever to harm people belonging to other racial or ethnic or social groups. It's all about group identity these days. White men always wear black hats, according to liberals who can't seem to grasp the idea that white men are not all alike.

Either racial and ethnic discrimination is wrong, or it's not. You can't rationally have it both ways. You can't rationally say that it's OK to discriminate in favor of black folks or Iraqis or members of almost any other racial or ethnic group, and then turn around and say that it's intrinsically wrong to discriminate in favor of white folks. If you do make such a claim, you forfeit moral credibility. The reason that racial discrimination is wrong is that it is based on presumptuous and often false assumptions about the people who are put at a disadvantage as a result of such discrimination. Individuals, regardless of skin color or ethnic background, deserve to be treated as individuals, not as undifferentiated members of particular demographic groups.

Early civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King claimed that all they wanted was equal treatment and a fair chance in life. I believed them, and that is why I supported their agenda and their goals in spite of the fact that I was a white male. I believed that they were principled people, not unprincipled people who were acting primarily out of self interest.

Not so with their alleged heirs. Somehow, things gradually got turned around until America came to a point where many people could say with a straight face that it was discriminatory to refuse to discriminate. How bizarre!

People forfeit credibility when they fail to practice what they preach. When people forfeit credibility, they forfeit the right to expect respect from others. It's not about color. It's about character. Isn't that the very essence of Martin Luther King's dream?

It's time to take a stand against all social programs which show preferences for members of certain racial or ethnic groups at the expense of members of other groups. Only by practicing our principles with consistency can we hope to eventually escape from the divisive and harmful effects of our nation's sordid history.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Fraudulent Transactions and CraigsList

It's a shame that we live in a fallen world in which sin seems to taint every good thing we do.

Take CraigsList, for example. Unless you live in one of the few areas of the country where the company charges people for advertising, CraigsList is a great way to get your message out for little or no cost.

The company itself probably isn't to blame for the fact that its economic model makes it an appealing hangout for scammers. But the scammers are there nevertheless.

Some of the scammers are advertisers. But what seems to be more common is people who scan the ads run by CraigsList in order to locate potential victims for various scams, almost all of which involve money in some way.

Earlier, I discovered that placing an ad in the CraigsList Personal section made me vulnerable to a person (or group of people) claiming to be a young Russian woman named Valentina. Initially, the letters I got seemed to be fairly plausible. The broken English even added to the charm of those letters, to some extent. But it also caused me to let down my guard It probably prevented me from recognizing immediately that there was something very fishy about the whole thing.

Fortunately, by the time the scammer was ready to make a play for my money, I'd already become sufficiently suspicious (and sufficiently knowledgeable) that I was completely unwilling to surrender any money to that person. Not that I'd have had much money to surrender, even if I had wanted and chosen to do so. Nevertheless, it was annoying to have spent all of that time engaging in e-mail correspondence and online research, only to learn that initial appearances had been deceiving.

Just this week, I ran another type of ad on CraigsList. I was looking for people who might be interested in paying me to teach them how to create pen & ink portraits similar to the ones I knew how to create.

I received a reply from someone claiming to want to pay me to teach his son how to create such portraits. Based on preliminary discussions, it seemed possible that I could make more than $400 by teaching that person's son during the month of July. That sounded good. But there were aspects of the initial letters which raised a red flag in my mind. Then I received a new message from that person. Suspicions mutated into certainties with regard to the illegitimate nature of what was being offered to me.

It's a shame. I could have used the money from that teaching gig. But I'm not going to stop running the aforementioned ad. It is possible to make money via CraigsList, provided that one remains cautious and vigilant at all times.

An Amazing Life

On April 10, I got a phone call from Ken Wales, the Executive Producer of the movie "Amazing Grace". He called in response to a message I left for him at Walden Media, which had been involved in "Amazing Grace," as well as the earlier movie "The Chronicles of Narnia". I'd called Walden Media in order to obtain contact information for Mr. Wales, because I wanted to tell him about my vision for a Christian arts ministry. I figured that if I was going to get the project off the ground, it would be extremely helpful to receive support from people who had proven themselves in terms of their artistic abilities and their use of those abilities in ways which lifted up the name of Christ.

In April, Ken spent about half an hour on the phone with me, discussing our mutual faith and telling me about the work he was doing on various film projects, including a sequel to "Chariots of Fire", as well as a movie based on the C.S. Lewis book "The Great Divorce". During our first phone conversation, Ken was kind enough to allow me to spend time talking about my vision for the Christian Artists' Resource Center.

