Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Green Bible - a Waste of Greenbacks

There's a new Bible at a Christian Bookstore near you. The Green Bible highlights over 1,000 Bible verses in a pleasant-to-read green shade perfect for the Christian environmentalist. It also offers a foreword by Desmond Tutu and supplementary writings from St. Francis of Assisi and Pope John Paul II among others.

As a Christian whose political views sway to the left I think I'm supposed to be a fan.

I'm not.

I mean, give me a break. Should the publishers create a White Letter Bible for the white-supremacists or KKK who attend our American churches? How about the Gray Letter edition for the skeptic?

For my part, I like the environment. I even believe we should take time to praise God’s handiwork, to admire His beautiful and profound creation and even to protect the environment. But I don’t need The Green Bible to assist me in that. So here’s my suggestion for those of you who are tempted by the attractive cover or the fact that it’s been okayed by the Forest Stewardship Council:

Go to your neighborhood Christian Book Store and look for The Green Bible. If they let you, thumb through it, read the supplementary material and browse the green verses. Then close the Bible, look at the price tag, put it back on the shelf and leave the store. When you get home take one of your Bibles off the shelf and read it. Find those green verses and highlight them with your own green highlighter. Then go online and follow this link to the Wycliff Bible translators, read about the Rangi of Tanzania people group, use your credit card and type in the amount that The Green Bible costs.

Now you’ve done much more for advancing the Kingdom of God than those Green Bible publishers have.

See, if you are reading the Bible through green lenses, you’re missing the point 99% of the time. When Jesus talks about the vine and the branches he’s not caring for the environment. When he died on the wooden cross he was not crying “Father, forgive them for they know not which tree they killed”.

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land (who, with a name like that should endorse this edition) is right on when he says: “Sure it’s important, but when they asked Jesus what was most important, he said, ‘Love your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.’”


Monday, September 29, 2008

Blogging: I'm All Talk

I can remember the Good Friday service when I would hear how Peter denied Christ just a few hours after saying something like "no Jesus, I would never deny you!"

"How can someone do that?" I would think to myself "He must be dumb as a...well, rock".

I've got it now though.

Just this morning I posted the "Relief" post which you can look through if you scroll down a little. I posted it a few hours before our 3 hour drive to Zagreb to get our son's American Passport at the Embassy. We were in a rush so even though I had some thoughts of a bathroom break I held it until the nice American bathrooms at the Embassy (yes there are differences - more on that in another post)

We went out to coffee with a friend in Zagreb before leaving and I didn't have the urge until we rolled out of the tollbooth in Zagreb onto the main highway. Petra had to stop an hour later so I decided to...yes that's right...use the facilities. I had a cappuccino and two waters in my system so just as I entered the bathroom area, saw the lady and remembered that this was the exact same place I had the inspiration for todays post I realized I was all too happy to fish 2 kunas out of my pocket and rush into the men's bathroom.

And I was ashamed. What were those phrases I used? "hold it", "wear a diaper" etc. etc.

Just words.

And then my wife walked out of the bathroom at the same time I did:

"I'm a hypocrite" I said, ashamed.

"I could have told you that years ago" she quipped with a sly smile.

And so there you have it.

In addition to my hypocrisy, I also gave out false information. The price of admission is the same; whether number 1 or number 2.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Price of Relief in Croatia

Five years after my first visit to Croatia I'm still stunned at the fact that there are places that you have to pay to go to the bathroom. You heard me; you have to pay to use the restroom.

In America we have our inalienable rights. The right to use the toilet without paying a cent is one of those rights I’m proud to have. It’s humiliating to get to the bathroom after 5 hours on the highway and have to go to your wallet or pocket for spare change just so you can relieve yourself. And those times when you’re not particularly in a hurry, you stand at the door and ask yourself one of two questions:
1. Is my trip inside this bathroom worth the cash? If I choose not to use this service, is my discomfort until I arrive home worth half a coffee or a newspaper, or a liter of gas?

2. Is it stealing if I’m able to get inside before the restroom cashier comes out to charge me? Is there anywhere else where getting rid of something constitutes taking something that isn’t yours?

It’s still baffling to me.

A month ago we gave birth to a baby free of charge. No, check that – the Croatian government paid us to have a baby! In a former socialist country who will pay for your medical bills, has very few homeless people, and will help you pay for your food if you’re hungry, they charge for you to take care of that food once it’s done being processed?

