Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Taking God's Name In Vain

When I was a kid, I was taught that it was a sin to "take God's name in vain". What did that mean? I was told that saying "God damn you" to someone was an example of taking God's name in vain.

As I got older, I thought a lot about that, and I came to understand the connection between the two things. The word "vanity" has multiple meanings, but the definition gets to the heart of the matter, in my opinion, is not necessarily the first one listed in the dictionary. One dictionary defines the word thusly: "something worthless, trivial, or pointless". Also, "lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness: the vanity of a selfish life".

We often describe people who are excessively preoccupied with physical appearance as "vain". Why? Because it's pointless and futile to spend most of one's time trying to preserve one's appearance. Sooner or later, if we live long enough, we all get ugly, no matter how attractive we once might have been. (Of course, if we don't live long enough, our physical bodies and faces get even uglier! Bodily decomposition is not pretty to behold.)

Most other definitions of "vanity" also hinge on these fundamental assumptions. For instance, a "vanity" is a dresser where people traditionally spend their time in pursuit of the goal of making themselves look good, hoping that folks won't notice that they get older and uglier by the day. One might just as easily describe a gymnasium as a vanity, because muscles eventually grow flaccid, no matter how much time one spends in physical exercise. (There's a good reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger no longer looks like Mr. Universe, and it isn't solely on account of the fact that he no longer takes steroids.)

Just as it's pointless to try to prevent the aging and dying process from occurring, it's equally pointless to try to damn someone by invoking God's name. Why? Because God has not authorized any human being to damn other human beings. It's a bit like impersonating a police officer and pretending that one has been authorized by the state to place someone under arrest, when that is not actually the case at all. Just as impersonating a police officer is a crime against the state, claiming to speak for God when one has not been authorized to do so is a sin against God. It's the same principle.

Once one understands that a principle is at stake, one begins to realize that there are numerous ways to take God's name in vain, and not all of those ways involve threats of damnation. In fact, any unauthorized invocation of God's name could be described as a vain attribution, and could therefore be legitimately characterized as a violation of the injunction against taking God's name in vain.

There's a reason why false prophets were stoned to death in the Old Testament. It is not a matter to be lightly regarded when someone claims falsely to speak in the name of God.

To make an oath by swearing "by God" or by swearing by something which is of God is to commit a similar sin. Jesus forbade the making of such oaths. In Matthew 5:33-37, it says the following:

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
In other words, if what you say is a lie, adding "I swear by God" or "thus saith the Lord" does not make it any less untruthful. In fact, it makes things much worse. It's bad enough to lie, but ten times worse to lie in the name of the Lord, because "God is not a man, that he should lie" (Numbers 23:19). Therefore, claiming that God said something when God did not in fact do so could be described as "taking God's name in vain," even if the word "damn" is never mentioned.

In 1987, Oral Roberts, a well-known TV evangelist at the time, claimed that God had told him that God would take Oral's life unless Oral's followers donated 8 million dollars to the ministry. Oral met and exceeded his fundraising goal, so there is no objective way to know for sure whether or not the claims he made about his "revelation" were legitimate, but I personally do not believe that God told him any such thing. Nevertheless, I hope for Oral's sake that I am wrong about that, because manipulating people by claiming that God has said something which God has not actually said might be deemed every bit as offensive and sinful as saying "God damn you" to someone. Of course, such a sin is forgivable (as are most sins, except for the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit), so I would not presume to make any statements with regard to Oral's eternal destiny, even if I knew for sure that he had sinned by making that claim. But my point here is simply this: When it comes to making claims about what God has or has not said to us, it is much wiser to err on the side of caution. If indeed a revelation from God is true, then adding "thus saith the Lord" will not add anything to the statement's truthfulness. That is why Jesus said that we ought to simply let our statements be judged on their own merits: "Let your 'yes' be yes, and your 'no,' 'no'."

How does one assess the legitimacy of claims which are made with regard to what God has or has not said? One excellent way to do so is to compare the contents of a person's claims about what God has said with what one already knows about the character of God, based on what the scriptures teach.

We know that God is not a liar, for example, so any claim which is demonstrably untrue would be inconsistent with the character of God. Consequently, prophesies which do not come to pass are obviously illegitimate.

There are also other aspects of God's character as well. People who have spent time getting to know God by reading God's word have a means of identifying those aspects of God's character.

For instance, God vehemently disapproves of sexual iniquity, so anyone who says, "God told me to have sex outside of marriage" has compounded the sin of adultery (or fornication) by claiming that God told him or her to commit such a sin. Likewise, God forbids idolatry, so anyone who claims that God told him or her to bow down to a graven image and worship that image is obviously lying.

The aforementioned ideas are pertinent to something which occurred to me recently. On Sunday, I attended a new church in Chicago for the first time. The folks at that church were generally nice to me, and I enjoyed the worship service for the most part. But the pastor said something from the pulpit, and it deeply disturbed me.

The aforementioned pastor stated, correctly, that God sometimes tells us things which we don't want to hear, but which we nevertheless need to hear. So far, so good. I have no problem with that idea. Jesus is not the wimp some folks seem to think that he is, and there are recorded instances in which Jesus said things which might be regarded by some folks as harsh and even "judgmental".

But then the pastor went on to cite a situation which he considered to be a good example of God saying something which he needed to hear. He said that he'd been feeling sorry for himself because he hadn't yet found a wife for himself. According to him, God told him to "man up" and get off of his "pity party". When the pastor said that, a huge red flag appeared in my mind, because I honestly do not believe that God would ever say such a thing to any person.

