Friday, December 11, 2009

Delta's Customer Disservice

It's hard to know whether Delta or Northwest has worse customer service. With their merger, I suspect the two employ a scorekeeper to mark which representatives have not helped the most customers. Today my guess is that Delta is in the lead.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Dónde está el amor?

“Dónde está el amor?” This was the question posed by a priest in mass today outside Chiapas, Mexico. “Where’s the love?” he asked us – when some control so much and manipulate those who have so little; when some limit education to the wealthy only; when some restrict the flow of natural resources, such as water, to others.

Where’s the love?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Now I’ve read some boring books in my life. Of that, there is no doubt. But at least I can say that most, perhaps all, of my boring reads were assigned, not selected.

Not so for my neighbor on a flight today. He, by choice, was reading Robert’s Rules of Order: All You Need to Know. “Why?” I inquired, secretly hoping he was the new board chair of some worthwhile nonprofit or needed a quick refresher before leading an influential meeting.

After a brief pregnant pause came the reply: “Just wanted to see what it said.”

We had no more conversation.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Who will do God’s will?

Imagine the following scene. In a hurry, as usual, familiar words rush from your mouth: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on Earth as it is heaven.”

Suddenly, abruptly, almost curtly, a voice responds: “Are you sure?”

Shocked, you reply, “Sure of what?"

The voice continues: “Sure that you want my will to be done, my desires to be made actual.”

You: “Well, yeah, we could always use a little more heaven on Earth!”

The voice: “My will: No more children dying of hunger. No more extreme poverty. No more allowing the greed of a few to trump the need of many. Peace among nations, even religions. People truly loving me and each other. These are my desires. This is my will. Is this what you want?”

You: “Yes, sure. Absolutely. All of that sounds exactly right. It sounds very good, in fact.”

The voice: “Then what are you doing to make these things happen?”

Wondering how to finish this now uncomfortable dialogue, you mumble: “Em. Well. Me? What am I doing, you ask?”

The voice, in a calm yet firm tone: “Yes, you. If not you, who? Who else would do my will?”

The dialogue ends.

Wow. Try to catch your breath. If that dialogue happened to you, what would you think, feel and do? Would you ever dare to pray those words again?

After all, the voice — which we assume to be God’s voice — has called you out. You claimed to want God’s will on earth. And the voice met your claim and raised you one: What are you doing to make that claim become reality?

That’s a tough one. In fact, it is so tough that I think we ought to back up and blame it on Jesus. After all, he’s the one who used this phrase in his model prayer.

It’s true. Jesus was big on kingdom of God talk. Line up 100 New Testament scholars and ask what is most central to the message of Jesus, and I bet nearly 100 will say it is this idea that the kingdom of God can transform earthly kingdoms.

Or if you don’t like scholars, just open the Bible. Kingdom of God talk is all over the place, especially in the first three Gospels.In Mark, which is the oldest Gospel, Jesus uses the phrase in his inaugural address: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe this Gospel.” (Mark 1:15) Matthew and Luke both include kingdom talk in their beatitudes and many parables.

So, what did this phrase mean for Jesus? For Jesus, God’s kingdom had a present and a future meaning at the same time.

In the present, right now, you can claim the presence of God within you and among you within community. The future meaning aspect for the kingdom of God envisions a transformed world where relationships are deeper and the Earth and its fullness are rightly recognized as belonging to God. (Psalm 24)

There is more to say about this, but not today. After all, today I am thinking about your prayer to want things ordered the way they would be if God were king and other rulers were not.

It’s a big claim. Are you sure we want that?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Questioning the prayer

Questioning the prayer
By Nathan Day Wilson

How many times have you said The Lord’s Prayer? A few hundred times? Many thousands? Never at all?

The prayer is a work of beauty, especially Matthew’s version with its pleasant cadences and well balanced couplets. Try reading this aloud so you can feel the pulse: “Our father in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. They will be done.”

Did you feel it? Whether it means anything to your faith or not, you have to admit there’s wonderful rhythm to the prayer, smooth and melodic.

For me, the prayer evokes many memories. I’ve prayed it with close friends and with complete strangers. Those words have celebrated new lives and consoled recent deaths. In rooms where all spoke the same language, and in rooms where languages were as numerous as people, I’ve claimed and clamored this prayer that Jesus taught his followers.

Yet for a prayer so beautiful, so evocative and so central to whom and whose I am, rarely have I thought about what each phrase in the prayer means or why Jesus decided to include it. So I asked myself some questions.

For example, I asked myself, “Self, why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? After all, prayer was a pillar of Jewish piety. Public prayer, spoken aloud in the morning, afternoon and evening was common.”Then I thought, “Hmmm, Self, that is a good question.”

Then I considered rewarding my good question with some mint chocolate chip ice cream, but decided I should ask more questions instead.

What do you think? Why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? Or what’s your answer to these questions: Why did Jesus organize the prayer the way he did? After the beginning invocation, is there anything significant about the order of his six requests? How was the prayer radical at the time when Jesus taught it?

And the big one: Does this prayer have relevance for you; or, do you just say the prayer now because that’s what others have always done?

Not to be rude, but if you’re not going to speak up with some answers, I’m going to ask one more question: Of all the images or ways that Jesus could have addressed God at the beginning of the prayer, why did he start by saying “Our Father?”

After all, Jesus could have said something like, “Holy One who loves us more than there is water in the deepest sea.” It would have been true, and poetic if I may say so. God does love us, and all creation, more than there is water in the deepest sea — or even all the seas combined.