Now I can understand the fact that the lady (and it always is a female) needs to get paid for her hard work in the bathroom. If you ask me she deserves more tips than waiters do. But shouldn’t this be a government job? If the state pays the doctors, can’t they pay the bathroom lady?

I will also say that inflation thankfully has not gotten involved in this business. The approximately 10 cents and 50 cents for liquids and solids respectively has not increased in price since I first visited. At least things aren’t getting worse.

But I believe we can make them better. Yes, Croatians we can do this together. How?

Don’t do it. Resist the urge. Plan ahead. Bring a bottle. Wear a diaper. Use the woods. Find another way.

You know what will happen then? The bathroom lady will find a job because the unemployment rate is going down faster than the swirl. There’s a job out there somewhere for her. And then the gas station guy will be forced to get up from his chair behind the register and earn his paycheck.

Who knows if it’ll work – it’s just my 10 cents.

Oh wait…I just spent it in the bathroom.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Taking the 'Me' out of Economy

The following is a list of obscure things I've studied more/ know better than economics (in no particular order):
· Forklift safety
· Sabermetrics
· Frog anatomy
· Quarter tones
· Military marching drill
· Swahili

That's my way of saying I know nothing about what I'm talking about - apart from personal experience - when it comes to the economy. Take what I'm saying with a grain of salt.

There have been times when I've been asked about my political views and I suggest that socialism could in fact be a better economic system than capitalism. I usually get some raised eyebrows to which I say that Socialism (the way Marx and Engels imagined it) has never been practiced.

On the other side of the capitalist coin some will say that Socialism (the way Marx and Engels imagined it) is impossible. They usually have good arguments, but impossibilities are difficult to prove. The argument may go further: Capitalism is run on every individual’s - and our society’s collective - greed. It wouldn’t work if we weren’t so concerned with looking out for Number One. And we as a fallen human race are very greedy. So capitalism – with an evil as its basis can be used for good.

I haven’t had a good answer for that.

If money is the engine to capitalism; greed is the oil. If we were more concerned about the homeless guy at the end of our street and less concerned with our HDTV, or WIFI, or Wii, or GPS, or DVD player, or MP3 player, or Xbox, or (insert your material obsession here) capitalism wouldn’t function so well.

But today as I pick up my international copy of Time Magazine I see in big letters “The Price of Greed”.

Wait a minute…

Now we have a problem. Apparently greed has gotten in the way of our beloved capitalism. Those Wall Street executives! How dare they mess with my economy! And I can agree.

But are they doing anything differently than the rest of us? Sure, we have our good sides. In fact America is very good at charity. But even if we have respectable jobs - in which many of us give up higher salaries to do something beneficial for others – we work to pay our own bills. We continue taking out loans to pay for our needs and luxuries. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Wall Street isn’t looking out for the common home owner or the common college student. They’re out for themselves. Until now I guess it has worked. But there’s no pot of gold at the end of the capitalist rainbow.

I’m not suggesting that we suddenly change to a socialist economy. That would be disastrous. Even Obama mentioned that it’s more important to come to a bipartisan agreement than to try to push liberal or conservative economic solutions at this point in the game.

But do we patch up the system and go on with business as usual? Is greed the best basis for an economic system? Or is it possible to find a system that incorporates a genuine concern for the widow, the orphan and the foreclosed home owner?

What do I know though? I just have a degree in music.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

All I really need to know about driving I learned from musical chairs

I've recently discovered the impact musical chairs has had on my driving skills in Croatia. Let's take the Osijek hospital “parking lot” for example. The key is to drive slowly enough that a car owner returning to their car will be easily noticed but fast enough to avoid the wrath (and accompanying horn) of the driver behind me.

It feels like those circles around the chairs where you (try to) inconspicuously speed up to the next chair and instantly slow down so you stay close to the chair for as long as possible. When the music stops and you’ve found the last chair or when you find that parking spot – pure exhilaration! You just wish you had the rest of the classroom looking on in envy when you open your driver’s side door and raise your arms in victory.

Croatian cities - and most other European cities for that matter – are choked with traffic. I don’t see any relief in sight. So although more people do it here in Croatia than America I will still recommend my friend Milo’s idea. He’s no tree hugger, but he’s been using his head (and legs) while saving at the pump and doing what he can to lessen the number of cars on the road.