To say that a person who is feeling depressed about his situation needs to "man up" is to imply, incorrectly, that real men do not get depressed, or that they most certainly do not tell anyone about their depression if in fact they do get depressed. That idea might come as a great surprise to decidedly manly men such as Ernest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and others who have struggled with severe bouts of depression at various points in their lives. (I'm not arguing that the aforementioned men were perfect; but whatever problems they might have had, lack of masculinity was not one of those problems!)

If one prefers biblical examples, it should be remembered that the prophet Jeremiah was described as the "weeping prophet". It's unclear as to whether or not Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations, but whether he did so or not, it seems noteworthy that there is an entire book of the Bible which has that particular title. (A "lamentation" is an expression of sorrow or grief.) David poured out his feelings of grief in very clear language in certain portions of the Psalms. And Isaiah 53:3, which is considered by most Christians to be a description of Jesus Christ, describes him as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief".

So where's the justification for a belief that it's unmanly or ungodly for a person to experience grief and depression? To my way of thinking, such a claim is unsupported by logic and by the scriptures.

I also can't help but wonder if women are exempt from the need to "man up". Is it OK for women to feel sorry for themselves but forbidden for men to do so? If so, why the double standard? Whatever happened to the idea that in Christ, there is no male nor female, as stated in Galatians 3:28?

I would be hard pressed to think of a much more uncompassionate phrase than the phrase "pity party". It falsely implies that people enjoy being depressed. That's absurd, and it's insulting to those who suffer from depression. Most depressed people would gladly accept any legitimate solution which would relieve them of their mental anguish.

Matthew 5:1-16 says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Perhaps Jesus should have added, "unless, of course, they happen to attend a church led by a pastor who thinks that it's more appropriate to tell them to 'man up' and bury their feelings than it is to comfort them."

God is a compassionate God. There is nothing with which I am familiar, in the scriptures, which would support the idea that God disparages or condemns people who are unfortunate enough to suffer from depression. I'm inclined to think that the aforementioned pastor's concept of God was derived from too many viewings of old Clint Eastwood movies, and I'm inclined to think that his beliefs about God insofar as the issue of depression is concerned have more in common with the pagan belief known as stoicism than with Christianity. I do not believe that God ever told him what he claims that God told him, so I'm also inclined to think that he's guilty of taking the Lord's name in vain. I could be wrong, of course, but that's how I see things.

None of this is to deny that it's undesirable for people to wallow in self-pity. But there is a right way to respond to such people when they seek help, and there is a wrong way.

The right way to deal with the situation, when one is confronted with depressed people, is not to add to their feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness by telling them to "man up" and implicitly accusing them of being immature sissies. The right way is to comfort the afflicted, pointing out that Jesus also suffered, and that Jesus is there with open arms and a heart full of love for those who suffer from deprivation or from the perception of deprivation. The right way is to take one's responsibility to "bear one another's burdens" seriously. Ridiculing people is generally not a good way to bear their burdens! To implicitly ridicule hurting Christians is to abdicate one's moral responsibility to one's brothers and sisters in Christ.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Creepy Isn't Good When Playing Keyboards

I love portable digital pianos, when they're made well. My favorite digital stage piano, in terms of sonic power, keyboard "action" and its built-in amplification system, is the Yamaha CP300. One of the people who uses the CP300 is Chuck Leavell, former keyboardist for the Allman Brothers Band, who has played with the Rolling Stones for many years.

But even though it's one of the best professional digital pianos available, there's one feature which the CP300 is missing: A solution to the problem of "pedal creep". (There are other areas of improvement which I could also suggest, but I'm not focusing on those areas in this article.)

If you don't play keyboards, or if your primary experience with playing keyboards is creating monophonic leads with synthesizers such as the Moog, then you probably have no idea what I'm talking about when I say "pedal creep". So let me explain.

A real grand piano is connected to a system of three pedals (soft, sostenuto and sustain) by means of a rigid column which suspends the pedals just above the floor. The pedals are connected to upright pianos by means of the wooden piano case. Home digital pianos similarly have pedals which are attached permanently to the case, so those pedals work fairly well, too.

However, real pianos and home digital pianos are hard to transport to and from gigs (including live performances, rehearsals and professional recording sessions).

Of course, one could transport a home digital piano to gigs if one had a custom flight case for such a piano, and if one also had a van or cube van in which to haul the instrument. A home digital piano in a flight case certainly wouldn't be any bulkier than the Hammond B-3 organs many professional keyboard players used to haul around with them. But many keyboard players lack proper vehicles with which to carry such instruments to such gigs; and even if they have driving licenses, renting such vehicles can get expensive if one has to do so on a regular basis.

Another issue is that home digital pianos often lack some of the important features found on stage pianos such as the Yamaha CP300 (such as pitch and modulation wheels, for use when playing guitar sounds, sax sounds, etc.).

Both of the aforementioned reasons help to explain why digital stage pianos are used by most professional keyboardists today, if they prefer to use instruments which sound and feel as much like high quality acoustic pianos as possible, and which are also easy to amplify without worries about feedback, and which don't get knocked out of tune whenever they're moved around from place to place. I am the type of keyboard player who feels a strong need for such an instrument, especially when I'm playing solo gigs, but also when I'm playing in a band with other musicians.

A digital stage piano is usually connected to the sustain pedal by means of a flexible cord plugged into the piano. That's preferable in terms of portability, but it creates a problem during performances, regardless of whether one is sitting down or standing while playing the instrument. Specifically, it causes the problem of pedal creep.

