Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Hypothalamus and the Beatitudes

The hypothalamus is that part of your brain that tells you you're hungry. My 12th grade psychology teacher taught us a lot of different things, but this is the one piece of information that I retained.

And it’s to a strange extent.

For example, I’ll be eating a snack in front of my dog Copland. He’ll politely sit in front of me waiting for my charitable contribution or an inadvertent crumb. The longer he waits the longer his shoelace-like drool gets. His hypothalamus is at work.

My son Enoh also has a hypothalamus. Although we’ve put it on a 3.5 hour schedule, it’s still obvious when Enoh receives a special message from that part of his brain and he shares it with us in the middle of the night in the form of a piercing scream.

And then there’s my response to being hungry. I often become irritable, grumpy, impatient and downright desperate when I’m really hungry. Those are the times I salivate like Pavlov’s dog (the other psychological thing I remember) when I think about food.

So maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to that part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells the crowds “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”.

Oh man, that’s good stuff if you’re hungry!

It’s like that feeling of excitement I got last night when I had the bottomless basket of tortilla chips and salsa at Chili's. There’s nothing as satisfying as being filled when we’re hungry.

And Jesus calls us to be hungry. Notice he’s not as concerned here with being righteous as he is with hungering for righteousness. Maybe that was one of the problems with the Pharisees. They were so concerned with acting like they were full that they had no time to desire true righteousness.

This has been my challenge lately. It’s impossible to consume Jesus’ words without being convicted – whether you’re in Croatia or America. His words are often sharp and direct.

But they’re incredibly satisfying. Especially that part about being filled.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What's in a Name II

Enoh has been the target of many nicknames. Friends, family, parents (Petra and I) and strangers alike have either mistakenly or purposefully called him something other than we named him. The following is a list of those names:

Those that rhyme (sort of):
- Anyhow
- Eggnog
- Enough

- Emu (his American pediatrician)
- Emo (his American pediatrician the second time)

Those that have nothing to do with his actual name:
- Mister Shlister
- Kermy
- Honey Bunches of Oats
- Snorters (he snorts when he cries)
- Cow Butt (he has an outfit with a cow on the behind)
- JJ (for Jeremy Jr.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

To Buy or Not To Buy

In the last day I've encountered two different advertisements. The first one was on television and featured a series of cute toddlers trying to say “Merry Christmas”. They all made the kind of verbal mistakes that endear us to that age and it caught my eye. A few minutes later I saw Petra smiling as she watched the same commercial. It was effective.

The second was on the radio. A pleasant woman was talking to her (presumably) husband who was dissatisfied with the old status-quo television and wanted to get an HD TV. The lady was all-too happy to help. “There’s a place we can go” she said, but immediately turned omniscient and told all about the amazing deal this store had.

In the first, the message was that this brand’s greeting cards had the perfect way to say “Merry Christmas”. Subliminally though - even given the fact the message was for adults – told us that we should teach our children what Christmas is really about here in America.

The second ad was for us men. And believe me I understood it. The woman was so eager to help her frustrated husband. “He’s had to suffer through six hours of just regular TV football games today when he could have been watching those games on HD!” And the husband listening to the commercial is saying to himself: “why can’t I have that kind of wife who wants to make my life even better! I’m getting my HD TV even if my grouchy wife says no!”

And we buy (into) it.

In the words of indie band get cape. wear cape. fly. “Open your eyes…you don’t need to buy it.”

There’s a good side to giving gifts at Christmas. There’s a joy in giving and receiving from family and friends that’s appropriate and even important. But if we’re hearing about what you should buy for Christmas in October then you know there’s a problem.

And to most problems there are solutions.

Jason Evans came up with the idea of “Buy nothing day”. The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year and he advises us to not only take it off, but to do something creatively with our day.

You could also choose not to give material gifts this Christmas. In many cases bringing our best doesn’t need to include our wallets. How could we use our talents to serve our friends and family?

Or why not help someone you’ve never met before? You could give a “farmers flock” in a relative’s name or plant 500 trees for your best friend at oxfam.org or other humanitarian organizations.

And probably the most practical thing you can do? Ignore the ads. Turn off the TV or radio when your program has gone to commercial breaks.