Or Jesus could have addressed God as “Ground of all our existence.” Or even, “One whose strength surpasses the strongest boulder.” Both are true statements; both are apt descriptions.

But Jesus did not start the prayer with any of those. Instead, he started with the Aramaic word, “Abba.” Why?

Those are the sorts of questions I’ve been asking myself. The good and exciting news for me is that this weekend I’ll be sharing some answers to the questions. The congregation I get to serve, First Christian Church, is beginning a worship series about The Lord’s Prayer this Sunday at 10 a.m.

One of the most requested worship topics, I think and pray it’ll be a good series. I guess I’m not the only one interested in deeply experiencing this much loved prayer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Light of truth in healthcare

The Shelbyville News

Light of truth in healthcare
By Nathan Day Wilson

First of all, thank you for the many emailed, telephoned and in person compliments on last week’s column. And, thank you for the complaint: a good reminder of the difficulty of writing hyperbole. I appreciate them all.

It was a fun column to write.

This week’s column, I’m afraid, is every bit as important but not as much fun. In fact, this week I write with a sad and heavy heart.

Here’s why: The past couple weeks have been very difficult for the soul of all Americans. In the midst of discussing important healthcare issues that will affect your family and mine for generations, too many of our fellow citizens have decided to resort to lies and uncivil behavior.

Whether they support reform or the status quo, their misinformation and divisive tactics sadden me, embarrass me and concern me for the well-being of our country.

You may have received some of their emails. Usually without the names of authors or supporting citations, the emails claim such ludicrous lies as healthcare reform would force families to receive care ordered by a government panel instead of qualified, trained doctors and their staff.

Another popular email claims that elderly would be left to die if healthcare reform passed. This is also untrue, and sickening that anyone would even write such a lie.

Why are some people doing this? I’m not sure, and I pray they stop. My guess is they benefit from the system as it is – a system that delivers the best health care to the wealthiest and leaves 46 million fellow Americans with no health insurance at all.

My guess for why people circulate intentionally untrue emails and act in violent ways is that they want us to be afraid. I never appreciated bullies, and I still don’t.

I think it should stop. For those of us who are Christians or belong to other faith groups, it should stop. For all of us who embrace the Golden Rule, it should stop. For us who seek justice and fairness, it should stop. If for no other reason than just our common identity as Americans, it should stop!

Let’s ask for, even demand, a healthcare discussion that is factual. Let’s demand one worthy of your family and my family; a discussion that brings our communities together instead of fragmenting us further.

Proverbs 12 says that “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.” Well, special interests, your moment is up. Now we want real healthcare discussion, not misinformation. We want the light of truth, not the heat of your fear-mongering.

Wilson is senior pastor of First Christian on West Washington St, which this week will celebrate all students, teachers, administration, staff and school board members at the 10:00 worship.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Custom made or cookie cutter religion

My wife Janice likes to bake, which is good since I like to eat what she bakes! It’s one place where our universe aligns and everything works out peachy.

Cookies are her specialty. Her cookies may be tried and true, such as chocolate chip or my favorite monster cookie, or they may be new and experimental. Her cookies may be round and chewy, or they may be flat and crisp. They may be loaded with chocolate, or sans chocolate but chock full of nuts and berries.

When our daughters were younger, Janice would sometimes bake with them using cookie cutters. Sometimes the molds were metal, sometimes they were plastic; their job was always the same: mold the cookie dough into identical shapes so that the cookies would look the same.

If you promise to keep a secret, I’ll tell you that I liked the Christmas tree shapes the best, though the Halloween pumpkins were swell too. Yes, I said “swell.”

There are definite good reasons for using cookie cutters. First of all, they are convenient. Baking cookies with a preformed shape is much more convenient, much easier than baking cookies that are shaped by hand.

Cookie cutters are also good because – at least in theory – the end result of using cookie cutters is a batch of cookies that looks the same.

And finally, cookie cutters help with quantity. You can produce a lot more cookies in a shorter amount of time when you are just stamping them out than when you take the time with each and every cookie.

But there are downsides too. Cookies made with cookie cutters are not nearly as creative as ones that are handmade. They don’t tell you as much about the personality of their baker. The shape imposed may not fit the cookie dough very well either: after all, whoever heard of a Christmas tree with a big raisin sticking out of it!

Religious communities are similar. Some are like cookie cutters, trying hard to stamp believers all into the same mold. Their approach to worship and education and service is more of “one size fits all” approach, rather than a customized, open approach.

Sometimes faith communities of this sort demand conformity of thought and action. At their worst, they shout, “My way is the only way!” and demean those who disagree.

Other religious communities – churches, synagogues and mosques – realize that faith is handmade. Sure there are absolutes, and they should be known. But there is much more that God shares with us in ways appropriate to each of us. There’s much more individual shaping that God does in our lives so that we complement, not conform to, each other.

It takes time and care to shape a faith of this type. You have to get your hands messy to make this kind of cookie.

How can you tell one type from the other? Listen to the language used. Does it encourage deeper thought, more genuine reflection and authentic engagement? If so, it is more of the handmade faith variety.

Or is the language closed? Does it duck the hard questions? Is there a pretend attitude that the world is of two shades with simple choices, rather than multicolored and complex? If so, then you have yourself a cookie cutter approach.

So now you are wondering which type is better? In my opinion, it is the handmade, open ended, willing to ask difficult questions and trust more in God’s mysterious grace than our definite understanding type. But I’ll say again that both types of religious communities have their positives.

