Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Beauty of Grace


<--- Downtown Bismark, N. Dakota.

Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith... 
Eph. 2:3-10

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil. 4:7

I spent an extended weekend in the west of North Dakota just a few days ago.  I think that the cold I had a while ago is coming back with a vengeance as a result.  Either that or I am simply still coughing up dust from that region of the country.

North Dakota is a different mindset altogether.  My family was based in a tiny, un-incorporated town call McGregor. (My mom grew up there until age 9.  I have no idea how she survived without a flushing toilet.) We were there to help my aunt & uncle with an auction as they prepared to move to Arizona for the winter.  The whole affair was a rather surreal experience.

The majority of my relatives from this part of the country are a cross between cowboys, rednecks and the ZZ Top fan club.

<--- See!

They are a most interesting lot and provide immense entertainment.  Despite their rough around the edges appearance, they happen to be some of the most helpful and friendliest people you could meet.

The western portion of North Dakota is in the midst of an oil boom.  An 8-piece fried chicken dinner at KFC will cost you $23. (Ouch!) A hotel room at your basic Motel 6 will run you over $200 for one night.  On the bright side, the result of scads & scads of Semis on the road at all time of day or night gives you more dust for your lungs than you could ever have hoped for. (So you have that going for ya.)

I had never been to an auction before, so that was an experience.  I don't know how an auctioneer does what they do.  It almost sounds like they are speaking in tongues once they get going.  I saw a 100 year old doll sell for $550.  My cousin was able to snag a baseball from the 1987 World Series signed by every member of the Twins for $25. (We purposefully kept it low key once we knew what it was so that others didn't make a bid.) That could fetch him over $500 back in Minnesota.

North Dakota itself is rather bleak.  I'm used to looking ahead and seeing the horizon blocked by trees and rolling hills.  Out there, you can see for miles.  At night the horizon is set aglow by the flames of refineries in the distance.  It is perhaps not my cup of tea, but my aunt & uncle certainly seem to enjoy it...along with many others.

So, for the people of N. Dakota, my relations AND the State itself, this song is for them...and I'll come back to the theme in this song a bit later.


Beauty In The World | Macy Gray from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

My walk with Jesus is a mess at the best of times.  I am not embarrassed to admit that.  I figure that he already knows, so why pretend otherwise?  This is what makes grace so beautiful.  I don't have to work at it to get him to like me.  He already demonstrated that.

I will say this, though; the older I get, the more the sense of peace that I have.  And I realize that in some ways that will come off as arrogant.  It is not intended that way.  It is not an emotional sense either.  Emotionally, I am about as messed up as the rest of me.  But I do have a sense of peace...an understanding, if you will.

I do not really understand how God's sovereignty works, so I will not pretend in this area either.  I do know/sense/feel/understand that in the end, he knows what he is doing and is in control of the situation.  Like I said, that thought gives me peace.

____________________


Most of my relatives are not Believers...like the rest of the population.  And like the rest of the population, myself included, they have their issues, struggles, guilts, fears and so on.  We are all very messy.  Yet, I am more and more convinced that when YHWH looks upon them, he sees beyond their mess and to the beauty of his image in them.  He longs to redeem that image.  The question is whether or not they will let him do it.

I talk with some friends at my store, and I see the same thing in them.  There is a High School girl going through some tough times at the moment that I have become friends with.  She is a very, very sweet kid.  But you can see her pain & questions.  She does not try to hide them. (Which I would argue is a very healthy stand to take.) I do not think she realizes how much Jesus wants to rescue her.

The grace of God is not something that makes all of your problems go away.  Instead, God uses the obstacles in your life to teach you his ways and bring you into a tight walk with him.  It never ceases to amaze me how different God's love is to our own concepts...and it is so much better.

Where we se ugliness and suffering, God sees beauty and potential.  Where we see hopelessness, God sees the beauty of his strength being perfected in our weakness.  Where we see ourselves as worthless and pointless, God sees just plain old beauty...the beauty of his image in even the worst of us.

____________________

It was fun to talk with my relatives.  Most of them do not much care for "Organized Religion."  I understand what they mean when they say things like this.  I'm not a big fan of that either...pretty sure Jesus wasn't all that keen on it, too.

I will say that when you get past the Poli-Speak that many Christians use, and just get down to speaking in plain, messy English, talking about the kingdom becomes much easier. (I kinda like it that my cousins prefer to hear me cuss just a little when speaking about these subjects...not a lot of blue, just a little bit.) Pretense does not belong to the Gospel.



God calls us to freedom.  A freedom that can only be found in him.  We are slaves to sin until we embrace the grace that I fully believe he extends to all people.  What will you do with that offer?

We strive so hard to earn our freedom, our salvation.  All we do is wrap the chains of slavery around us tighter and tighter when we do this.  The beauty of grace lies in the very definition of the word.  It is offered freely by Christ to anyone who will take it.  Maybe that is why we have such a hard time with the very idea.  We still want to earn it. (Better find a different word to earn.) Just accept it.  It is so much easier that way...in fact, that is the only way.