One may start out playing a tune with the pedal in the perfect position, only to discover at some point prior to the end of the tune that the pedal has crept so far away from one's foot that one can no longer reach the pedal. In the intermediate stages of such movement, one can still reach the pedal, but not comfortably. This can be frustrating! Trying to retrieve one's increasingly distant sustain pedal with one's foot in the middle of a performance tends to greatly diminish one's ability to turn in a top notch performance. If it's a solo piece, one isn't free to take one's hands off the keyboard, bend over, and move the pedal to the proper location once again.

In addition to hindering the quality of one's performance, pedal creep can also cause physical strain on one's leg and one's torso, especially if one is standing up. At the end of such a performance, one may feel far more exhausted than one would feel when performing on a real piano.

One possible solution to pedal creep is to tape the pedal to the floor using gaffer tape (similar to duct tape, but with a low-tack adhesive which doesn't leave harmful residue when removed). But that isn't a great solution. The tape tends to come loose after a while (at which point the pedal starts to creep again, dragging the tape with it), and such tape sticks to some surfaces better than others. (It works very poorly, for example, on carpet.)

Another solution, which I tried back in the late 80's, is to build a custom pedal board which holds one's pedals in place, eliminating the possibility of creeping pedals. Mine was made by a friend who was a woodworker. It worked pretty well, especially since it was designed to hook around the legs of the keyboard stand so that the stand held the pedalboard in place. It had holes in the back rail so that the cables for the pedals could poke through and so that they could be plugged into the keyboard controller (which was a big Yamaha KX88).

The main problem with my custom pedalboard (in addition to its cost) was twofold. First, the pedalboard was big and heavy, adding to the considerable overall bulk of the equipment I already had to carry (which also included a rack mount case for my sound modules, an amplifier with its own flight case, and the keyboard stand and a stool on which to sit). Second, since it was wood (and since I had no custom case in which to carry it), it started to splinter after a while. It also had no built-in carrying handles, so it was a bit of a pain to carry it around.

A few years ago, I bought a product called a Creep No More. I saw ads for it in Keyboard magazine. It was small and portable, and the ads promised that it would cure the problem of "pedal creep". Unfortunately, it didn't work very well.

Korg, it would seem, has come up with an excellent solution (albeit an imperfect solution) for its SP-250 digital piano and its Pa588 Professional Arranger Keyboard. Click the preceding links, or read the following description, to get an idea of what I mean.

The SP-250 includes a high-quality damper pedal that is so important for proper piano performance. It provides the ultimate expressive control thanks to half-pedaling, which is a variable damping effect based on how deep you press the pedal, rather than the simple on/off switch found on cheaper instruments. The dedicated stand is both simple and stylish, and fits securely into a recessed area in the bottom of the piano providing a remarkably solid feel. The stand’s lower crossbar even prevents the pedal from “creeping” forward in performance. Best of all, the SP-250 can be easily removed from the stand for moving and taking around for live performances.

The Korg design seems to be well thought out. My only gripe with the design is that it only has one pedal, not three. (The Yamaha CP300 has 3 assignable pedal inputs in addition to the input for the Expression Pedal, so you can have a soft pedal and sostenuto pedal, not just a sustain pedal. That's essential for replicating all of the effects of playing on a real piano. Adjusting the dynamics with a "soft pedal" is NOT the same as using a volume pedal, as any pianist could tell you. As for sostenuto, that pedal is rarely used except for classical music --- but if you've got to have it, you've got to have it.)

The problem is that the Korg solution seems to work only with the two aforementioned Korg keyboards. (For one thing, the polarity of Korg's sustain pedals is different from the polarity of Yamaha's sustain pedals.) Neither one of those keyboards is my idea of the ideal digital piano, even though there's reason to believe that they both have fairly decent digital piano sounds and weighted 88-note keyboards.

I'd like for a keyboard stand manufacturer to collaborate with a company which makes keyboard pedals (such as M-Audio) in order to create and market a universal digital piano stand which emulates the general design of the Korg stand insofar as its solution to pedal creep is concerned, but the product would have three piano-style pedals plus a volume control pedal, rather than being limited to just a sustain pedal. (Versions with fewer pedals could also be sold, for people who didn't need more than one pedal.) As in the case of the universal sustain pedals currently being made by M-Audio, the piano-style pedals (for soft, sostenuto and sustain) would have switchable polarity so they'd work equally well with keyboards from all manufacturers, not just Korg keyboards.

I'm posting this blog article with the idea of sending e-mail messages to makers of keyboard products, hoping to persuade them to make a product similar to the one described above.

I'm thinking that some existing commercial keyboard stands could easily be modified with add-on products designed to connect to those stands and to keyboard pedals. For instance, the stand being sold for the Yamaha CP300 looks as if it wouldn't be hard for someone to design a crossbar which would connect to both ends of the existing stand in order to secure one or more pedals to that stand. Such a crossbar could be removed at the end of the night for ease of transport.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Appreciating The Gift of Pain

Some time ago, I read an excellent book, by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, entitled The Gift of Pain. Today I was browsing through back issues of the Chicago Tribune, and I discovered an article (12-1-2008, page 22, by Ofelia Casillas) which discussed the same issues. She mentions a website ( which is written from the perspective of people who live with such issues.