Incidentally another blogging friend of mine has begun using a bicycle as well. Lazo’s daughter is too cute to pass up taking a look!

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Happy Boy...and Parents!

Enoh was officially still checked into the hospital over the weekend, but since there wasn't anything they could do, or any concern for his health, they let us take him home. He had to go back yesterday to get his blood taken:
Today we had to go back to make sure all the tests came out clean, see if his jaundice had gone down and check out of the hospital if everything was alright. They did...it had... and it was!
G.K. Chesterton says: "The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen". When it comes to doctors, medicine and headaches I tend to rely on material things more heavily than God. With so many people telling us they were praying I wonder - did we witness a little miracle?

Thank you for your love and your prayers. We are blessed to be surrounded with the most important things in life!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Little Enoh Visits the Hospital

Yesterday we took Enoh to a routine checkup with his pediatrician. After a few minutes she decided that he should go to the hospital. He's had jaundice since he was born and apparently it is bad enough now that they need to run some tests. They haven't told us much so we really don't know how serious it is. He's been hooked onto the IV for 24 hours now and had some blood taken so we're hoping tomorrow we'll find out some more information and possibly even be able to take him home.
Petra made sure to bring my old baby blanket my mom gave us last Christmas. She (Petra) is holding up alright, but I think Enoh's doing the best. He's been more content at the hospital in the last 24 hours than he usually is!

We have been surrounded by love and prayer from our church and immediate families. We thank the Lord for the blessing they are to us. There's no better feeling than knowing you are being prayed for.

Monday, September 15, 2008

America's - and My - Favorite Pastime

Just last week a friend asked me a question I’ve been asked many times since Petra and I moved to Croatia: “What do you miss most about the States?”

I’ve got my answer down pat.

First it’s family and friends. And that’s the truth. I would have loved to have them around for the birth of our son and I really miss celebrating birthdays, holidays, family reunions and anniversaries. Those are the kind of things you take for granted and then find out you miss the most when you don’t have them.

But that answer makes sense to people. “Oh, of course”, they’ll say, “But besides family and friends what do you miss most?”

“Baseball” I promptly reply. I don’t even think I sound apologetic anymore – because I’m not.

I miss baseball a lot. You can’t describe baseball to someone who hasn’t experienced the sensation any normal person gets when they walk into the park. The buzz of the fans, the smell of the grass, the crack of the bat, the taste of the hot dogs, the exhilaration of a home run…it just doesn’t get any better.

I grew up with it. Somehow the interest my father had for the Chicago Cubs turned into a borderline obsession for me. I am a die-hard Cubs fan. When they lose – and they often do – it effects me. Again, I’m not that apologetic, because it’s my drug of choice and like many Cub fans I’ve learned how to go through life constantly being disappointed with their lack of success.

But this year is different. The Cubs had the best record in baseball through June – the first time that’s been the case in 100 years. When was the last time the Cubs won the World Series you ask? 100 years ago. Coincidence?

And what’s the Roman Numeral for 100? Good question. A “C”. And it just so happens that the Cubs wear the letter “C” on their hat everyday. Interesting.

And so we get to last night. Our pitching ace – Carlos Zambrano - threw the first no-hitter for the Cubs in my lifetime. He didn’t allow a hit all game – a feat that is accomplished less than .1% of the time. This could very well be the year the Cubs win it all. Even if it’s not, it has been an excellent regular season – the best of my lifetime. And here I am in Croatia.

Let’s get back to reality because even our wildest dreams have their roots in reality. I am in Croatia with a purpose. Honestly the fact that baseball is so high on the list of things I miss is because I am so genuinely satisfied with our life here. There’s nothing else besides friends and family that I would want to be back in the States for. We have an excellent church home with generous friends, amazing food, beautiful scenery and a satisfying life. I am so thankful for what we have in Croatia so this is in no way a complaint.

No, it’s just a way for me to vent. And isn’t venting healthy when you’re in the middle of culture shock?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Poplitics 101

The more I think about it, I'm not so sure we should label this thing “politics”. Sure the candidates are all politicians; the offices they work in and are vying for are political. But just because they’re politicians doesn’t mean that what we watch, converse about and debate is politics. Maybe it would be better labeled as “poplitics”.


Are we talking about the new regulation Bush passed last week that would block some women from receiving abortion related assistance? No.