The main thing is for you to consider which one you prefer – custom made or cookie cut.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

True Freedom

My latest newspaper column:

What means much to you?

Father never accepted any gift from his students, but when his daughter became a teacher, she never refused any gifts from her students.

The father was upset by this practice, so one day he reproached his daughter: "I do not accept any gift because gifts mean nothing to me. It pains me to know that you grab all that your disciples bring to you."

The daughter replied: "Father, if gifts mean nothing to you, why are you bothered whether I accept them or reject them?"

In my life, what means much to me, even when I think it doesn't?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Words That Create Community

This is from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey and is titled "Words That Create Community."

The word is always a word for others. Words need to be heard. When we give words to what we are living, these words need to be received and responded to. A speaker needs a listener. A writer needs a reader.

When the flesh - the lived human experience - becomes word, community can develop. When we say, "Let me tell you what we saw. Come and listen to what we did. Sit down and let me explain to you what happened to us. Wait until you hear whom we met," we call people together and make our lives into lives for others. The word brings us together and calls us into community. When the flesh becomes word, our bodies become part of a body of people.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Marriage is like ....

Can als be found at

A phone call in the night
By Nathan Day Wilson

Today is my wedding anniversary. It’s also my wife’s.

I’m not going to tell you how many years we’ve been married. Don’t want to mess up the math. Let’s just say that, for me, it seems like our marriage began yesterday; for my wife, I think concepts of eternity come to mind. We’ve been married somewhere in between.

Perhaps due to the anniversary, or perhaps due to a recent writing conference, or perhaps due to the many weddings I am celebrating this year, or perhaps due to indigestion, I was wondering what a good metaphor for marriage is. You know, “Marriage is like ….” and then you fill in the blank to describe this abstract idea of marriage.

To help me develop a good metaphor, I started to ask my wife, but then remembered wisdom of one of my late heroes, comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who said, “I haven’t talked to my wife in years. I didn’t want to interrupt her.”

I took his advice and decided instead to check with others. Of course, lots of people have had lots to say about marriage.

From philosophers, even the esteemed Socrates: “By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you will become happy; and if you get a bad one, you will become a philosopher.”From film directors, such as King Vidor: “Marriage is not a word; it is a sentence.”

Similarly, from authors, such as John Mortimer: “Marriage is like pleading guilty to an indefinite sentence. Without parole.” And Helen Rowland: “Marriage is like twirling a baton, turning handsprings or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.”

And of course, there are words aplenty from comedians, such as Evelyn Hendrickson: “Marriage is like a phone call in the night: first the ring, and then you wake up.” And I’m sure you’d be surprised that Dave Barry has said a word or two about marriage: “Contrary to what many women believe, it’s fairly easy to develop a long-term, stable, intimate and mutually fulfilling relationship with a guy. Of course this guy has to be a Labrador retriever. With human guys, it’s extremely difficult.”

Of course, no column that mentions marriage is complete without quoting Mae West: “They say love is blind ... and marriage is an institution. Well, I’m not ready for an institution for the blind just yet.”

That's enough already. Let’s move on to something worth remembering. For instance, the sentimental side of me — yes, there is one, I just hide it — likes this quote from Ivern Ball, “A good marriage is like a good trade: Each thinks he got the better deal.”

That’s something I would include in my metaphor for marriage. As well as something about how my wife inspires me with her concerns and commitments. Something about how she impresses me with her capacity to remember schedules and balance interests. Something about how she impacts my life, the lives of our children, of our family, of people on the other side of the world with her love.

With all those words from others and thoughts of my own, I decided it was time to develop my own metaphor for marriage. So I asked myself, “Self, what is marriage like?”

But before I answered, I was interrupted. Go figure.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not Being Distracted

Can You Hear Me?

The master of ceremony bragged on the elementary-aged award recipients: their concern for the environment, their vision of a recycling program, their stamina to make the vision a reality. He called their names. Wild applause, some standing, pictures flashing. But only one recipient appeared.

When the emcee repeated the second name, there was muffled laughter when someone said, “Em, he’s in the john!” Apparently the little boy just couldn’t hold it any longer. This was his big moment, his chance to shine, his opportunity. His name was called, his response was anticipated, but he was in the john!

I wonder how often I am “otherwise occupied” when God calls my name. Something God wants to teach me, something God wants to show me, something God wants to give me - even bigger than a community award – and I am, well, distracted. For what is God calling my name?

For example, lately God is teaching me how fragile life is, showing me how important relationships are, giving me the gift of faith in the midst of struggle and calling me to more focused ministry.

How about you? What is God teaching, showing, giving your right now? For what is God calling your name? I don’t pretend to know the answers for you, but I am always eager to discern the answers with you.

Please contact me for opportunities to talk.

It’s your big moment. God is bragging about you. God is calling your name. So, try not to spend it in the john!

See you soon at the place where God teaches, shows, gives and calls-


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Musicals as communication

I don’t know enough, but since you don’t know that I don’t, I’ll act like I do.

I’ve listened to musicals throughout my life, but feeling their power and assessing their quality are new to me. While affinity is finally decided by the temperamental viewer, there are some standards.

Quality musicals begin with powerful voices. If the voices are weak, it’s likely the musical is weak. Consistently misuse a voice and it may develop nodules, which can ruin a voice and a musical.

Quality musicals tell interesting stories without taking too long. Take too long and the audience may fall asleep. The more interesting the story, the longer can be the musical – if necessary.