Nobody likes physical pain. Most of us would probably like to live in a world in which such pain did not exist. Such a world might indeed be ideal, if it were not for the fact that we are susceptible to injuries and illnesses which can damage our bodies in numerous ways. However, there is an easy way to see what the effects would be if we could not feel physical pain, and that's to examine the lives of the small number of people who have neurological impairments which prevent them from being able to feel such pain. That's what the book by Brand and Yancey is about. It really helps one to see such matters through a whole new perspective.

Pain is our best indicator of health problems which need to be addressed. Without pain, we tend to ignore such issues. Even though we might wish for a pain-free world, we should be glad that God designed our bodies so that they would alert us to physical problems which needed to be addressed.

Admittedly, there are times when chronic pain is caused by neurological malfunctions, just as there are times when people who ought to feel physical pain do not in fact feel such pain on account of such malfunctions. Pain isn't infallible as an indication of physical problems, but it would nevertheless be foolish to ignore pain unless one has very little choice in the matter.

Even when pain is an indication of a real problem, there is nothing wrong with attempting to relieve pain whenever possible. Once pain has served its purpose of calling our attention to matters which urgently need to be addressed, there's no point in allowing pain to linger any more than is absolutely necessary. In fact, allowing pain to linger can, in some cases, hinder effective treatment. There's a good reason for the extensive use of anesthesiology in the operating room. Part of the reason is to prevent needless suffering, and part of the reason is to help to keep the patient as still and relaxed as possible so that the surgeon can do his or her job as effectively as possible. But it isn't sufficient to relieve the pain. The surgeon must then act on the knowledge which he or she has acquired, and actually treat the injury or disease, lest he or she be guilty of professional incompetence.

It's hard not to see some metaphorical significance when examining the issue of pain, because we often experience pain which isn't necessarily physical in nature.

For example, when a person persistently brings problems to our attention, our unfortunate human tendency is to resent the messenger. We might even say that such a person is "being a real pain". That may be true. But the "pain" is not usually the primary problem. In most cases, the "pain" is simply making us aware of the problem. To hold it against the messenger that he or she is making us aware of the problem is illogical, because the problem existed before we were ever made aware of the problem. If indeed there is a problem which needs to be addressed, we should be grateful that someone cared enough to call it to our attention. The longer that problems are ignored, the worse they tend to get. (As a person who sometimes has issues with procrastination, I can attest to that fact.) The result of ignoring problems in the hope that they will magically disappear can sometimes be tragic.

This is true of any family, organization or business. But it's especially pertinent when it comes to the Church, which (interestingly enough) is also described in the Bible as the Body of Christ.

I wrote in an earlier article about what I described as "happy face churches," where people are encouraged to keep it to themselves when they experience problems. This kind of attitude is counterproductive if the goal is to create a thriving and healthy church. Ignoring problems does not make them go away, although doing so may very well drive people away from one's church.

In some Christian churches, there is a tradition of acknowledging that sins can be sins of commission or sins of omission. A sin of omission occurs when a person fails to do something positive in order to address a problem which is brought to that person's attention.

Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” is the web address for one page in which the applicability of Burke’s observation is appropriately noted.

We are not always in a position to help, but we ought to help whenever possible. And it should be remembered that the Church is collectively capable of ministering to needs which cannot be met by solitary individuals (or even by individual local churches), provided that those in charge of local churches are not indifferent to their responsibilities to their members and to members of the human community who don't necessarily happen to attend their churches.

When one goes to the hospital, the doctor encourages one to tell him (or her) where it hurts. It isn't that the doctor loves hearing that other people are in pain. It's simply that the doctor knows that an accurate diagnosis is essential if the injury or illness is to be properly treated. Clear communications are essential if the chances of complete healing are to be maximized.

People, and Christians in particular, need to be much more receptive to those who wish to openly express their pain and to communicate freely about problems which need to be addressed, whether those problems be physical, emotional, relational, financial, vocational or whatever. Only by being made aware of problems can we properly address those problems in an appropriate manner.

People employed in the ministry, including (but not limited to) pastors, have a special obligation to be sensitive to the needs of hurting people. Just as it would be foolish for people who can’t handle hearing about people’s physical ailments to go into the field of medicine, it is equally foolish for people who can’t handle hearing about people’s emotional and spiritual issues to go into the ministry. When one is a minister of the gospel, dealing with hurting people is not a distraction from one’ job — it’s a significant and necessary aspect of that job. Those who are unable or unwilling to perform that particular job function are professionally incompetent, no matter how eloquently they may preach the gospel.

If Christian leaders abdicate their moral and professional responsibility to listen to hurting people in a caring, compassionate manner, they should not be surprised when those people turn to secular counselors for help, nor should they be surprised when the humanistic beliefs which are often espoused by such counselors have an adverse effect on the moral values and spiritual commitments of people who have been abandoned or betrayed by church leaders.

We Christians must take care not to send mixed messages to hurting people. It is possible to say that our doors are open to people who are hurting, and yet to turn around and use hostile, needlessly judgmental language which — intentionally or unintentionally — sends a completely different message.

When people open themselves up and talk honestly about their fears and their painful memories, they make themselves extremely vulnerable to those who would abuse them — and make no mistake about it, neglect is a form of abuse. Telling people to “get over it” when they share painful intimacies with us is tantamount to telling them to keep their problems to themselves. It communicates the idea that we are not really interested in them or in the issues with which they may be struggling.

If we truly want to help people to transcend their problems, the best way to do so is to offer comfort comparable to the comfort which is offered by the Holy Spirit, the ultimate comforter.