Is CNN’s “best political team on television” discussing a new amendment to the Constitution of the United States? No.

We’re not even talking about Secretary of State Rice’s recent visit to Tripoli. That falls under “world news” or “foreign relations”.

Instead they’re showing McCain’s head photoshopped onto Elvis’ body playing “Blue Suede Shoes”. Poplitics.

I see an elderly man jumping up and down at the RNC wearing a pin that reads: “Oklahoma War Vets for Alaska’s Hot Chick”. Poplitics.

We’re talking about the color of the tie, the brand of the pant suit, the number of balloons and the height of the Greek columns.

And that’s just the beginning. A foreigner could probably flip between ESPN’s PTI and Fox News coverage of the DNC and think it’s the same thing.

How should Obama react to Palin’s pitbullish sarcasm? Will Biden go over the top this time? How can the Clinton’s convince their base that they actually support Obama? Will people forget about McCain now that Palin is so popular? They’re all legitimate questions, it’s just not politics – it’s poplitics.

No wonder RealClearPolitics.com created RealClearSports.com quickly after they became popular. Brett Favre’s trade to the Jets is kind of like Joe Lieberman’s switch to the GOP.
Not only that, but the fashion critics have turned their focus from Cindy Crawford and Sarah-Michelle Geller to Cindy McCain, Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama.

Besides the amount of time I (and many others) have wasted viewing poplitics, I have no problem with it.

Let’s just call it what it is.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

G-- Bless America?

If you’ve watched a sporting event in America anytime in, oh, say the last ten years you know that product advertisements are all over the place. “This kick is brought to you by New Balance”, “That replay is brought to you by ACUVUE Lenses”, etc. (Even my online baseball updates are now endorsed by possibly the most boring brand in history – GrapeNuts.)

In light of the name brands that get their ad space in every-which-way, it’s not surprising to hear the end of the political speeches these days. They might as well just say “This speech was brought to you by God”.

Obama said it, Palin said it, and I presume McCain, Biden, Huckabee, Clinton and Clinton all said it too. They get towards the end of the speech, the volume rises, the intensity kicks in, the crowd is on their every word and you can’t forget to give the exclamation mark – “God Bless America!”

And it gets us every time.

That warm fuzzy feeling that says yes, we are all Americans, we all love God, God loves us and our party is going to win! In the word(s?) of Howard Dean in 2004 - Yeah!!

Nothing says patriotism like “God bless America”. It was on the billboards on September 12, it’s sung every 7th inning, and it’s possibly the most important thing politicians can say.

But what are they saying?

Are they saying that God should bless America? We must be the most morally superior nation in the world. Americans must have a collective faith that other countries can only dream of. God will suddenly realize that America is the one special place in the world deserving his overflowing blessing.

Are they saying that God will bless America if they are elected President? McCain’s war experience, Obama’s universal health care, Biden’s foreign policy and Palin’s lipstick will be that secret key into God’s special outpouring on America.

Or is it just a catchphrase, a piece of ear candy, the traditional thing to say. It’s at times like these when I can appreciate the Jewish awe of his name when they won’t pronounce it or at times even write G—‘s name.

And are we quite possibly even going so far as to take his name for granted, to say his name in vain?

When you think about the fact that a candidate’s faith wasn’t even mentioned, that they don’t evoke images of God’s power, that they don’t praise God for his provision or that they don’t humbly ask for God’s blessing on their country you get the impression that the speech is not really about God. In fact, the speech is not even really about the country. It’s about the candidate. When looked at that way, God’s name is no more than a pretty little bow tying up a speech full of other words people want and expect to hear.

The fact is that God has blessed America. But at the same time, are these the kind of speeches, politicians, parties or even countries God cares to endorse?

Monday, September 1, 2008

In His Own (Croatian) Words...

Incidentally, I was given permission to post Dr. Kuzmic's column about Joe Biden. So here's the more detailed, more articulate first-hand version of my earlier post for those of you who know Croatian. For those of you who don't, you'll have to settle for less. Sorry.