I find that the more I let go of my striving and simply accept what has already been done on my behalf, the more peace I have.  Again, it is not an emotional state.  It is an understanding.  Sometimes it is easier to understand and accept than at other times, but it is still there.  That type of understanding of peace brings great freedom.


Grace is a beautiful thing.



Peace

Joe


P.S. For those of you who know I am writing a book, here's an update: Chapter 3 is almost complete.  Once chapter 4 is finished, edited and illustrated, I will be offering them on Amazon.  So far, so good...I think.

I'll keep you posted.  :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why the Republicans will not win this November


What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  
Is there anything of which one can say, 
"Look!  This is something new."

It was here already, long ago;
It was here before our time.
There is no remembrance of men of old,
even those who are yet to come 
will not be remembered by those who follow.
Ecc. 1:9-11

"To be biblically consistent, you must be politically inconsistent."
Richard Cizik


I am on my day off, and am out enjoying the cabin...which has the world's slowest internet connection. I haven't posted anything in almost a month, due to the book I am working on. (And that's pretty slow going itself.) I have been listening to the news & discussions about the upcoming election.

I am a news junkie.  I admit it.  Call me Nerdman, but I love my public radio.  It helps a lot that they offer a whole lot more than politics, politics, politics. (Unless you consider Car Talk a Left-Wing plot.)  I have no idea how anyone can listen to the yakkers on MSNBC and FOX as much as many do.  ALL they talk about are either looney-lefty or tighty-righty politics.  Jeez louis, there is more to life than that...I think.

However, this is election season and the Republicans just wrapped up their convention last week, and the Democrats started theirs yesterday.  So, it is no surprise that this is the talk of the town.

As I was out driving today, I was listening to Talk of the Nation.  Today is Wednesday, so it is another issue of The Political Junkie.  http://www.npr.org/programs/talk-of-the-nation/  Among other issues they covered, they also had two former speech writers on, giving their take on the conventions thus far. As I listened to all of this, something dawned on me.  The Republicans cannot and will not win this Presidential election.  I would like to explain why I believe this.  So after two caveats, I will offer my analysis free of charge. (If you wish to offer cash in return for my wisdom, I will accept checks.)

CAVEAT: 
#1. I am an independent.  I often appear Liberal, but I'm not. (Don't even get me started on Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.) To be truthful, I WAS a Republican all of my life.  I simply saw the party that I grew up with & love take a hard & irrational swerve to the Far-Right back in 2008.  So I left it.  

Now I try to be as objective and broadminded as I can.  This is simply my analysis, and I am trying to be as cool and cold as I can.  This is not meant as an Obama booster, because I am certainly not in love with him or all of his policies.  I am simply looking at the facts that I see in a strategy game.

#2. I know that in politics, a week is an eternity.  I also know that Americans have the shortest memory of any ethnic group I've ever come across.  SO, what I am saying could change on a dime due to one event, misstep, what have you.  One never knows in this arena.  However, all things being equal, I will stand by my assessment that Obama will be re-elected.  And here's why...

____________________


#1.  The Republican party does not know what it believes in any more.  Traditionally, the Republican party has believed in "Limited," NOT "Less" government.  And where government existed, it should be efficient and effective.  But currently, the message seems to be that any government at all is bad, period.

I'm very serious about this.  Listen to the rhetoric, you will hear exactly that.

At present you have a variety of dis-united groups and philosophies working to gain the upper hand in the party.  You have the traditional old guard that blew it under the Bush administration.  Then you have the Religious Right and social conservatives, who can feel their power and base eroding like a Rick Santorum sweater with moths on it.

You then have a new group of Social Darwnists, Libertarians and followers of Ayn Rand ascending to prominence. (My money is on these folks taking over.) Finally, you have the TEA-bagger death cult gnashing it's confused teeth over all sorts of issues that none of them seem to be able to speak coherently on or in agreement with.

Republicans used to be known for their party discipline.  The only thing that they are united on at the present is that they hate Obama.  You cannot win based solely on that.

#2. Romney is a weak candidate.  Lets be honest, the crop of folks who ran for the nomination had to have been one of the biggest groups of cartoon characters seen on stage since a comicon convention.  Romney was the obvious choice to begin with.  But thanks to to everyone else, even he had to tilt to the extreme Right to win the base. (My own former Governor, Tim Pawlenty, bailed in no time knowing that this crop was not for him.) 

When you have the likes of Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and the congresswoman from my State, Michelle Bachmann on stage together, it would be fair to ask who opened the asylum for a day out with the inmates. (Honestly, I simply cringe reflexively every time I see Bachmann begin to open her mouth.) These people damaged Romney and the party as a whole by looking like the goofballs they are.

You cannot win by looking like extremists. (Just ask Barry Goldwater back in 1964.)

#3. The base does not like Romney.  The base of the Republican party wanted an true tighty-righty, but they knew that they would lose by epic proportions.  So they settled for the pragmatist who they had scorned.

The Republicans HATE Obama, they do not LOVE Romney.  You cannot win with that mindset.

