Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Power of Seven

I posted most of this on my We the Purple blog, but I deleted the political stuff and added some new information below. Honest.

Anyway, just seven letters—that's all it took for the office of one member of Congress to sit up and pay attention to an issue of concern among constituents. Seven people took the time to write a letter—not an email—and an aide to the Congressman remembered them.

That's truly amazing. Annie Gill-Bloyer, who is the faith outreach organizer for the ONE Campaign, met with the aide to discuss the goals of ONE and the non-profit she works for, Bread for the World. The aide recalled having received a "number" of letters about the ONE effort ("the campaign to make poverty history"). When Annie asked how many exactly, the aide replied, "," in a manner that suggested this was a significant amount. Annie was stunned; that's all it took to get noticed? Seven letters?

Annie's experience reflects the ever-shifting realities of our 21st century existence. I'll bet good money that one handwritten letter is remembered long after those useless Internet petitions have evaporated into cyberspace. (Is there anyone left who actually believes that an Internet petition does any good—or is even opened? They're not worth, um, the paper they're printed on.) Letters—especially those that are handwritten and not printed out or photocopied—have got to be such a rarity these days that it makes sense that they'd get noticed.

In her presentations, Annie shows a video about an anti-poverty program that I hadn't heard of before. WORTH is designed to empower poor women in developing nations to work their way out of poverty through "literacy training, group savings, micro-enterprise development, and entrepreneurship." The effort has proven to be remarkably successful in the parts of Asia and Africa where it's been introduced.

I love to hear about programs that genuinely change lives. Part of the program's genius, in my opinion, lies in the group effort; assemble a team of highly motivated women, and they'll be in it for the long haul.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Jesus Campiness

When Jesus Camp released to theaters, I happened to be in Colorado Springs, of all places—the evangelical mecca. The scuttlebutt among the non-evangelicals I was hanging out with at the time was their surprise that it was actually being shown in the Springs, which was then home to Ted Haggard*, and their horror at how the kids in the movie were being indoctrinated in the faith. I pretty much shrugged it off at the time; I hadn't seen the movie, but I figured it was just so much charismatic campiness, and anyone who wasn't evangelical, charismatic, or Pentecostal wouldn't get it anyway.

But then I saw it. An hour ago. On my very own television. And it both sickened and disturbed me no end.

First, a disclaimer. (Why do I so often have to start with these bloody disclaimers? Why is it that people love to tear apart whatever you write?) I believe with everything in me that children of any age can be deeply touched by God. I believe they can have a faith experience that would put many adults to shame. And I believe that many parents and youth leaders truly believe they are doing what God wants them to do with regard to teaching and training children in the faith.

But I was sickened by the way the children in the movie talked—they sounded as if they were simply repeating, in much-too-adult terms, what their parents and pastors said. Their vocabulary and speech patterns didn't sound authentic, even for precocious home-schooled kids (I know how adult they can sound; I had two of my own). The emotional and patriotic manipulation turned my stomach.

I was disturbed, though, for an even more unsettling reason: I used to be one of those parents and youth leaders. Okay, so maybe I wasn't quite that bad, but I came awfully close. The parents in the movie talk about how their kids are different; their kids are sold out to Jesus; they would grow up to be world changers, a generation that will change the world for Jesus. Well, we said the same thing about the kids in our churches 10, 15, 20 years ago. They were on fire for God—and today, their photos are plastered all over MySpace, showing them in various stages of undress accompanied by bitter blog posts about the nightmare their childhood was.

As I watched Jesus Camp, I thought of the many young adults I know who were once destined for greatness, who showed promise for future ministry, who were prophesied over and "sealed" for a mighty work for God. And I can't help but think that if we had talked less and lived more authentically, those kids wouldn't feel so betrayed.

To parents and youth pastors of Jesus Campers: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." Which, by the way, St. Francis never said. And to which I would add, be sure you know what the gospel is—and what it isn't—and be sure the words you do use are really necessary.

* The Jesus Camp website features this response to Haggard's criticism of the documentary. It makes no mention of his subsequent fall from grace. Kudos to the producers for taking the high road when the low road must have looked so tempting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Didn't See This One Coming

Nobody likes to be frisked and searched by airport security. And nobody likes to stand in long lines waiting for that frisking and searching. But of all the new security measures that have been implemented, one I really hate is the curbside "no standing" rule outside baggage claim. You do your level best to arrive at just the right moment—when the person you're picking up is all ready to go, when the two of you have coordinated everything by cellphone down to the very nanosecond, when Jupiter is perfectly aligned with Mars, when the forces of good have finally vanquished the forces of evil—and something goes wrong. You miss each other by that same nanosecond because nature has called at the worst possible moment or some long lost friend had the nerve to bump into your passenger just as she hung up the phone with you.

Imagine my shock when I arrived at Orlando International Airport to pick up my daughter and discovered signage directing drivers to a "cell waiting lot." Whoa! What's this? A free parking area where we can wait until that magical moment arrives? Instead of circling the airport multiple times until said moment? What's up with that? This is an incredibly helpful idea! How on earth did they come up with it?