Earlier, I had learned that Ken would be one of the guest speakers at the annual conference scheduled by Christians In Theatre Arts (CITA) to take place in June at the Moody Bible Institute, just down the street from where I lived. I was therefore hoping that our phone conversation would lay the groundwork for a personal meeting between me and Ken when he came to Chicago.

Yesterday, I walked over to Moody, knowing that their conference had begun on Wednesday, and hoping that I would be able to meet Ken, as well as some of the key figures in CITA, such as Dale Savidge and Melanie David. (Dale is the Executive Director of CITA. Melanie, who is the Western regional director for CITA, had corresponded with me earlier, after I sent her a copy of my Easter poem entitled "The Tomb". She had been very encouraging to me when I discussed my vision for a Christian arts ministry.)

I learned with pleasure that Ken was scheduled to speak in Moody's Alumni Auditorium last night, during a meeting which began at 7:30 p.m. So I headed over there at around 7:00 p.m., and waited for people to begin arriving at the auditorium. I wasn't sure whether or not I'd be allowed to attend the evening event, because technically, I hadn't enrolled in the conference, due to uncertainty regarding whether or not my schedule and my very limited budget would keep me from attending the conference.

Melanie David seems to have been otherwise occupied last night, because I never made a connection with her there. I'd been hoping to speak with her, on account of the kind things she said to me when we corresponded by e-mail earlier in the year.

Fortunately, I was able to speak with Dale Savidge shortly before the event. After I told him about my correspondence with Melanie David and my phone conversation with Ken Wales, he allowed me to attend the event in spite of the fact that I hadn't paid to attend the event. That was a blessing.

Shortly before the evening's presentations began, I saw Ken Wales sitting in the audience. I walked up to him and introduced myself. I was pleased to see that he remembered his earlier conversation with me. He said he'd visited, and he'd liked what he saw on my web site. He gave me his business card.

The evening began with prayer, not just in general terms, but also in relation to a couple of individuals who meant a lot to the members of the group. One of those people was Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham's wife. Ruth who died yesterday at the age of 87. People at the CITA conference expressed their love for Ruth, and they rejoiced in the knowledge that she had gone at long last to be with the Lord.

The evening's entertainment began with a one-man play by a man named Alan Atwood. The play was entitled "The Heart of God". It was essentially a retelling of the Old Testament, culminating in God's decision to come to earth in the form of a man in order to save all of mankind. Atwood played a variety of parts, including God, Satan, Abraham, Moses and others. Alan's portrayal of God was neither stereotypical nor bland. His God was a passionate God, deeply in love with his creation, and deeply hurt and disappointed when Adam and Eve brought sin into the world. Atwood's portrayal of Satan showed someone who was incredibly angry at God, contemptuous of God's ways, and determined to do anything he could do to hurt God, even if it meant destroying God's creation in the process.

Atwood's portrayal of Abraham was serious, portraying Abraham as a man whose faith in God was so deep that he was willing to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, even though his words and his body language demonstrated that every fiber of his being feared that God would actually require him to go through with the sacrifice.

Things took a decidedly lighter turn when it came time to portray Moses. Moses, the Bible tells us, had a speech impediment which made him wonder why God would choose him as the liberator of Israel. Most dramatic portrayals of Moses minimize that aspect of the story. Not so with "The Heart of God". Atwood donned a Mexican hat made of straw, and portrayed Moses in a manner which he accurately described as "a Mexican version of Daffy duck", with a pronounced and heavily accented lisp which left everyone rolling in the isles, figuratively speaking. There were many other memorable characters as well, such as a drunken Israelite who had to try to explain to Moses why they'd fashioned a golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain talking to God.

Later in the play, equally memorable characters helped to portray the continual battle between good and evil which often caused Israel to abandon God and turn to idol worship. In Atwood's tale, the Devil often delighted in rubbing this in God's face, thinking that it proved that he was right and God was wrong. But God ultimately surprised Satan by choosing to come to earth in order to die on the cross and redeem all of mankind.

Overall, it was a very innovative and inspiring performance which used the full gamut of human emotions in order to make the Bible seem more real to the audience.