Gift-giving is a special, God-given way for us to give as we’ve been given to. Let’s not let it get polluted by our materialist-soaked culture.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Random Act of Kindness

"And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

Or what about a warm cup of coffee?

I went for my Dunkin Donuts hot french vanilla coffee with cream and sugar this morning. You typically place your order to a talking sign and then move your car up and give your money to an actual person. Today the lady informed me that the driver ahead of me had paid for my coffee. She also told me to have a "blessed day".

Who knows if she was a follower of Christ? She probably had never heard of the book Random Acts of Kindness or seen the movie Pay it Forward. Or maybe she has. Whatever the case, she made my day - no strings attached. What a concept huh?

Talk about culture shock.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Change You Can Count On

Change is on the way. Since beginning the blog a few months ago I've decided some things need to be tweaked. I've already got some ideas but I'd like your input as well. Please participate in the poll to your right. I've arranged the polls so that you can vote for more than one option
Your voice will be heard!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wait...Did that really happen?

The events of a week ago are probably the most significant piece of American history in my lifetime. While I do have plenty to say about the election of Barack Obama; most of it is unoriginal. The fact that Obama is the first black president doesn’t resonate with me the same way it would with Tiger Woods. Oprah can identify with the “self-made man” much more than I can. His multi-ethnicity is foreign to me. I am neither a student of history nor a sociologist any more than I am a politician. My vantage point comes from my relatively short American life, my dissatisfaction with the current president and my exposure to the media.

So if you want my reaction you can go here, or here. This post will be a collection of facts, mini-stories and tidbits of information – some more significant than others – that I’ve digested over the past week.

- Obama won more votes than anyone in American history (T) (62,527,406 votes)
- He received 93% of the votes in District of Columbia. (U)
- 9% of “liberals” voted for McCain; 19% of “conservatives” voted for Obama. (U)
- Virginia voted democrat for the first time since 1964. (E)
- Ralph Nader came in third with 642,154 votes – approximately the size of North Dakota.
- The economy was the most important issue for voters – 63% as opposed to 10% who said that Iraq was. (T)

- An Ohio judge ruled that homeless people could use a park bench as their address in order to register. (T)
- A Florida official locked himself in the Seminole County election headquarters and slept overnight with the ballots to make sure nothing went wrong. (T)
- In the six weeks between the conventions and the last debate unfavourable stories about John McCain outnumbered favourable stories more than three to one. (E)

From California to the New York Islands:
- Same-sex marriage is illegal in California again. The vote amended the state constitution “to define marriage only as the union of a man and a woman”. The ban already faces three lawsuits. (U)
- Assisted suicide is now legal for “terminally ill, competent adults medically predicted to die within six months” in the state of Washington. (U)
- Voting restriction wording will be changed from “’idiot’ or ‘insane person’ to ‘a person adjudged mentally incompetent of voting’” in Iowa. The language was seen as “outdated and offensive” to the Legislature. (U)
- Adoption is illegal in Arkansas for anyone “cohabiting outside of a valid marriage”. This includes same-sex couples in addition to opposite-sex couples. (U)
- Marijuana was decriminalized in Massachusetts meaning that criminal penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be replaced by a new system of “civil penalties”. (U)

The Rest of the World:
The Economist attempted to measure global opinion of the American elections by posting a poll on their website. 53,000 voters around the world registered their voice. 44,000 chose Obama – a margin of 5 to 1. The poll also found that:
- In 56 countries, including Canada, Britain, Germany, South Korea and Indonesia 90% voted for Obama.
- McCain won in 4 countries: Cuba, Congo, Algeria and Iraq.
- There was a virtual tie in Macedonia. (My Macedonian friends are free to chime in here!)
- Voters from 136 different countries participated.
Russia on the other hand did not seem so thrilled. Dmitry Medvedev decided to give a speech on the 5th of November: “This timing was meant to sow that Russia’s agenda is unaffected by such trivia as America’s presidential election.” Medvedev neither congratulated nor acknowledged Obama’s win during his first state-of-the-union address. He did send a telegram later though. (E)
- Unrelated to The Economist poll, the poll conducted on this blog found that the majority (4) supported McCain, while Obama, and my wife split the other 4 votes. Bob Barker did not have any supporters.