I've come to expect so little when it comes to travel, especially airline travel, that it's downright startling when a positive change is made. Did I mention that the cell lot is also a wi-fi hot spot?

And then—and then—get this: when the perfect moment came to pick up my daughter, there was a security officer directing traffic. Not just yelling at drivers, but actually directing traffic. I positively swooned at the sight, which made for some tricky maneuvering.

If you need a ride from the airport, give me a call. I'm so giddy over these new services that I'm happy to oblige.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I Heart the Internet (Way Too Much)

I spend a lot of time on the Internet, ostensibly doing extensive and unfettered journalistic research. In reality, I occasionally stumble upon major distractions, the latest of which being The site takes you to random websites based on your interests, and its list of possible interests made me realize I had a whole lot more interests than I would have thought of on my own.

I even broke one of my own Internet rules: never, ever download a dedicated toolbar. But StumbleUpon swears on all that is holy (to them) that this one is safe. And because I became a convert so quickly, I of course believed them. We'll see.

Right away, I hit the mother lode in the humor category at

Fourteen Things That It Took Me Over 50 Years To Learn—by Dave Barry
1. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

2. If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings."

3. There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."

4. People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.

5. You should not confuse your career with your life.

6. Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

7. Never lick a steak knife.

8. The most destructive force in the universe is gossip.

9. You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.

10. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.

11. There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.

12. The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above-average drivers.

13. A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person. (This is very important. Pay attention. It never fails.)

14. Your friends love you anyway.

Thought for the day: Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.

What have you stumbled upon lately?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fair Trade?

Ten Thousand Villages. A Greater Gift. Global Exchange. These and dozens of other companies are committed to supporting farmers and artisans in developing nations by paying them a fair wage for their products. I'm not much of a consumer these days, but I have bought from fair trade retailers, most of whom have online stores.

But a new "fair trade" enterprise is giving me pause. The venture is called Fair Indigo. I haven't ordered from them, but an online friend exchanged emails with a company representative regarding the source of their products. Other fair trade companies post detailed information about the communities and even individuals that produce the items they sell; Fair Indigo, however, provides only general information about where their products come from.

The email exchange is too long to post here, but the gist of the company's response was this: "Finding fair trade factories was and continues to be challenging in today’s low-cost climate...We may publish this information in the future, but at this time will protect it as proprietary."

What disturbs me first of all is that the company considers the information to be proprietary. I've always respected fair trade companies for their refusal to adopt a "business as usual" attitude, and one way they display this is by being open and forthcoming when a potential customer has a legitimate question. Consumers who buy from fair trade companies as a matter of conscience need to know the source of the merchandise—that is, whether it's a truly needy individual or a sweatshop.

I'm also disturbed by the fact that I didn't give this much thought before now. Granted, I've bought from only a few fair trade companies, and I knew them to be legitimate. Still, I wonder if I would have even questioned the validity of a particular "fair trade" retailer.

For now, I'm going to assume that as a new company, Fair Indigo is still figuring out how all this works. As I understand it, the owners came from Lands End, so they may be trying to apply that company's strategy to Fair Indigo. But fair trade companies play by different rules—thank God for that!—and that's the reason so many of us are willing to pay their often-higher prices. I wish Fair Indigo all the best as they presumably attempt to help people who are living in unimaginable poverty—and as they recognize the need to be more open about the source of their merchandise.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I Don't Think So

In a couple of weeks, you will be able to stroll high above the Grand Canyon on a glass-floored, horseshoe-shaped skywalk that offers an unprecedented view of the canyon floor some 4,000 feet below.

The operative word there is you. I will not be able to make that stroll, and not because I live in Florida. I will not be able to make that stroll because my legs will not function normally under those circumstances.

But back to the skywalk, which is a pretty cool concept and just as cool reality, I suppose. The $30 million tourist attraction, which is expected to generate much-needed income for its owner, the Hualapai Indian Reservation, extends 70 feet out from the canyon wall and can "comfortably" accommodate 120 people at a time, each of whom will have shelled out $25 for that dubious exercise in comfort.

The odd thing about my lack-of-comfort problem is this: I'm not acrophobic in the classic sense. I can stay in a high-rise hotel and travel in a high-flying plane without any problem. And I have no fear of death, a fear that has actually been tested and found wanting. But put me on a fire escape or a balcony a mere three stories up, and the bones and muscles in my legs disappear. A glass-bottomed skywalk? I don't think so.