Atwood's performance was followed by a very interesting two-person performance consisting of interpretive dance which seemed to focus on the striving for inner peace which ultimately finds fulfillment when people seek God in prayer and learn to find rest in God. I forget the names of the performers offhand, but the performance itself was memorable, albeit somewhat ambiguous in its meaning during certain moments. Part of the ambiguity came from the fact that God was portrayed as (or by) a woman. The fact that she was in fact portraying God was never stated up front. It was solely on account of her continually loving and gentle responses to the man in the performance that it was clear that she was in fact portraying God. (Clear to me, at any rate.)

Then Ken Wales took the stage, and he began to talk about his work throughout the years. We learned a number of very interesting things about Ken, such as the fact that his Christian values were shaped by his father, a Christian pastor who had studied at Yale University, prior to the time when things took a decidedly liberal and anti-Christian turn at Yale.

Ken told us that after his family had moved from Indiana to California, he'd been mentored by giants in the movie and television industry, such as Walt Disney. Ken told about spending an intense week being mentored by Walt Disney himself, who wanted Ken's perspective in order to be able to more accurately portray life from the viewpoint of a teenager. For a week, Ken and Walt shared meals together three times a day. At the end of that week, Walt Disney took Ken on a trip to Disneyland, which was clearly a big thrill for Ken. Ken told us that after that excursion to Disneyland was over, Disney pulled out his personal checkbook and wrote a check to Ken for $5,000. That money later paid for Ken's education in the film department at USC.

Apparently, Walt Disney was happy with the results of his investment, because information which I found online says that Ken Wales later worked as the Vice President of Production at Disney Pictures. USC, where Ken currently serves as an adjunct professor, was apparently pleased as well.

One piece of advice Disney gave to Ken was that a good story always involved some element of danger or jeopardy. Disney observed that many of those who attempted to imitate Disney's movies failed to understand the importance of that element, and consequently, their work felt two-dimensional and false. Disney pointed out that Bambi's mother had to die in the movie "Bambi" so that the audience would be emotionally pulled into the story. Ken commented that one of the problems with a lot of Christian movies is that they presented overly simplistic visions of reality, in which conflicts were minimized and happy endings were a foregone conclusion.

Ken later talked about his work on some of the "Pink Panther" movies, as the assistant director for Blake Edwards. He told us the story of how his quick thinking during a particularly stressful day on one of Blake Edwards' movie sets had opened up the doors for their professional relationship, which lasted for many years. (Apparently, the microphones with which the director was supposed to communicate with the people in the helicopters were not working, on account of the corrosive effects of the moist sea air. Ken improvised by removing the microphones from a couple of nearby pay phones and attaching them to the radios so that communication could be restored. He attributed his quick thinking, in part, to the values imparted to him by his father.)

Ken showed some very funny film clips from the Peter Sellers movie "The Party". Later, he played film clips from "Amazing Grace". The quality of the projected image was considerably lower than the quality of the movie when I saw it in the movie theatre, inasmuch as it was occasionally too dark to make out the figures on the screen, but I was familiar enough with the movie that that didn't bother me a great deal. I was more interested in Ken's comments about the movie.

It became apparent that Ken really enjoyed talking about his work, particularly in the context of an audience consisting of committed Christians who were involved in the dramatic arts themselves on a variety of levels. He talked about how he derived a great deal of pleasure from the process of mentoring others.

After his presentation, Ken remained close to the stage, speaking with people who wanted to ask him questions. We were told by the security officer at Moody that we needed to vacate the auditorium by a certain time, but Ken wasn't finished. He knew that many people there had longed to ask him questions pertaining to his work. Several people suggested that they move the discussion to an all-night restaurant, but since I lived only a few blocks away, I was pretty familiar with the neighborhood. It was already pretty late --- around 10:40, as I recall. If it had been earlier, I would have suggested going to the Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstore nearby, since they both had nice coffee bars. Instead, I told them that the only place I knew of where they were open 24 hours was the "rock & roll McDonalds" located across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe. That probably would have been fine for some, but others apparently didn't like the idea of going to McDonalds. In any event, Ken eventually decided that there was no need to go to a restaurant in order to continue the discussion, since the weather was very pleasant. There was a very nice large courtyard on the Moody campus, complete with several outdoor picnic tables where we could all sit while asking questions. Ultimately, it was a better location than any restaurant would have been. It's unlikely that Ken would have felt as free to talk in a restaurant setting.

During that outdoor session (during which I sat immediately to Ken's right), we learned additional interesting facts. Ken discussed his work on the TV series "Christy" (based on the Katherine Marshall book) in great detail.