Dr. Kuzmic from Glas Slavonije:

Obama i Biden: Pravi partneri vrijeme i vječnost

Američkog senatora Josepha Bidena osobno poznajem već dvadesetak godina. U nekoliko navrata sam bio u njegovu uredu, pozivan na njegova javna predavanja kad god je govorio o Balkanu i(li) ljudskim i manjinskim pravima. Bilo je i nekoliko neformalnih kraćih, ali nezaboravnih, susreta i kreativno-provokativnih razgovora. Uvijek me impresionirao sjajnim analitičkim umom, govorničkim darom i osjećajem za pravdu i solidarnost u našem ranjenom i grijehom opterećenom svijetu. Ali o Bidenu sam slušao već kao postdipomac i sveučilisni asistent u Americi daleke 1972. kada je kao jedan od najmlađih u povijesti izabran za senatora da bi ubrzo zbog stravične obiteljske tragedije zamalo odustao od političke karijere. U prometnoj nesreći mu je poginula voljena supruga i trinaestomjesečna kćerkica, a dva sina teško su ozlijeđena. Razočaran životom i ljutit na Boga, rimokatolički odgojen Biden, kojega je žena naučila protestantskoj etici te tako arogantnom mladiću i relativno lijenom studentu pomogla da ipak završi pravo, koje je jedva uspio upisati, Biden se na dramatično dirljiv način odlučio posvetiti sinovima zaključivši kako njegova savezna država (Delaware) može izabrati drugog senatora dok njegovi dečki ne mogu naći drugog oca. Kao kršćanski odgojenog i obiteljski orijentiranog mladića koji se u to vrijeme pripremao za brak, ta me se njegova predanost dojmila do suza. Joe Biden je, hvala Bogu, ipak uspio uz velike osobne žrtve na jedan moralno dosljedan i mudar način spasiti i opet izgraditi i jedno i drugo - krasnu obitelj i izuzetno uspješnu političku karijeru. Položio je ispit karaktera, što profesionalnim političarima rijetko uspijeva!

Politički prorok

Moji kolege i studenti na oba kontinenta dobro znaju da sam u stalnoj potrazi za nekorumpiranim liderima i pravdoljubivim političarima jasne vizije, snažnih moralnih uvjerenja i poduzetne hrabrosti za pravodobne transformativne akcije. Biden to zna jer smo jednom zgodom zajedno o tome govorili pa mi je osobno rekao da se nada da će taj ispit primijenjene etike i profesionalne kompetencije uspješno položiti.Već godinama (re)definiram kriterije i razvijam teoriju etičkog liderstva te sastavljam listu "političkih proroka." Osim onih biblijskih, koji su javno korili, konstruktivno usmjeravali a povremeno i oštro osuđivali izraelske kraljeve i religijske lidere, ali i druge moćnike tadašnjega svijeta, mene posebice zanimaju suvremeni buditelji savjesti i korektori prakse onih koji zlorabe moć na neodgovoran način. Na mojoj listi malobrojnih ali izuzetno utjecajnih "političara proroka" već se neko vrijeme nalazi i Joe Biden. Zaslužio je to jer je u travnju 1993. usred Beograda pogledao Miloševiću u oči i rekao mu: "You are damned war criminal and you will be judged for it!" Zaslužio je to kada je 1999. javno rekao da za godinu dana Milošević više neće vladati Srbijom. Bio sam prisutan i izrazio skepsu, ali Bidenova je opet bila proročka. Na listi političkih proroka mu je mjesto i stoga što je Busha prije svih upozoravao na preveliki i pogubni utjecaj njegove neokonske trojke (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfovitz), što se uspješno izborio za zakon koji žene štiti od nasilja, što poziva na odgovornost za genocid u Darfuru, a proročkim će se vjerojatno pokazati i njegov netom obavljen posjet Gruziji.

I pravi partner
U studenom će se na predsjedničkim izborima u SAD-u odlučivati o tome tko će u nadolazećim vrućim godinama voditi najmoćniju zemlju svijeta. Strateški je značajno što će mladi nositelj nade za promjene, ali relativno neiskusni vizionar Obama protiv mnogo starijeg i iskusnijeg McCaina uz sebe imati 66-godišnjeg političkog veterana Bidena.Pravi partneri: protestant Obama je trebao katolika, mladi crnac je trebao starijeg bijelca, idealist bez iskustva na području ekonomije, nacionalne sigunosti i međunarodne politike je trebao provjerenog velemajstora tih političkih disciplina. Snažan um, oštar jezik, lijepi smiješak i smisao za humor mogu samo pomoći. Obama nije mogao naći komplementarnijeg potpredsjednika.