“Change has come to America.” Barack Obama

“I’ve loved this country, I’ve loved the concepts and the ideals that this country is based on. And when Barack said early in the campaign…that the practice of the country is not living up to the promise… I’ve always believed (that it could happen)” - Will Smith on Oprah

“(The U.S.) is a country that retains its ability to startle the world – and in a good way, with our freedom. It is a place, finally, where the content of our President’s character is more important that the color of his skin.” – Joe Klein in Time

“If John McCain had campaigned with the same eloquence with which he conceded, he might have been elected.” Richard Kavesh in New York Times

"Ladies and gentlemen, Barack Obama is our new president. And I think I speak for most Americans when I say, anybody mind if he starts a little early?" - David Letterman

"And people were worried about the Bradley effect. Apparently, it was not nearly as strong as the Bush effect." -Jay Leno

"Last night, after Barack Obama was declared the winner, President Bush called Obama, promised to work with him to guarantee a smooth transition. Yeah. Yeah, when we heard this, Obama said, 'Thanks, but you've done enough.'" -Conan O'Brien

(E) = The Economist November 8th-14th 2008
(T) = Time November 17th, 2008
(U) = USA Today Thursday, November 6, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Austin - Boston

We spent some time in Austin Texas with family last week. The following are some of the things we saw while we were there.

The first photograph ever taken. No, no one has a clue what it's supposed to be a picture of:
The Gutenberg Bible which was "the first substantial book printed with movable metal type". It was completed in 1454 or 1455. This is one of 5 complete copies in the world:

And for those of you who thought American history was shallow - The Ten Commandments. Apparently Moses was a student at the University of Texas at Austin:
The Texas Capital building, in which our current President's (former Governor of Texas) picture graces the walls:

We returned to Boson this past weekend where we were able to have Enoh dedicated a second time by my father in the church he now pastors - Central Baptist Church in Southbridge. For a guy who's name means "dedicated", Enoh has certainly lived up to it so far:

Central Baptist was so warm in receiving us and generous in giving towards the building project in Orahovica. We are blessed to be a part of their fellowship!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Culture Shock in Texas

My wife always told me Croatians are rough around the edges. In other words, they often come across rude when you first meet them – but then after you get to know them they're the friendliest people in the world. Although it's a generalization - and there are always exceptions - I've found her description to be quite accurate. Many times I wish I saw more smiles or friendly faces in Croatia.

So today I'm at a local Austin, Texas Starbucks. I order a plain grande coffee. The lady pleasantly asks if I'd like her to leave some room for cream. I say “yes please”. She continues:

“Would you like whip cream on top?”

“No, thanks” I reply

“Would you like a dash of our new Christmas cinnamon sprinkles?”

“No, thanks” I repeat

“Well you just don’t want any of our little treats to make your coffee better do you?” She said playfully.

Taken aback I reply: “Well I thought your coffee was supposed to be good by itself.”

It was right around “coffee” that I heard what was coming out of my mouth and decided to add a smile to my rather rude retort.

“Smart aleck” she said, and the conversation ended there. I left to look for the cream and sugar. “Man, I’m a jerk” I thought to myself.

Have I become rough around the edges? I mean, my purpose in going to the coffee shop is to get some coffee. I’m certainly not opposed to some friendly banter, but I’ve taken the “let your yes be yes…” verse to heart. Adding cinnamon to my coffee doesn’t need to be a negotiation.

I guess I’ve changed. Is it for the worse?

Fortunately, I had a chance to recover. When I went back for a refill she asked if I had a twin and gave me a wink. “He looks just like a guy who was here a half hour ago” she explained to her coworker.

“No, actually we’re triplets” I responded as if the wink were perfectly normal. “The third one should be here soon.”

As they say: “When in Rome…”

Sooner or later I’ll have to act like an American again.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Authenticity of Hope...Grounded in Faith

I am thrilled that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States. His victory is unprecedented, exciting, and historic. But for all the energy and time I put into absorbing the campaign I'm convinced there's something more. Yes, America has definitively chosen Obama as the man they want to bring change to our country – even the world. But our collective decision to put our hope in a politician should pale in comparison to a real authentic hope – hope grounded in faith.