Quality musicals are packed with striking costumes and stunning sets. The details of both energize the audience, enhance the production and enliven the story.

Quality musicals finish strong, unlike this essay.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Good writing

This week I’m at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research to participate in a writer’s conference. It’s my first time to the Institute, though I have long been a fan of its publications and other work.

I awoke this morning at 6:00 and walked down a road and across a bridge to the other side of Lake Stumpf. The problem was that my phone, which of course serves as my clock since that makes sense, did not automatically reset to local time, as I expected. I discovered this upon entering the fitness center, which I was pleased to find open, and a few ROTC members said the center was open only for the ROTC until 6:30. It was 5:40.

I like the architecture and layout that I saw on Saint John’s University campus. The Sexton Commons in particular, which I was also pleased to find open (no shops or stores within the building were yet ready for the day’s business, but the building itself was open with a few food service employees milling about), is a very attractive space.

Here’s a quote from Michael Dennis Browne, a librettist, from a publication of the Collegeville Institute: “A good piece of writing is an opportunity for the reader to imagine. You, the reader, are given the ingredients, the makings; the cooking is up to you. It does require a certain temperature if the water is to boil.”

This week I hope to learn more about providing ingredients.

Friday, June 12, 2009


What kind of adult?
By Nathan Day Wilson
Published: Friday, June 12, 2009 7:13 AM US/eastern
A woman who attends First Christian Church recently scheduled counseling with me. She wanted to discuss her teenager and seek suggestions.

You’ve probably seen the scenario she described: Her teenager can text with phone in pocket, keep up with friends on Facebook and create an excellent video PowerPoint — all while listening to an iPod and balancing on one foot. (OK, I added that “balancing on one foot” part for effect.)

Much to the mother’s chagrin, however, that same teenager can barely make a bed or give directions from our church on West Washington Street to his house. Said teenager won’t look adults in the eye or audibly greet them. Perhaps most disconcerting to mom, her teenager seems to have no appreciation for community projects, needs or issues.

Mom to me: “What kind of adult will (her teenager) become?”

I reassured her that erratic behavior for teens has been around as long as teens have been around. It’s common as children become teens and teens become young adults.

As we talked further, though, something else occurred to me. While our bodies are biologically maturing earlier due to nutritional and genetic influences, I wonder if some aspects of our social maturity are being delayed due, at least in part, to technological advancements and time spent with technology.

So I looked into this and found others more learned than I to be in agreement. For instance, two psychologists, Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson, wrote a book about it titled “Mismatch: Why Our World No Longer Fits Our Bodies.”

Their thesis can be summarized by this line: “The coincidence of reproductive and social maturation which existed for most of our history has been lost.”

Reading that made me ask myself: “Self, what does it mean to be socially mature?” Gluckman and Hanson say it is having “the skills necessary to be a successful adult.” Even I can remember that definition, so it works well enough for me.

Being the astute reader that you are, you probably could predict what I wondered next: If being socially mature means having the skills to be a successful adult, then what are those skills?

At this point in your reading pleasure, you are invited to ponder for two moments and name what skills you think are needed in order for one to be a successful adult.

OK, that’s enough pondering. Don’t want you to hurt yourself. Let me quickly say that I do not agree that time spent online is necessarily wasted time.

In fact, I think some social skills are learned while using technological tools and toys. Like what, you ask?

Well, like the fact that social worlds negotiated online are permanent, public and involve managing elaborate networks of friends and acquaintances. Or, like the fact that online socializing is always on and always immediate.

But there are other skills not well developed online, such as the skill of learning what it feels like to contribute to the care of one’s home. I know it can be a drag, but having a home that is somewhat organized and clean is mind-clearing and uplifting.

Here’s another skill that many teens I know greatly appreciate: Volunteering. I know many teens at First Christian and outside it who love to volunteer, not least because of the “helper’s high” they get from doing so.

Now, here’s where you come in. What skills would you say are needed for one to be a successful adult? I’d really like to know. Please send them to me at, or by using the comment function if you read this online.

Adolescents are demonstrating their abilities to master technology; maybe we all together can develop abilities to live meaningful lives.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Today's Students Are More Globally Aware, Less Materialistic, Leading Pollster Says

This is from The Chroncile of Higher Education. What do you think?

Washington — The generation of young people who are filling college classrooms and becoming junior faculty members today are more globally aware and less concerned about material wealth than were their predecessors, a leading public-opinion pollster told more than 150 college and university presidents and other top administrators who attended The Chronicle’s Leadership Forum here today.

John Zogby, who is president and chief executive officer of the marketing and research firm Zogby International and has been conducting polls for more than 20 years, said college administrators should keep in mind the priorities of “America’s first global citizens” — those now 18 to 30 years old. Fifty-six percent of people in that age group, he said, have passports and have traveled abroad: “They are as likely to say they are citizens of the planet Earth as they are to say they are citizens of the United States.”

Mr. Zogby has taught history for 25 years and is a senior adviser at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is also the author of The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.

Today’s college students are “the most diverse, multicultural generation yet produced,” he said, and are more tolerant of differences. “College students don’t believe that American culture is inherently superior to the cultures of Africa” and other parts of the world, he said.

Even though a growing proportion of Americans — possibly 30 percent now — are earning less than they did in their previous jobs, a surprising number still say they believe in the American dream, he said. The definition has changed, however.