Telling a person not to think about certain things has been proven to be ineffective. If I tell you, “Don’t think about pink elephants,” chances are good that you will be unable to put the idea of pink elephants out of your mind. The same principle is true with respect to painful memories. The way to heal such memories is not to command people not to think about negative things. The proper solution is to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.

In short, we need to emphasize the idea that even though people have been hurt in the past, Jesus is waiting with his arms outstretched, ready and willing to heal wounded people. We need to emphasize the idea that we will do everything in our power to love people, just as God loves us. We cannot change the painful incidents in the past, but we can do our best to make sure that such things do not happen again in the future.

Painful memories seldom if ever disappear entirely (unless people literally get amnesia), but such memories gradually recede in importance when people gain newfound confidence and optimism based on the Christ-like behavior of people with whom they interact on a regular basis.

Such healing is rarely an instant thing. Just as physical injuries and illnesses usually take time to heal, the same is true with regard to emotional and spiritual healing. Yes, there are occasional exceptions to that rule, in which healing is instantaneous, but expecting such instant healings to take place in every instance is unrealistic. Such an expectation is somewhat comparable to saying that since Peter was once able to walk on water with the help of the Holy Spirit, we should all therefore abandon the use of boats and walk on water as our normal mode of marine transportation! Many of the miracles which occurred during Bible times happened only once, never to happen again. Therefore, basing one’s entire methodology on the assumption that such miracles are guaranteed in every situation is literally unbiblical. We should always have faith that God is able to work miracles if God so chooses, but we should also be prepared to do the hard work which is necessary to bring about healing and restoration in the event that such miracles never take place in particular circumstances. If we are willing to be the instruments with whom the Holy Spirit brings healing into people’s lives, God will gladly use us in such a manner, to the mutual benefit of all concerned. When that happens, we will have fulfilled our responsibilities with regard to how we ought to respond to the reality of this sometimes-painful world in which we live.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Guv Is At It Again

Here's a link to the latest news about Illinois' governor, Rod Blagojevich. Apparently, he's been arrested for trying to sell Barack Obama's old senate position to the highest bidder. It's about time. Too bad they didn't arrest him earlier when he tried to deny pharmacists the right to act in accordance with their consciences, thereby denying them their constitutional rights insofar as freedom of religion was concerned.

There is no evidence to the effect that Barack Obama was in on Blagojevich's latest scheme. But anyone who genuinely thinks that Barack Obama hasn't been tainted by the corruption which runs rampant throughout the state of Illinois (in both political parties) is a master of self-deception, especially in light of the numerous sleazeballs with whom Obama has been associated during his brief political career.

As for the profanities with which Blagojevich's recent taped conversations were laced, we can expect a lot more of that type of thing in the Obama White House. Rahm Emanuel, for example, is known for his frequent use of such "salty" language. Word on the street is that he particularly loves using the "f word". That undoubtedly impresses the street thugs with whom he's been associated in the past, but people with more class are likely to long for a time when such behavior wasn't considered to be acceptable or professional.

Of course, that isn't to say that Democrats have a monopoly on bad behavior. Nixon, as we know, used foul language as well. And I confess that even I have used the "f word" a few times in my life --- usually when I was so furious that nothing else seemed to adequately express my anger. But I am not proud of having done so.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Global Warming, Bovine Flatulence and Related Matters

Last year, RedEye (published by the Chicago Tribune) published a cover story which reported that a major cause of "global warming" was flatulence from livestock, particularly cows. That topic has been widely covered on the web.

I just did a web search using the word "flatulence" and the phrase "global warming" and I got 112,000 results. That doesn't mean that it's true, of course, but it does suggest, at the very least, that a lot of people are talking about the issue. The fact that a reputable publication like the Chicago Tribune reported it as fact also suggests that people who believe in the aforementioned theory are not limited to members of the "lunatic fringe".

Here's a link to a rather humorous commentary which I happened to find when I randomly clicked on one of the links I got when I searched on the aforementioned terms. I thought that the part about the possibility of a "flatulence vaccine" which might theoretically cause massive bovine starvation was particularly thought provoking.

What if the use of the proposed "flatulence vaccine" results in the starvation of numerous cows (by making it impossible for them to digest their food properly), thereby killing them in a manner which (unlike normal animal husbandry) does not result in the creation of meat which is fit for human consumption? What if this results in a significant decrease in the amount of available protein with which to feed human beings? Will not the starvation of numerous human beings as a result of the decrease in available meat cause every bit as much human suffering as that which might theoretically be caused by global warming itself? Could the cure, in this case, be worse than the disease?

What if the vaccine doesn't work? Should we deliberately kill the cows ourselves and have a giant meat-a-thon in order to insure that the excess meat does not go to waste and that the cows have not died in vain? That would certainly be enjoyable for meat lovers, and it might also make sense from the standpoint of reducing the amount of gas caused by eating the beans with which vegans often compensate for the lack of animal protein in their diets, if such vegans could be induced to change their dietary habits. But that's highly unlikely. It's more likely that such a strategy would outrage the vegans, even though they make up a substantial portion of the liberals for whom belief in global warming is irrefutable dogma. So it seems to me that such liberals are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they are really serious about eliminating the global warming which ostensibly grieves them so, then the logical course of action is to encourage the killing and subsequent consumption of the sources of bovine flatulence --- but of course, they can't do that, because their opposition to the eating of meat is often motivated by the (ludicrous) belief that killing a cow for the purpose of eating it is as immoral as killing a human being. More immoral, in fact, when you consider that many of these same liberals endorse the killing of human beings, when those human beings happen to be unborn children (and, in some cases, newborn infants who have survived their parents' attempts to abort them).