#4. Paul Ryan scares people.  He's a handsome devil to be sure, (He's big into that P90X workout thing, and apparently the paparazzi are hoping to find pictures of him not wearing a shirt.) but he is still seen by many as just a plain old devil.  I'll come back to this in a later post, but suffice it to say that his budget ideas do not contain much in the way of that thing called "Mercy."  That scares people.

While choosing Ryan as his running mate certainly pleased the base, it is also a liability.  Also, when he  has of all groups, FOX news, coming after him for the mistakes and disingenuous words that he spoke at the convention, you got problems.

You cannot win when your own media allies go after you.

#5. Romney is an empty man.  As I listened to the discussion on Talk of the Nation today, both the Democrat & Republican commentators agreed that Romney really didn't offer anything of substance in his speech.  His 5 point plan was so broad that it left everything wide open, with no specifics at all.

I'm assuming that he is still working that out.  However, in the mean time there is nothing for the Republicans to point to other than that they hate Obama.

Counter that with what Obama might say this week: "When I took office, the economy was in free-fall, the financial institutions were crumbling, the auto companies were about to go under, and we had two wars going.  Now, jobs are growing again...albeit too slowly, but they ARE growing.  One war is over, the other is ending.  The Auto industry is beginning to thrive again.  Finally, I passed a healthcare law that will now extend coverage to 30 million poor people.  That's not too bad considering the circumstances."

What Can Romney say in response?  If Obama keeps pushing that in his face, the Republicans cannot win.

#6. Social issues carry less & less weight.  Like it or not, the social conservative agenda is dying off.  The abortion issue is an emotional one, but will decide nothing in the end.  Like it or not, most American care less and less about gay marriage.  It simply isn't a big deal to the younger set.

I've been noticing this for a long, long time now.  The church lost the culture war back in the 70s when Jerry Falwell fired the first shot.  You cannot win with these issues over the long term.

#7. Mighty-Whighty and the angry people.  If you watch the conventions, keep your eye out for the crowd.  I noticed something at the Republican convention, and yesterday at the Democrats.   I am a Honkey McCracker of Scandinavian descent, but even I get nervous around the amount of white folks I saw at the Republican convention.

You contrast that with what you see at the Democratic convention and it doesn't take a genius to figure out which side the demographics are on.  With in a decade or so, there will be no ethnic majority in this country.  Toss in the angry white folks who keep spouting off about illegal immigration (That's for another time) and you can figure out why more latinos go for the Democrats.  Now, throw in black people, poor people, asians, etc.  What have the Republicans done to woo them?  Not much.  Would the average "Minority" feel comfortable in that crowd of Republicans?  Like it or not, they probably would not.

When you have more minorities on stage than you do on the convention floor, you have a problem...and you can't win.

#8. Plumbing & women.  Men tend to be the power brokers in politics.  They do.  Sure, there are more and more women active, but guess which party they tend to lean towards?  I hate abortion, but it is a nuanced issue...and that never seems to be acknowledged.  If you are female, and you hear Republican MEN in power talking about your reproductive rights and mix in legitimate rape.  Oops!

You cannot win with that.

#9. The Smell of Bush.  It is interesting to note that in the majority of polling done, more people still blame President Bush for the mess that we are still in.  The Republicans like to say that Obama keeps blaming the previous administration for his problems. (Which apparently he doesn't need to, because folks do that on their own.) However, you may have noticed that the only person from the Bush administration that was even allowed into the convention was Condoleezza Rice.

It simply doesn't help the cause to remind people of that economic/debt-ridden/political/diplomatic disaster, nor that you wish to follow that same playbook.  This is what many people think of in the back of their minds when they hear the Republicans speak.  Like it or not, that odor is still present.

#10. "Despite all my Rage..."  Angry, bitter middle-aged men will not win you an election, and it's a lousy long term plan. (Gout, heart disease, and too much beer tend to get rid of those types.) Sad to say, but that is what the Republicans seem to be counting on.  A mob mentality might be great for starting a riot, but sooner or later they get taken over by people who know how to use them. (Just ask the Koch Brothers.)

Hating Obama is not a strategy.  When you blindly despise anything he or anyone else has done, that's not using reason.  It's just emotions getting the better of you.  You cannot win an election based on that.



And there you have my analysis.  Ta Da!

Peace

Joe

P.S. I like to refer to the TEA Party as a death cult for a variety of reasons.  I also like to call them TEA-Baggers.  A while back I made someone very angry at me for using that term.  Up till that point I had thought that "Tea-bagging" was when cyclists put a pack of Lipton's on the brown-eye to give them a caffiene boost when competing. (Seriously, I did.) After offending the idiot I was talking to, he explained what this term currently means. (I have since heard variations on this.) I then proceeded to ask him how he knew these details so intimately, because I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when such opportunities arise.

So, with that in mind, this song is for all the members of the TEA Party cult.  I shall be thinking of you when ever I enjoy a nice cup of Yorkshire Gold.  I'm fairly tolerant of oddities and try not to judge too much.  If Glenn Beck and the Koch Brothers really want you folks to be doing that type of stuff at your rallies, have at it.  Just be mindful enough not to post the photos.  Thank you.