“We’re not only looking at a transformation of the American dream, but in many ways at a transformation of the American character,” he said. Instead of focusing on material wealth and professional status, people in their 20s and early 30s are more likely to seek a rewarding and spiritually-fulfilling life, he said.

Some of these “secular spiritualists” have already taken pay cuts and see little immediate hope of regaining their former earnings. Their attitude, he said, is, “God threw me lemons, so I may as well make lemonade.”

—Katherine Mangan

Saturday, June 06, 2009

What Now baccalaureate 2009

Asking, ‘What now?’

By Nathan Day Wilson
Published: Friday, June 5, 2009 12:43 AM US/eastern

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of being this year’s baccalaureate preacher at Shelbyville High School. I was honored to be asked and enjoyed the time very much.

The title of my talk was “What Now?” In it, I suggested four life stances to take when faced with a “what now” decision, such as what now after the end of high school. Conveniently, the four suggestions form the acrostic BEAR so that a group of Shelbyville Golden Bears could easily remember them.

So, the B: Be bold!

By bold I don’t mean try to jump a building in a single bound or outrun speeding bullets — though if a bullet is heading your way, you might try something. What I mean is boldly stand for principles and values that improve this world for us all.

For instance, when someone is cast out by the majority — maybe because of race or religion, appearance or accent, sexual orientation or spiritual depth — what I hope is that our new graduates and all of us will boldly stand with and for that person. When we do, we answer the question “what now” by saying that now is the time for no more prejudice, no more bias, no more discrimination. Now is the time for dignity, for community, for love.

Another way to be bold is by not making life decisions based on where the money is good; instead, focus on where the work is good. That is, focus where the good comes from the difference the work makes in your life and the lives of others. When that happens, we answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to make a difference in my life and in the lives of others.

Of course, being bold means we will make mistakes. Making honest mistakes when living life boldly is a whole lot better than living some namby-pamby, half-baked cautious life. If we avoid the possibility of making mistakes by not being bold, then we also avoid the risk of success, achievement and even joy.

Second, the E: Enjoy life!

Enjoying life doesn’t only mean be happy. Happiness is good, but happiness can be temporary and fleeting.

Enjoying life means looking for joy. Joy can be lasting partly because joy comes from pursuing one’s interests and passions. My advice to those going on to college — which is not always well-received by their parents — is study what you love. Studying what is marketable might work for a while, but usually it only works a while. Studying what you love is much more likely to last!

Is there anything sadder than parents who pressure their children to live the parents’ dreams? Of course, we parents should give our kids advice — especially when we have their best interests at heart.

But we shouldn’t pressure our kids to live our dreams. They have or might develop dreams of their own.

Enjoy life also means enjoying family and friends. Nothing, not fame or fortune, not diplomas or distinctions, can replace the joy of family or true friends. When you are wrong, say so and ask for forgiveness. When someone wrongs you, offer forgiveness and hopefully reconcile. Enjoy life.

We answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to enjoy life by pursuing my passions and interests, and by enjoying my family.

Third, the A: Ask questions!

Ask questions. Ask why things are the way they appear to be. More importantly, ask why things are not the way they ought to be.

I like to illustrate this point by saying it is absolutely great to help clean trash out of a creek. And it’s important to go up stream and ask who is putting the trash in to start with.

It’s absolutely great to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. And it’s important to ask why so many people are homeless.

An especially important question for us all to ask ourselves is, “Who tells you who you are?”

Some people need money to tell them who they are. Money is important and can be put to great use, but money shouldn’t define who we are.

Some people need power to tell them who they are. Some need academic institutions. Oddly, some need enemies, and without enemies to stand against, they don’t know what they stand for.

If it’s God telling us who we are, then we don’t have to prove ourselves. If God tells us who we are, then we are precious, unprecedented, unrepeatable, irreplaceable. Rather than proving ourselves, we simply need to express ourselves as the ones God made and meant for us to be.

We answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to ask questions.

Finally, the R: Reimagine reality!

First of all, we reimagine the reality of our lives. Yes, we make mistakes, but we don’t need to cling to those mistakes as though they are the holiest things in our lives! They are not, so quit letting them weigh you down.

Yes, we sin. However — and this is one of my favorite things to say — there is more forgiveness in God than sin in you! Accept that forgiveness and face today’s challenges with today’s strength. You should never let yesterday dictate tomorrow.

The second part of reimagining reality is to reimagine our community and world with hope. I love the definition of hope that says “Hope is belief despite the evidence and then making the evidence change.”

We answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to reimagine reality for ourselves and others.

“What now?” is not a question intended to cause panic and concern. Instead, my use of “What now?” is to recognize that our future is open, that we may do more than others expect of us, that at every point in our development we are striving to grow.

At the end of the day, my hope for the class of 2009 is a hope for us all: rather than focus so much on how to make a living, we focus on how to make lives worth living.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Giving Youth Roots and Branches

The congregation I serve, First Christian Church, just celebrated a great weekend! On Saturday, we graduated 30 proud preschoolers, watched by their prouder families, from our Discovery Preschool. It was well organized, enjoyable and fun to see the soon-to-be kindergarteners celebrate what they have learned academically, socially and spiritually.

On Sunday, we celebrated the graduations of fifteen from our congregation: 10 from high school, 3 from college and 2 from graduate schools. By anyone’s standards (and mine are pretty high), they are a remarkable lot. Genuinely concerned for others and God’s world, musical, athletic, smart, informed, involved and interesting, this group is enough to restore some hope in our present and future.