I've always wondered what vegans think would happen to domestic cows, pigs and chickens if people all converted to the vegan lifestyle overnight. Do they honestly think that farmers would continue to feed their livestock, shelter such animals from the weather in their barns and chicken coops, and furnish those animals with excellent and expensive veterinary care? Where's the economic incentive for people to do such things, if they cannot eventually get a reasonable return on their investment by killing the animals and selling the meat and poultry to people who want to eat such food? As far as I can see, there is none. Farmers don't provide care to their animals for noble, altruistic reasons. They do it because they can turn a profit, and because there is a market for meat.

If indeed farmers ceased to provide care for their cows and pigs and chickens, what alternatives would such animals have? Well, we could theoretically release them into the wild, where it is highly likely that most of them would perish (as a result of predation, starvation or disease), on account of the fact that they are poorly adapted for the purpose of fending for themselves.

That's assuming, of course, that we could do so without causing serious environmental damage in the process. Maybe there are people who can honestly picture a world in which feral cows and pigs and chickens compete with wild animals such as moose and caribou and bears for the available space in wildlife sanctuaries such as Yellowstone Park, but I personally think that a person would have to be an idiot to see that as a viable option. Most likely, the wild predators living in such parks would feast on domestic farm animals until they were fully sated, and then most of the rest of the farm animals would slowly die from starvation and disease.

Admittedly, feral horses survived the experience of being released into the wild, and in fact, became the legendary "mustangs" of the west. But anyone who's ever observed a cow standing in the field, content to chew its cud and moo moronically all day long knows that there is a huge gap between cows and horses in terms of intelligence and independence. And while there may be those who insist that pigs are very "intelligent" creatures, I can't help but ask, "Intelligent in comparison with what?"

Besides, it's a well-known fact that hog farming causes harmful pollutants to run off into nearby streams and other water sources. Relocating those animals to places such as Yellowstone wouldn't eliminate that problem. Rather, it would merely insure the slow environmental destruction of our few remaining wilderness areas.

As for the mustangs, it should be pointed out that the total number of mustang horses now living is but a small fraction of the number of domestic animals currently receiving care from American farmers with a vested interest in the upkeep of such animals. (One website I just visited states that there are currently 7 billion livestock animals in the United States!) Yet, the Wikipedia listing for mustang horses states that the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) "considers 27,000 individuals a manageable number, but the feral Mustang population currently exceeds 33,000." If indeed those excess 6,000 mustangs are considered to be unmanageable, imagine the effects of turning 7 billion livestock animals loose in the wilderness! To say that this would cause chaos and unimaginable environmental damage would be an understatement.

There aren't enough zoos in the world to care for more than a tiny fraction of the domestic cows, pigs and chickens now living. So that isn't really a viable option, either, at least not in terms of preventing a huge reduction in the number of living domestic farm animals. It could prevent those species from becoming extinct altogether, but that's all.

Another option in such a scenario would be to simply kill (i.e., "euthenize") all farm animals, in a manner which would be incredibly wasteful since their meat would not be eaten. It's difficult to see why killing animals in such a manner would be any more "moral" than killing them for the purpose of eating them.

But perhaps I've overlooked one viable option. Perhaps vegans would propose that we simply refuse to allow animals to copulate and reproduce (or that we impose birth control measures on them in some manner), so that it would be possible to reduce or eliminate such animals over a relatively short period of time without the necessity of killing them. This would have the added benefit of eliminating the sources of flatulence from livestock, thereby eliminating their contribution to global warming.

While we're at it, we could also forcibly sterilize all of our wildlife, since wild animals fart, too.

And why stop at animals? People fart, too, especially if they limit themselves to vegetable sources of protein such as beans. It doesn't seem to bother most liberals that countries such as China employ forced sterilization for the purposes of keeping the birth rate down, so forced sterilization of human beings would be one additional way to substantially reduce the "greenhouse gases" caused by flatulence. Never mind that the "choices" which liberals claim to value so much would be severely curtailed. After all, eliminating greenhouse gas takes precedence over human liberty, right?

My point is that liberals tend to think with their emotions, not with their brains. They tend to argue against certain ingrained practices without giving much serious thought to the ramifications of their arguments.

Perhaps the biggest cause of unnecessary environmental gas is the gas liberals emit every time they open their mouths to speak. Such people would do well to worry much less about an alleged problem which, at worst, is only a potential threat to human lives --- namely, global warming --- and to worry far more about eliminating practices, such as legal abortion, which currently take millions of innocent human lives every year, day in and day out.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Be A Burden Bearer

What is the "law of Christ"? Do you know the answer?

Galatians 6:2 says the following:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
This is not a suggestion or a negotiable option, my fellow Christians. If we fail to bear one another's burdens, we fail to obey the law of Christ. Breaking the law of Christ is a very serious matter, notwithstanding the fact that we are saved by grace and not by the law. Doing so might be aptly described as a sin of omission.

How will people know that we are Christ's disciples? Because they see us going to church regularly? No. Because we preach or confess orthodox doctrines? No. Because we give a lot of money to the church? No.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Love for one another is the mark of the true Christian disciple. Loving one another is not an option. It is a "new commandment" from Christ himself.