Hebrews 11 fantastically begins by defining “faith” as being “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (TNIV). For those of us who have grown up hearing this verse it might not be as shocking as it was intended to be. How can we be sure of what we hope for? Isn’t hope, by definition, something we’re not supposed to be sure of? How can we be certain of what we do not see?

Barack Obama, whether you’re a critic or not, will fail. He will bring change, but it might not be the change we counted on. Promises will be broken, expectations dashed, people disappointed. And he still might do a very good job! The point is we can’t be sure of what we hope for in Barack Obama.

But the promise we have in Jesus Christ, if we are men and women of faith, is victory over death, salvation from sin, eternal life. Since Jesus came to establish his kingdom as something we can already be engaged in but is not yet fully fulfilled, we have the privilege of praying that his “will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. It’s not a dreamy sort of fairy tale happy-ending - it’s a concrete here-and-now kingdom that Jesus established and modeled.

This is the exciting thing. Our hope, or even better, our faith in Jesus Christ is not a stale 2000 year old superstition. Our faith, as James claims, is a call to action. So the challenge comes in asking what good our faith is without action. How will our beliefs inform our decisions? How will we reach out to those in need?

And Hebrews 12 picks up the theme of action. “Let’s run with perseverance”…”consider him who endured opposition”… “do not grow weary and lose heart”. Why? Because we have hope we can believe in modeled by someone who lived it out. And that’s going to last beyond Obama’s presidency. It’ll last beyond the empire that is the United States. “His kingdom will not pass away,” “his love will endure forever”!

As an aside, before Election Day I read two posts that influenced some of the thoughts expressed here. The first was from a blogger who picked up on some comments by John Piper in which he said Christians should “vote as if they were not voting”. The second by my father who considers his “eternal retirement account” more important that his earthly savings.

The cynical side of me worries that Christians will become so focused on the “world to come” that they ignore the responsibilities and privileges of living out a genuine faith in our current life. If we’re voting as if we’re not voting, I would fear we might not vote for example.

Authentic hope sees past cynicism though. The truth is that our eternal hope must manifest itself through our lives if we claim to have genuine faith. So in the words of Hebrews 12: “Let us throw off everything that hinders…and run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. And let us do so with the authenticity of hope grounded in faith.

Proud to be an American

It's hard for me to articulate the change that has washed over me in light of the elections, results and historic speech Barack Obama made last evening. The contrast between Obama and Bush at least from the surface level is so striking that it's incredible that they will share the same title.

The word that comes to mind immediately is humility. Obama was humble in his gracious message to Senator McCain. He humbly recognized the fact that Americans - rather than he - made this change. He’s rooted in the sense that he is a part of the process rather than the engine behind the process.

Obviously a leader must have a certain amount of confidence in his abilities. He wouldn’t have made it past the first primary if he weren’t aware of his leadership capabilities. That being said, he seems to genuinely want to be a part of history – not the highlight of history.

His ideas are radical at times, his policies foreign to some, but his temperament hasn’t wavered and his campaign was never derailed.

Another word describing tonight would obviously be emotion - for good reason. In the course of 48 hours Obama went through a huge personal emotional experience in the passing of his grandmother and through the biggest public emotional experience in winning the presidency of the U.S. And think what you want of Jesse Jackson and Oprah, but 20 years ago they couldn’t have dreamed of this moment in American history.

Barack Obama has been given the opportunity to become one of the best presidents in history. He inherits all kinds of problems and claims to have solutions. He has a great deal of support from his liberal base and the benefit-of–the-doubt from independents and even some conservatives.

What will he do? How will he perform? Will he come through on his promises?

I don’t know.

But I will support President Obama in prayer. I will honor him as our president.

I will even be proud to live in a flawed – but suddenly more united – United States of America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Top 10 Reasons I Would Vote For Obama

From the latest New Yorker: "His vote doesn't count, but at least he gets a sense of being part of the process. "

That's me. I don't get to vote. So here's my attempt to have a voice in the elections. At the risk of oversimplifying;

Top 10 Reasons I Would Vote For Obama:

10. Hussein. We could finally have a president that not only has a different color skin, but has other ethnic influences – a good thing seeing that there are other people in the world besides Americans.