We learned about the work Ken had done as an actor in various movies. He told a memorable story about how Earnest Borgnine had once saved Ken's life during a shoot. It seems that they were doing an underwater scene, and Ken forgot to take a breath of air prior to removing his regulator from his mouth. In order to enhance the drama, the actor immediately behind Ken was supposed to look as if he was trying to push Ken's character to a position of safety, but in fact, he was holding him back in order to prolong the scene, not realizing that Ken was struggling for air. Earnest Borgnine saw what was really happening, and he pulled Ken to safety. Ken said that his mind briefly envisioned the possibility of dying in front of the movie camera. I commented that Ken had, in effect, been saved from drowning by McHale! (Borgnine played the lead character in the TV comedy "McHale's Navy".) Later, I realized that an even more apt comparison would have been related to the fact that Earnest Borgnine also starred in the original version of "The Poseidon Adventure".

Another interesting tidbit: We learned that the movie "Rebel Without A Cause" was filmed at the high school Ken attended, and that the locker used by James Dean in the movie was in fact Ken's locker in real life! Apparently, James and Ken got into a little skirmish in relation to that fact. (I wasn't clear on all of the details when Ken told the story.)

Ken talked about numerous other famous names with whom he had been associated over the years. If I'd had an audio recorder, I could undoubtedly recall them all.

Ken shared a lot of insider information regarding the way that the film industry operates, and he discussed the fact that people with Christian faith are often outsiders insofar as that industry is concerned. He discussed various factors which had played a role in bringing that situation about.

Ken shared a lot of information about the filming of the Billy Graham movie "The Prodigal". He talked about how they had consciously tried to avoid creating the typical syrupy Christian movie when making "The Prodigal", which portrayed a very dysfunctional family to which many people could relate.

Ken talked about how he tried to hide the fact that he was working on that film from people in the offices of MGM because most of them were unbelievers (primarily Jewish), and he was worried that they would ostracize him if they knew that he was using their facilities in order to work on a Billy Graham movie. Instead, many of them were incredibly moved when they saw the movie, and they offered him a very lucrative distribution deal which would have been extremely advantageous in terms of contributing to the success of the movie. He presented their offer to Billy Graham, but Billy eventually turned the deal down (even though he understood its potential significance) because some of the people within Graham's organization feared that they might lose their own jobs if the deal was accepted. Ken had tried to persuade Billy Graham that that was a mischaracterization of the MGM deal, and that no one's jobs needed to be jeopardized by the deal. In fact, he said, the deal would have made money for Graham's film division, helping to insure job security for those within Billy Graham's organization. It made Ken sad when he considered the impact which the film might have made if those people had been less fearful and more faithful. The film still did very well (second only to "The Hiding Place" in terms of Billy Graham films), but it could have done much better if the MGM deal had gone through, because it would have been seen in far more theatres, and it would have received much better publicity than it received.

Ken says he's hoping that "The Prodigal" will soon become available on DVD so that it can reach a new generation of people who have never seen that movie.

Ken also answered general questions related to the marginal influence of Christians and Christianity on the film industry. In his opinion, things were pretty good up until the end of the fifties, but then various cracks began to appear in the unity which had once been enjoyed by the Christian churches throughout the United States. Values which had bound American Christians together began to be questioned and disputed. Movies which previously would have been considered unthinkable were made and released. As a result, the more fundamentalist elements of the Christian church began to suggest that it was inherently ungodly to go to the movies.

The unfortunate effect was that the voices of conservative Christians ceased to have much of an influence on the types of movies which were made in Hollywood. There was no longer an economic incentive to make movies which portrayed Christians and Christian values in positive ways, so the film industry increasingly catered to those who were opposed to Christianity.

We are still living with the effects of those changes today. Thankfully, there are exceptional men and women, such as Ken Wales, who are determined to make films which impart Christian beliefs and values, without doing so in a manner which inadvertently drives people away from the Church.

By the time our session in the Moody courtyard was over, it was somewhere around 1:30 in the morning. I could tell that Ken was getting very tired. He threw out a few subtle suggestions to that effect. Yet, he continued to be gracious with those of us who still had a few lingering questions.