Bearing one another's burdens and loving one another in the biblical sense are synonymous. If you read I Corinthians 13, you'll see that "love," as defined in the Bible, is an action verb. It is not mere sentiment or emotion. Jesus doesn't just say that we should love one another. Jesus says that we should love one another as he has loved us. How does Jesus love us? With unconditional, self-sacrificial love which is willing, if necessary, to pay the ultimate price. Admittedly, that's a lot for Christ to ask of us. But it isn't a request. It's a command!

When I was a young Christian, I sometimes heard other Christians say things like, "I've really got a burden for (so and so)". Often, that burden would find expression in the form of frequent prayers for the person who was the object of the burden. (It wasn't always a burden for a specific person, of course. For example, it might be a burden for a particular nation in need of missionaries; or it might be a burden for a particular class of people, such as alcoholics or handicapped people or abused children.)

When Christians make such statements, it's usually a way of saying that they feel an intense moral obligation to bear the burdens of other people, just as the scriptures command. But Christians can also be burdened by their own problems, and they often are. When that's the case, it's incumbent on other Christians to help bear their burdens.

Sometimes praying for someone is really all that one can do, if one lacks the means with which to address a problem in any other way. But prayer alone is insufficient if one also has the means with which to partially or completely alleviate another Christian's burden. Prayer and action are not mutually exclusive.

Many needs go unmet in the Body of Christ, not because the means with which to meet those needs don't exist, but because of the selfishness of immature Christians who don't understand that they have moral responsibilities to one another.

In some cases, needs may also go unmet because such Christians are part of churches which place more value on external appearances than on internal realities. In such "happy face" churches, there is very little authenticity, and very little freedom to share one's burdens with others. In such churches, people who complain about their troubles and ask for help may be labeled as "whiners" instead of being treated with compassion. It's virtually impossible to bear another person's burdens if that person is inhibited by social expectations from telling other Christians about those burdens. Regarding other people's burdens, one has to be aware in order to bear.

What individual Christians can't always do on their own, they can often do collectively by combining their resources. That is one of the main justifications for the existence of "organized religion," as it has sometimes been called. Tragically, however, the institutional church often fails to use its resources in order to address real needs among the brethren. Instead, many church leaders seem more interested in building their own little kingdoms, at the expense of other Christians.

Unfortunately, there isn't much one can do directly in order to change that sorry state of affairs, other than to pray for such leaders and to boldly speak the truth to them regarding their responsibilities and their failure to take those responsibilities seriously. Beyond that, we must leave such things in the hands of the Lord.

However, even if we never succeed in our efforts to persuade church leaders to take their moral responsibilities seriously, we can also do something more; and indeed, we remain responsible for doing so.

We can take every opportunity to communicate directly with other Christians whenever we wish to make it known that we are willing to help others who need help.

We can also create options for Christians who find themselves in need of a means of bypassing the hierarchical barriers and negative church environments which have often prevented believers from communicating their needs directly with other believers, so that genuine ministry can take place whenever and wherever it's needed. We need not be licensed or ordained ministers in order to do such things. In fact, there are cases in which people who are not clergy are actually better qualified than the clergy to meet such needs.

To quote a saying which was popular in the sixties when I was growing up, "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem." I don't know about you, but I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I want to be a doer of the Word, not just a hearer of the Word.

For a long time, I've had some specific ideas about how to do just that, with respect to the needs which often go unmet in the Church. It occurred to me long ago that the real issue pertains to difficulties in communicating our needs with one another. The informal networks which often form at local churches are better than nothing in that regard, but there are times when such networks fall woefully short of meeting needs in particular situations. This is particularly true in very small and/or very poor churches where there are very few resources available to the congregations, but even the largest and most prosperous local churches have their limits.

What is needed, it seems to me, is a means of communicating directly with large numbers of fellow believers, in a timely and rapid manner, without having to filter such communications through local church leaders or to meet with their approval. In the interest of maximizing the probability of success, such a method of communication must transcend the boundaries of individual churches, geographical areas and church denominations. By definition, that requires the creation and sustenance of a "parachurch" ministry.

You would correctly think that it was a dysfunctional family if you visited your neighbors and discovered that brothers and sisters living within that household had to ask permission from their parents every time they wished to speak with one another. It is equally dysfunctional when such ecclesiastical red tape hinders communications within the church, which is also known as "the family of God".

Some pastors would argue that there is nothing stopping individual Christians from speaking with each other on a one-on-one basis, and they would usually be correct. But speaking with people one-on-one can be a very, very time-consuming and inefficient method of communication, particularly in cases where one's own circle of intimate friends is very limited. So such communication simply isn't adequate for every situation.

My proposed solution is the creation of a newsletter, to be published and distributed inexpensively online, to be known as Body Power News.

As the title suggests, Body Power News (BPN) would consist, in part, of news from churches and from individual members of the Body of Christ, regardless of their denomination or local church or geographical location.

The objective would be to empower the Body of Christ; hence, the "power" part of the name of the publication. BPN would naturally be beneficial to all local churches and the leaders of such churches, because it would enable them to regularly publicize the activities at their local churches in a manner which would be accessible to other Christians throughout a given city, region, state or nation.

But Body Power News would also feature classified ads, supported by the donations of those who felt blessed by the numerous benefits offered by BPN, which would enable a diverse array of individual Christians to publicize a wide variety of needs and opportunities for ministry. (Properly understood, every need is an opportunity for ministry!)

What kind of needs could be met by means of ads and articles published by Body Power News? Any needs whatsoever, provided that they could be justified within the framework of a Christian worldview. People would be free to run the same types of ads they might run in secular classified ad publications or on classified ad websites such as CraigsList, for example. If they had items they wished to sell or buy, they would be free to use BPN for that purpose.