Both celebrations were wonderful. Amid the smiles and joy, fond memories and hopeful dreams, and a few tears, both celebrations reminded me of the terrifying yet terrific work of parenting.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely find parenting to be easy. Yes, it is (often) enjoyable, but rarely easy – even during the stable, business-as-usual times.

When a major life transition hits, such as a graduation, knowing what to say or do can be downright tough! This is no business-as-usual. Now your child is passing from one season of life to a new one. And with that change in life are new challenges and chances, heartaches and hopes.

As a caring parent, what do you say? What do you do? On what should you focus during these times? Well, here’s one idea: focus during these times on roots and branches.

No, I’m not saying go plant a tree together – although that’s not a bad idea. I mean focus your conversations on roots and branches.

First, the roots. Help your children know who they are. Help them know whose they are. Help them know their values. Help them find their voice. Nourish those roots well so that they will grow deep and strong.

What are some good roots to strengthen? Here’s one: Don’t ridicule those different than you. Or, see what you can learn from every person you encounter. Or, finish what you start.

Help others. And, celebrate the successes of others with the same gusto you hope they celebrate yours. The phrase “thank you” is one of the most powerful in all of language, so use it.

Those are some roots. I’m sure you can think of more.

Second, don’t forget that the point of strong roots is to put forth healthy branches. The point of knowing who you and whose you are is to be able to reach out and grow more. If roots are needed to realize values and voice, so branches help us realize our vision; better yet, by branching out, we realize God’s vision for us.

What are some branches to give our kids? Here’s one of my favorites: Your history should not dictate your future.

Rarely is failure final. Try something new. Stand for what is right, even when it is costly. The world can change for the better, and you can help it. It is always a good time to change your mind when to do so will widen your heart.

Now I know that reminding kids of their roots is more comfortable than giving them branches on which to move forward. I also know that both are important and needed.

So I’ll conclude with perhaps my all-time favorite truth as we move forward: There is more forgiveness in God than sin in you.

These are days of graduations, days of transitions; these are days to celebrate!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

We have the power to make the world we seek

The text of President Obama's speech today in Cairo:

"I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own – this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek – a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many – Muslim and non-Muslim – who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort – that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Writing a short story

Writing short stories is to novels what day trips are to multi-week vacations. I'm working on my short story writing.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Congo conflict minerals

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, scene of the deadliest conflict since World War II, remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman or girl. In part, this danger comes from the demand created by you and me for electronic products that requires minerals found in the eastern Congo. While Congo is a complex crisis, including tensions over land, rights, identity, regional power struggles and the fundamental weaknesses of Congo as a state, the trade in conflict minerals is a key driver of the conflict.

To find out more, go here

To do something, go here

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Travel news

Within the travel industry's economic damage, airlines face substantial overcapacity. Two of the large US flag carriers will have to merge to avoid the bankruptcy of another American airline. United Airlines (UAUA), American (AMR) and US Air (LCC) are the weakest airlines. The stocks of all three are down more than 40% so far this year as concerns mount that passenger traffic declines will accelerate as the recession gets worse.

The sales loses are being partially offset by a drop in fuel prices and cuts in routes and airplanes, but the benefit of those reductions has already mostly occurred. When the economy or fuel prices are bad for a prolonged period, airlines turn to the two behaviors which have been their modes operandi in the past: mergers and bankruptcy.

If the revenue problems worsen, a stronger carrier such as Continental (CAL) is almost certain takeover one of its weakened peers. Not only are the numbers of passengers dropping, but as BusinessWeek pointed out two weeks ago, airlines are cutting ticket charges sharply because “there are relatively strong indications that bookings for the spring and summer — especially for business-class tickets — may be far softer than carriers had expected.”

In the fourth quarter of last year, United generated negative $989 million in operating cash flow and negative $1.1 billion of free cash flow, defined as operating cash flow less capital expenditures. The quarter that just ended will not be as good as Wall Street hoped. United cut a deal with its largest credit card processor for enough cash to maintain its business. The card company gets a security interest in some United aircraft in exchange. The deal extends until January of next year.

United needs a way out of all this trouble. since it has already been through a bankrupcty, a merger is now a more likely alternative.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thoreau on lives lived

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, April 16, 2009

US commitment to Americas

The White House says that its policy in the Americas would henceforth be guided by a simple test: whether it improves the lives of those living in favelas and barrios. Read more here

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Blackwater security firm changing

The notoriously controversial private security firm Blackwater is changing its name, its products and its chief. The new name is Xe; the new products are drastically scaled down; the new CEO is unnamed at this time. I wonder if there will also be a new level of responsible reporting and accountability. To read more:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Be convicted but not close-minded!

What do I mean? Well, thanks for asking; here's what I mean:

We are convicted that love really is better than hate; that violence really does not work, and always leads to more violence; that it is better to focus on giving instead of getting. We are convicted that diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.

When we live these convictions, the hungry are fed, the homeless sheltered, the sick cared for, the grieving comforted, the lost welcomed and the children protected. These are the convictions that make the world more peaceful and life-giving.

At the same time, we are not close-minded. We know that we don't have the corner on truth. And we know that ignoring the truths to be learned elsewhere only belittles the truths to which we hold.

March's Spiritual Madness

As a close second to the Olympics, we have now entered my favorite sports event. But there is one thing I like better about March Madness: I don't lose quite as much sleep.

I'll admit it up front: March Madness is for me an almost spiritual experience.

Now, relax. Don't get all riled and red-faced. You can save your lectures. I agree that sports are not real life. Of course, part of the value of sports is ...