I then left Moody in order to go to McDonalds and get a little bite to eat, prior to hitting the sack at about 2:00 this morning. I awoke just a little bit before 10 a.m. Chances are good that Ken had already been up for hours, since he had various things scheduled for him on the following morning, including a class he was teaching to those who were attending the conference. I couldn't help but admire his dedication and his unselfish desire to impart his knowledge, experience and ideas to the next generation of Christian filmmakers and theatre people.

Ken talked a good deal about what he looked for when looking for a story worth telling. I would suggest that his own life story constitutes such a story. The Lord has used him, and continues to use him, in order to bring light into spiritually dark places.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Beauty of Godly Submission

Back in 2006, I got involved (for a while) in a blog site separate from this one. It was hosted by a Christian blog hosting company, and I met a lot of fellow Christians as a result of some of the articles I wrote there. Eventually, I decided to pull the plug on my blog there, for reasons too complex to discuss in this article. But I met some good people during that time. One of them was a guy from California, named Mike Myers.

Not long ago, Mike got married, for the second time. I don't generally approve of divorce or remarriage, because I believe that God wants us to be faithful to the people we married the first time. But sometimes it isn't completely up to us. If we were unfortunate enough to marry people who later decided that they didn't want to follow or obey the Lord, we certainly can't force those people to do the right thing and stay faithful to us, no matter how much we might wish that we could do so. I've never spoken with Mike's ex-wife, so it's possible that she would give me a different story from the one I've heard from Mike, but I get the impression that the divorce broke Mike's heart. In fact, he calls his blog site "A Man In Healing", which I believe is a direct reference to that fact.

When Mike remarried, it was one of the best moments of his life, judging by what he wrote about the subject. I was very happy for him. And I was blessed when I saw the photos of the wedding ceremony, because it was not an ordinary wedding. Oh, sure, there were the traditional wedding clothes and vows. But there was also a ceremony which is rarely seen, in weddings or otherwise. There was a foot washing ceremony, in which Mike washed his new bride's feet.

Ooh, ick, you might think. Toe jam and wedding cake might seem like a poor combination. But if you think that, it's because you aren't familiar with what it meant for Mike to publicly wash Lauri's feet. It was a symbol of his willingness to serve her for the rest of his life.

The text which accompanies the picture of the foot washing portion of Mike's wedding to Lauri says the following:

As a symbol of servant leadership, Mike would now like to wash Lauri’s feet. In the ancient world, the task of washing feet was usually delegated to slaves since it was such a menial task. There were no paved roads back then, and since most people wore sandals, their feet got pretty dirty.

Jesus washed His disciple’s feet at Passover the night before He was crucified. He did this to teach His disciples that those who choose to follow Him must be the servants of all. Though Jesus is the Lord of all, He came to serve, not be served.

Mike has been given the responsibility of leading his family. But it will not be the kind of dictator leadership we often find in this world. No, his leadership is to be the kind that serves those he leads. A good leader lays down his life for those he is entrusted with. And Mike is choosing to lay down his life and serve Lauri from this day on.
St. Paul has sometimes been painted as a misogynist, on account of his teachings concerning the role of women in the Church and in the family. But that amounts to slander, based on a misconstruction of the meaning of Paul's teachings.

Paul taught that the wife was supposed to submit to her husband. That teaching is to a modern feminist what a red flag is to a bull during a Mexican bullfight. But Paul said elsewhere that the husband and wife were to submit to one another. It should be clear that mutual submission was what Paul had in mind.

In a mutually submissive relationship, neither party dominates the other. In such a relationship, both parties treat the needs and desires of their partners as equal to or superior to their own needs and desires. In short, they willingly choose not to live self-centered lives.

If modern feminists have misconstrued St. Paul's intentions, they are not solely to blame. Some men have deliberately twisted Paul's meaning in order to justify their own abusive ways. It is hardly surprising that some women would revolt against that type of thing. But it's sad, too, because their lack of understanding regarding the Christian attitude towards women has caused them to see Christianity as an oppressive system of belief, when the reality is that Christ laid the groundwork for a society in which people of both genders could be treated as equals.

Jesus treated all women with kindness and decency, in a day and a society in which women were traditionally regarded as inferior. The disciples and apostles learned from his example. St. Paul wrote that in Christ, there was neither male nor female, but rather, all were one in Christ. Yes, there were certain roles that were assigned on the basis of gender, but those roles were not based on the assumption that one gender was inferior to the other. Rather, they were a temporary accommodation to the cultural prejudices of the time, one which was necessary in order to insure the spread of Christianity.