I understand that our Hualapai friends will provide cloth slippers (or technically, non-slippers) that visitors will be required to wear. Okay, I'll make them an offer: maybe I'll venture out onto the skywalk if they provide cloth kneepads for me, because I most certainly will be crawling for the first yard or two before I turn around and head back. Throw in $30 million, and we've got a solid deal.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The AmeriCone Dream

In case you missed it, on last night's Colbert Report Ben & Jerry (yes, that Ben & Jerry) introduced their newest ice cream flavor, Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream—"a decadent melting pot of vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and a caramel swirl. It’s the sweet taste of liberty in your mouth." Monsieur Colbert was quick to emphasize that this is the only time he has ever waffled:

Colbert promises to save the world by donating his share of the proceeds to various charities. And remember—even though it appears he has sold out to a blatantly liberal enterprise, nobody loves Jesus more than Stephen Colbert does.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Economics 101

Confused about economic theory? Here's a hilarious video of Yoram Bauman, the world's only standup economist, explaining someone else's list of "The 10 Principles of Economics."

Bauman really does have a Ph.D. in economics, and he really is a standup comedian, mainly at Seattle's Comedy Underground. He also produces a political comedy show called Non-Profit Comedy.

Thanks to The Evangelical Outpost for posting this!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Another Insanity Defense?

By now you've no doubt seen or heard of the video of a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old smoking marijuana. I won't dignify the story by posting the video itself. The gist of the story is this: while investigating a string of burglaries in the Fort Worth, Texas, area, police confiscated a number of videos including one that showed the two children smoking grass with the full knowledge and encouragement of adults who were present.

That would include, of course, the amateur videographer, who will be among those charged once his or her identity is established.

I'm guessing that all those adults have to do is plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Because clearly, anyone who allows kids to smoke pot is insane. The videographer stands the best chance of winning, though. I ask you: who in their right mind would film such a thing?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sometimes, It's Just Too Embarrassing...

Honestly, I don't know how much longer I can continue to use the "e" word. You know the one. Evangelical.

In recent years I've used it less and less to define my particular expression of faith, even though in good conscience I could sign any evangelical statement of faith—and have. But my expression of faith is larger than a statement of faith, and these days, that expression extends beyond the e-world.

Right now my disenchantment with some evangelicals—and a small minority at that—is the amazing and continuing controversy over the issue of global warming. My dismay had already been heating up, so to speak, but still, I kept finding it hard to believe that otherwise intelligent Christians (no, that is not an oxymoron) were adamantly refuting the evidence presented by so many experts. And then, I read this excellent entry on Jim Wallis's God's Politics blog. James Dobson, whom I credit with helping to save my sanity as a young mother all those years ago, and a few other evangelical leaders not only dispute the reality of global warming but also are calling for the resignation of NAE executive Richard Cizik, who has called much-needed attention to the issue. You really have to read Wallis's post to get the skinny on their efforts, which most assuredly do not reflect the thinking of the evangelicals I know.

Here's the thing. Like the vast majority of people in the world, I have to rely on the findings of the scientific community on issues like this, which, by the way, I consider to be moral and not political, regardless of how politicized this particular issue has become. And I have to ask two basic questions, the answers to which lead to a third:
  • If Al Gore and company are wrong, what's the worst that could happen?

  • If Al Gore and company are right, what's the worst that could happen?

  • What on earth are Dobson and company thinking?

Wouldn't it be great if global warming really was a myth? But on the off chance that it isn't—just in case the thousand or so undisputed studies confirming the existence of the global warming phenomenon are valid and legitimate and correct—wouldn't it, um, be to our advantage to conserve energy as individuals and as a nation? I don't know. It sure seems like a no-brainer to me.

In the meantime, as Dobson et al continue to besmirch the "e" word, can we please come up with a substitute descriptor? Maybe something like "Product of Intelligent Design—Honest."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hold It: The Not-So-Empty Tomb

So Titanic director James Cameron and documentary director Simcha Jacobovici claim they've found the tomb housing the remains of Jesus, Mary, and their son, Judah. You can read or hear about this pretty much anywhere. Scientists, archaeologists, theologians, historians, and ordinary bloggers like me are all weighing in on the controversy that this "discovery" was certain to provoke. You think gay marriage is a hot-button issue? Just try tampering with the resurrection, which is what Cameron et al are doing. If the bones they found belong to Jesus, then he was not resurrected in bodily form, as Christians believe.

This is what I call a "Hold It" story. Which is to say this: even when you consider all the evidence, all the arguments, all the opinions, both pro and con, a far more fundamental element arises. That is the "Hold It" element: Hold it! You mean to say that after two thousand years of archaeological studies and excavations, it took Hollywood to unearth one of the most significant relics in all of history? You mean to tell me Roman authorities managed to overlook the contents of this tomb even as they were persecuting Christians and attempting to discredit Christianity? Wow! How cool is it that our very own James Cameron could accomplish what no one else in history—not the politically motivated, not the religiously motivated, not the academically motivated—was able to achieve?

Otherwise intelligent people are embracing this story as if it was the gospel truth. The only thing I can figure is that their understandable skepticism of findings by supposed experts has left them vulnerable to believing theories that defy logic and common sense. (Yes, there are many other reasons people want to believe this story. I'm talking here about intelligent people who historically would have dismissed this discovery as the wishful thinking of someone with questionable expertise and transparent motivation.)

My inexpert guess is that we'll never know who this Jesus, Mary, and Judah were. Whoever they were, may they rest in peace.