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Crisis is a terrible thing to waste

Yea, another bandwagon I'm on: using the phrase, "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste."

Who said it, or something similar, first? Maybe economist Paul Romer. A quick look shows the selection of those using the phrase, or something close includes

Thomas Friedman (New York Times, 18 April 2004)
Eliot Spitzer (January 2005)
Arthur Affleck (February 2006)
Geoff Davis (April 2007)
John Lee (July 2008)
Hazel Henderson (September 2008 - good article this one)
Tim Dollmeyer (October 2008)
Richard Heinberg (October 2008)
Max McKeown (October 2008)

So, what does it mean?


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Green Eyed Monster

Tomorrow is week 2 of First Christian's new worship series that we titled "Sinning Like a Christian." Week one's sin was PRIDE; tomorrow's is ENVY. We're looking honestly at the presence of sin in our lives, but lest you think we get too serious, a bit of humor can be found here and there -- and usually intentionally. The series is off to a good start!

Worship begins at 10:00. First Christian is located at 118 W Washington St in Shelbyville, IN. Y'all come --


Friday, January 23, 2009

The challenges, pains, rewards of leadership

I benefitted from spending a few days with ministry colleagues this week at Wabash College. Part of our time was spent discussing the ideas in Leadership without Easy Answers with each other and with the book's author, Ronald Heifetz.

Heifetz was a great conversation partner for us: thoughtful, engaging and genuinely interested in hearing our leadership concerns and theological considerations. In sum, Heifetz message was that the challenges of leadership, along with the pains of change, must not diminish anyone's eagerness to reap the rewards of creating value and meaning in other people's lives. Leadership is difficult, and worth it.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Spirituality = Happiness?

I’m not yet sure of the study’s parameters or details, because I haven’t made time to read the study in depth, but I am interested in its findings: Children between the ages of 8 and 12 who feel that their lives have meaning and value and who develop quality relationships are happier. The authors of this study from the University of British Columbia assert that their findings are in keeping with those from a long line of studies indicating that for adults, college students and older teens, spirituality – defined loosely as a sense of purpose, meaning and value, and sense of connection with others – is directly linked to happiness. With more spirituality, the thinking goes, comes more happiness.

What do you think?


Friday, January 09, 2009

College students today

Almost 2 million first-year college and university students are heading back to schools around the country this month. Many of them were born around 1990 when headlines sounded more than a little familiar: Big Three car companies were facing declining sales and profits; a president named Bush was increasing the number of troops in the Middle East in the hopes of securing peace; fluctuating fuel prices were causing airlines to, well, fluctuate their prices.

While the headlines of now and 1990 might sound similar, according to an annual poll by Beloit College in Wisconsin, the general mindset of this year's college freshman is quite different from the faculty preparing them to become the leaders of tomorrow. Dubbed the "Mindset List," this annual poll provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college.

For instance, the class of 2012 has grown up in an era where computers and rapid communication are norm, and colleges no longer trumpet the fact that residence halls are “wired” and equipped with the latest hardware. These students hardly recognize the availability of telephones in their rooms since they have seldom utilized landlines during their adolescence. They will continue to live on their cell phones and communicate via texting. Roommates, few of whom have ever shared a bedroom, have already checked out each other on Facebook where they have shared their most personal thoughts with the whole world. It is a multicultural, politically correct and “green” generation that has hardly noticed the threats to their privacy and has never feared the Russians and the Warsaw Pact.

Intersting stuff, huh? Here's the rest of the list:

1. Harry Potter could be a classmate, playing on their Quidditch team.2. Since they were in diapers, karaoke machines have been annoying people at parties.3. They have always been looking for Carmen Sandiego.4. GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available.5. Coke and Pepsi have always used recycled plastic bottles.6. Shampoo and conditioner have always been available in the same bottle.7. Gas stations have never fixed flats, but most serve cappuccino.8. Their parents may have dropped them in shock when they heard George Bush announce “tax revenue increases.”9. Electronic filing of tax returns has always been an option.10. Girls in head scarves have always been part of the school fashion scene.11. All have had a relative–or known about a friend’s relative–who died comfortably at home with Hospice.12. As a precursor to “whatever,” they have recognized that some people “just don’t get it.”13. Universal Studios has always offered an alternative to Mickey in Orlando.14. Grandma has always had wheels on her walker.15. Martha Stewart Living has always been setting the style.16. Haagen-Dazs ice cream has always come in quarts.17. Club Med resorts have always been places to take the whole family.18. WWW has never stood for World Wide Wrestling.19. Films have never been X rated, only NC-17.20. The Warsaw Pact is as hazy for them as the League of Nations was for their parents.21. Students have always been “Rocking the Vote.”22. Clarence Thomas has always sat on the Supreme Court.23. Schools have always been concerned about multiculturalism.24. We have always known that “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”25. There have always been gay rabbis.26. Wayne Newton has never had a mustache.27. College grads have always been able to Teach for America.28. IBM has never made typewriters.29. Roseanne Barr has never been invited to sing the National Anthem again.30. McDonald’s and Burger King have always used vegetable oil for cooking french fries.31. They have never been able to color a tree using a raw umber Crayola.32. There has always been Pearl Jam.33. The Tonight Show has always been hosted by Jay Leno and started at 11:35 EST.34. Pee-Wee has never been in his playhouse during the day.35. They never tasted Benefit Cereal with psyllium.36. They may have been given a Nintendo Game Boy to play with in the crib.37. Authorities have always been building a wall across the Mexican border.38. Lenin’s name has never been on a major city in Russia.39. Employers have always been able to do credit checks on employees.40. Balsamic vinegar has always been available in the U.S.41. Macaulay Culkin has always been Home Alone.42. Their parents may have watched The American Gladiators on TV the day they were born.43. Personal privacy has always been threatened.44. Caller ID has always been available on phones.45. Living wills have always been asked for at hospital check-ins.46. The Green Bay Packers (almost) always had the same starting quarterback.47. They never heard an attendant ask “Want me to check under the hood?”48. Iced tea has always come in cans and bottles.49. Soft drink refills have always been free.50. They have never known life without Seinfeld references from a show about “nothing.”51. Windows 3.0 operating system made IBM PCs user-friendly the year they were born.52. Muscovites have always been able to buy Big Macs.53. The Royal New Zealand Navy has never been permitted a daily ration of rum.54. The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.55. 98.6 F or otherwise has always been confirmed in the ear.56. Michael Millken has always been a philanthropist promoting prostate cancer research.57. Off-shore oil drilling in the United States has always been prohibited.58. Radio stations have never been required to present both sides of public issues.59. There have always been charter schools.60. Students always had Goosebumps.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Prayers for times of recesssion