But that would not be the primary justification for the existence of Body Power News. Unlike CraigsList or the classified ad sections in city newspapers, BPN would offer opportunities to publicize needs or opportunities in a manner which would maximize the chances of success by focusing on readers who professed to know and love Jesus Christ.

Christians specifically looking for Christian roommates, for example, could certainly publicize such needs via CraigsList or local newspapers, but they would have a much better chance of reaching the specific types of people they wished to reach if they could also run such ads in a Christian publication specifically optimized for the purpose of reaching members of the Body of Christ.

Christians seeking employment or volunteer opportunities in fields pertaining to ministry would find Body Power News to be indispensible. The same could be said for companies and organizations seeking ministry-oriented employees and volunteers.

Christians seeking to share rides with other Christians (to concerts in distant cities, for instance) could publicize their needs for such rides via Body Power News.

In these days of extremely high gas prices, many people seek to form car pools in order to reduce the expenses of traveling to and from work, and also in order to reduce the pollution from their automobiles. Wouldn't it be great to form car pools in which one's fellow travelers were all Christian believers, so that one could productively use such unavoidable travel times for the purpose of fellowship based on common values, instead of wasting time on idle talk about trivia? Body Power News would make it a lot easier to organize such car pools.

Christian musicians seeking to form bands and musical ensembles could advertise for other Christian musicians with whom to collaborate; and they would not be limited to the musicians they met at their own local churches. Christian musicians could also publicize upcoming concerts and new CD releases and more, using BPN. They could buy, sell and trade music instruments and other necessary equipment using their BPN ads. They could publicize the need for space for rehearsals and for individual practice sessions, using those same ads.

Christians wishing to form parachurch ministries of various types (such as Christian coffeehouses, homeless shelters and much more) could publicize their vision for such ministries via ads in Body Power News.

Christian bloggers could invite other people to visit their blogs and become part of ongoing conversations facilitated by those blogs, using ads in BPN.

Christians could organize Bible studies, prayer meetings, picnics and many other types of events, using BPN, in a manner which would reach all of the Christians (whether those Christians attended their own churches or not) within close physical proximity of their homes or places of business.

Christian parents seeking baby sitters could run ads for such sitters in Body Power News, if they sought to maximize the chances that their children would be cared for by people who shared their moral values.

Christian landlords could seek new tenants via ads in Body Power News, thereby minimizing the likelihood that the people who rented apartments or business properties from them would lead lifestyles which could be injurious to their properties or reputations.

Christian singles wishing to meet other compatible Christian singles could run personal ads in Body Power News, knowing that the vast majority of the people viewing their ads would be fellow believers. Christian singles' ministries could likewise publicize their activities in a manner which could attract people from throughout the city or region, rather than being limited to the people they could reach by placing ads in the church bulletin.

Christians in need of emergency housing or legal help or financial assistance could publicize urgent or desperate needs in a manner which would reach the maximum number of fellow believers in a timely manner. Likewise, church leaders who were made aware of such needs could run ads on behalf of such people as one means of obtaining the resources with which to meet the needs of the members of their congregations more effectively. (If necessary, they could do so without embarrassing the people in need of help, by omitting the names of those people.)

Display ads could also be offered, for a modest charge, to people wishing to publicize their businesses, organizations and ministries in a manner which would specifically reach members of the Body of Christ.

These are just a few of the many options which would be available to the readers of Body Power News. I invite you to use your imagination in order to come up with your own ideas about how YOU could use Body Power News!

In the past, the cost of creating such a publication in printed form and then distributing the publication throughout a given region would have been very high. But thanks to the power of the Internet, that cost is now extremely small.

Body Power News could be distributed in the form of PDF documents which would be regularly updated and uploaded to a website, where the documents could be downloaded and printed for free. The primary costs associated with creating such a publication would be the administrative costs associated with paying someone to create the publication, publicize the existence of the publication, solicit news stories from local churches, input and edit the ads and articles, convert the publication to PDF format, upload it to the website, and so forth.

I have all the skills which would be needed in order to perform those duties. In addition, I have a real passion for the project, because I understand just how badly it is needed.

In addition to the PDF publication, I also envision a parallel option which would consist of an online community bulletin board or forum, so that late breaking news and situations could be addressed immediately rather than having to wait until the next edition of the PDF publication. Such a community could be created with content management software such as Joomla or Drupal, or with bulletin board software such as phpBB. I have minimal experience with such open source software, but I do have web design experience and skills, and I've been told that all of the aforementioned solutions are fairly user-friendly, relying at least in part on easily available templates. (Even so, it couldn't hurt to get some volunteer help from someone who already has experience with such solutions.)

My hope is that I can raise the funds which I would need for the purpose of obtaining the necessary office space, computer equipment and other resources which would be needed in order to turn this vision into a reality. In addition, I really believe that I could perform such tasks most effectively if I performed the numerous tasks associated with such a project as a paid staff person, rather than trying to squeeze such work into my free time while working for another company or while looking for employment. So raising money for my financial support would be crucial to the success of the project.

Body Power News is only a small part of my vision, which also encompasses all aspects of the Christian Arts Initiative, which I will describe in more detail in the near future. Meanwhile, I would suggest that you visit my website,, in order to get a better idea of how my passion for the arts fits into my overall vision.

If anything you've read in this blog post appeals to you, feel free to contact me via e-mail. My e-mail addresses are: mwp1212[AT] or mark_w_pettigrew[AT]

I look forward to hearing from you.