The concept of "servant leadership" is applicable to many areas of life, not just to marriage. Some bosses and political leaders think that they are entitled to walk roughshod over the feelings of others. Ironically, in doing so, they demonstrate their own insecurities, and they disqualify themselves for true leadership.

All of us will be held accountable by God for the ways in which we have lived our lives. No one is exempt from the Golden Rule, which is that we ought to treat others as we would wish to be treated. Instead of turning marriage or the workplace or the political arena into a battleground in which each person fights to get his or her own way, we need to learn to serve one another in humility, just as Christ did, even though he had no obligation whatsoever to do so.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

When Forgiveness Is Morally Reprehensible

Imagine that you've just been the victim of a horrendous crime. Perhaps you were raped. Perhaps you were carjacked, and the carjacker drove off with your child in the back seat, and you never saw your child again. Perhaps you were sitting in the classroom when a crazed gunman came into the room and opened fire, wounding you and killing many of your fellow classmates. Tragically, these are just a few of the real life scenarios some people have faced.

Now let's say that the police or the prosecuting attorneys come to you and ask you to talk about your experiences in detail, in the hope of catching and punishing the perpetrator. Or perhaps apprehension and conviction is no longer an issue, thanks to the fact that the perpetrator ended up killing himself. Nevertheless, the authorities are going to need for you to go over the event in painstaking detail, in order to help them to prevent similar events in the future.

If you have ever been traumatized by such an event, chances are good that you would just like to forget the whole thing and pretend that it never happened. You would much prefer that life could return to normalcy. But whether you like it or not, that is not an option. What's done has been done. Your assistance is vital in order to insure justice and in order to prevent other innocent people from being victimized.

But what about forgiveness? Didn't Jesus teach us all to forgive? Yes, he did. But there are people in this world who have drawn overly simplistic conclusions from that fact. They have concluded that being a forgiving person means staying silent in the face of evil. They have defined forgiveness in such a way that it makes it impossible to hold wrongdoers accountable for their despicable acts.

The trouble with that is that people who have committed crimes against others, or who have sinned against others, are seldom likely to stop after having committed such crimes or sins just once. Their acts are indicative of a lack of moral character on their part. If they are not held accountable for their past crimes and sins, they are very likely to commit more acts of a similar nature in the future.

To neglect one's responsibilities to the community by failing to hold wrongdoers responsible for their acts is to aid and abet such wrongdoers, and to share in their guilt to some extent.

There is no question about the fact that forgiveness is important in the life of every Christian believer. If it were not for God's willingness to forgive, our prospects for the future would be dim indeed. Jesus made it plain that God's willingness to forgive us imposed certain responsibilities on us as well. He made it clear that we could not expect God's forgiveness of our own sins if we were not willing to forgive others.

But I do not believe that Jesus meant that we ought to try to sweep all offenses under the rug and pretend that they never happened. I do not believe that he meant that wrongdoers should not be held accountable. Actions have consequences in this life, or at least, they ought to. Sometimes there is a fine line between justice and vengeance, but the line does exist.

It's morally reprehensible to define forgiveness in such a simplistic way that it prevents people from taking the steps which are necessary in order to prevent people from being harmed or sinned against in the future.

We sometimes make mistakes when attempting to hold people accountable. Some people are wrongfully accused, wrongfully arrested, wrongfully convicted and wrongfully punished. That is regrettable, and we ought to do everything in our power to prevent such occurrences. But the fact that such injustices sometimes occur in the name of justice ought not to be used as an excuse for abandoning the entire enterprise and allowing criminals and sinners to get by with harming other people.

There are differences between sins which are also crimes, and sins which remain immune to prosecution from the law because they pertain to things which ought not to be regulated by the state. But the basic principles discussed in this article are equally applicable to both categories of wrongdoing. It ought to be clear, from a thorough reading of scriptures, that there are remedies within the church for acts of wrongdoing which do not technically violate any manmade laws. Lying, for instance, is only punishable by law in extreme circumstances (such as perjury). But lying is a sin, regardless of whether or not it is punishable by law. Just because a particular sin is exempt from legal prosecution does not mean that it is not harmful to others.

The Church loses credibility when it uses forgiveness as an excuse for turning a blind eye to sins which harm others. We Christians have a moral responsibility to care for hurting people. We cannot claim with any credibility to care for hurting people if we neglect our responsibility to hold people accountable when they sin against one another.