Earlier this week the Church of England published two new prayers: one to comfort those who lost their jobs in the financial crisis; and one for those who have seen colleagues laid off and are troubled by feelings of stress and even guilt about still being employed.

The one for laid off workers, called “The Prayer on Being Made Redundant,” according to the Church, “helps to put into words the anxieties of those who are losing - or who have already lost - their job in the wave of recent redundancies.” I include the full text below, but want to highlight these words: “Hear me as I cry out in confusion, help me to think clearly, and calm my soul.”

The most potent line of the prayer is this: “As life carries on, may I know your presence with me each and every day. And as I look to the future, help me to look for fresh opportunities, for new directions.”

That’s a moving and meaningful line for all of us, laid off or not. Rather than being complacent, I hope I am consistently looking for the new ways God would use me. How can I respond to God’s direction to make the difference in the world that God desires?

The second prayer, titled “The Prayer for Those Remaining in the Workplace” addresses feelings of guilt and fears of increased workload that often come with layoffs. As you’ll see below, it begins with the heartfelt concern many of us feel, “Life has changed: Colleagues have gone - redundant, out of work. Suddenly, what seemed so secure is now so very fragile.”

At another point, this prayer asks, “Who will be next? How will I cope with the increased pressure of work?”

John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and chairman of the Church of England's stewardship committee, said in a statement that the prayers emphasize the church is there for people in times of crisis.

“This is a pastoral initiative,” he said. “We need to be on the lookout to support those facing redundancy. Neighbourliness is so important in crisis situations, whether it's offering people new prayers to God or by simply being there with a listening ear.”

It's not just in Great Britain that those fearing for their livelihood are turning to prayer.

Employees and executives waited in the cold on the first working day of 2009 to enter a Tokyo, Japan, shrine dedicated to commerce on Monday, praying to the god Ebisu-Sama to keep their businesses afloat in a new year with a grim economic outlook.

Many of us just celebrated Epiphany – a time reminding us that God is present and loving in times of crisis, times of celebration and times in between. I’m thankful that the Church of England has given us words to name that presence. I hope you find the prayers meaningful.


"Redundant" - the word says it all - "useless, unnecessary, without purpose, surplus to requirements."

Thank you, Heavenly Father, that in the middle of the sadness, the anger, the uncertainty, the pain, I can talk to you.

Hear me as I cry out in confusion, help me to think clearly, and calm my soul.

As life carries on, may I know your presence with me each and every day.

And as I look to the future, help me to look for fresh opportunities, for new directions.

Guide me by your Spirit, and show me your path, through Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.


Life has changed: Colleagues have gone - redundant, out of work. Suddenly, what seemed so secure is now so very fragile.

It's hard to know what I feel: sadness, certainly, guilt, almost, at still having a job to go to, and fear of the future.

Who will be next? How will I cope with the increased pressure of work?

Lord Jesus, in the midst of this uncertainty, help me to keep going: to work to the best of my ability, taking each day at a time, and taking time each day to walk with you.

For you are the way, the truth and the life.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Colleges increasing student aid in recession

Recessions are, by nature, uncertain times. This is especially true for families with children in college.

Thankfully, many colleges are creating additional student aid programs or expanding existing ones. Other colleges are providing additional student counseling or extending grace periods for tuition payments.

These are welcome advances, in my view, and I hope more will follow!


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Young Adult Book of the Year

Okay, this was written by a colleague. Do you agree? -- Nathan

"Breaking Dawn" by Stephenie Meyer - Some of you may be groaning at this pick, saying to yourself: "I am so sick of everything Twilight, blah, blah, blah, and I HATED Breaking Dawn; it was terrible in every way, so why in the world is it on this list, much less being called the #1 Spiritual YA Novel of 2008?" Well, I'll tell you why: It's #1 because of the Zeitgeist factor, zeitgeist meaning "spirit of the age or time." Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series is a contemporary, cultural phenom because it's a whisper on everyone's lips--the young, the old, the boy, the girl, the Dad, the Mom, the cranky husband, and the swooning wife--even if the person whispering has no idea what Twilight even is. It's the new Harry Potter, everyone is going crazy for it, and it has taken on a life of its own. Hence, the zeitgeist factor.