9. Oratory. This doesn't belong any higher than number 9. A good speaker does not necessarily make a good leader. However, a good leader should be able to speak clearly and articulately. Obama does that plus some.

8. Sarah Palin. Yes, she’s a soccer mom – that doesn't qualify one for vice-presidency.

7. John McCain. Yes, he’s an American hero – that doesn't qualify one for presidency.

6. Intellect. Call him an elitist (but he's not – see 5). Call him an intellectual. For my vote, I'd like a guy who knows who the other leaders are, where the countries are, and what the issues are.

5. Inner-city Chicago. "His work as a community organizer was really a defining moment in his life, not just his career."

4. Joe Biden. Where Obama does lack experience Biden makes up for it – especially in the foreign policy department.

3. Vote. Obama made a now popular choice back when it was unpopular.

2. Campaign. He’s run a levelheaded, disciplined, smart campaign. Makes you think he might bring those kind of characteristics to the White House

1. Redistribution. I like that word. I love the concept. No, Obama is not a socialist, but his economic strategy is more generous to the poor and middle class than McCain’s. His plan to put everyone on a more equal financial playing field may not be a popular idea, but I believe it’s the right idea.
Happy Election Day!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Why I Wouldn't Vote For Obama - Even Though I Would - If I Could Vote on Tuesday

I messed up. The deadline for registering to vote was the 15th of October. I called to register on the 16th. I will therefore have no official voice in determining the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. Although I live in a state (MA) where that probably doesn’t make a difference, I am nonetheless frustrated at my incompetence in taking part in an important part of democratic life – an event that many have risked their lives to be a part of.

With that in mind, let me explain the rationale for the following post. I’ve come across some lists/articles of the reasons why you should vote for a particular candidate or party. Some of them have been entertaining. So I’ve decided to make my own. However, since I decided I would vote for Obama 2 years ago, I’ve run across some things that he stands for (or doesn’t) that trouble me. Any wise decision must take the negatives into account. Focusing only on the pros will lead to a rather uniformed position.

That being said, I am confident that Obama is the better candidate for president. The negatives have not outweighed the positives in my opinion. I am therefore not afraid to mention my concerns. Hence my Top 5 List:

The Top 5 Reasons I Would Not Vote For Barack Obama - Even Though I Would - If I Had a Vote: (drumroll please)

5. The time he doesn’t spend with his family. Call me traditional, but I don’t like the fact that he lives in D.C. and commutes back to Chicago on the weekends to see his family. Sure (presumably) his family would move to Washington but his ratio of time spent with family and spent working in my opinion is not healthy.

4. His rooting interest in Chicago. The White-Sox have won recently. Their manager is cocky, their stadium conventional, and league uses designated hitters. Rooting for the Cubs to win the World Series for the first time in 101 years? That’s real change.

3. His ties to Ayers. You’ve heard enough on that one.

2. The risk to his life after he assumes the presidency. On a very serious note, I hate to bring it up, but when liberals “hate on” Bush they do so because they “hate on” violence. Obama’s enemies include people who are racist and are only too happy to use violence to accomplish their goals. Some of the darkest days in America would follow if this kind of tragedy were to occur.

1. His complete inability to explain his stance(?) on abortion. In one interview he claimed that it’s “above my paygrade”, in another he mentioned that he wouldn’t want his daughters “punished with a child” if they had sex before marriage. Fortunately he’s more solid, articulate and forthright on many other issues, but his wishy-washiness on this one is less than impressive.

A “Part 2” post with a more traditional “why I would vote for Obama” will follow this one on Election Day – perhaps my attempt to actually have a voice in our democratic process.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New England The Beautiful

I have the privilege of being in Massachusetts at the height of autumn. The Psalmist says: "The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands..." I often consider this verse when I see the beauty of His creation. This afternoon my parents and I spent some time driving around central Mass. The following is a combination of pictures I took today and during my college years at this same time of year. Enjoy.