Culture Watch

What It Takes to Change the World

Since I was traveling and meeting new people yesterday, I heard very late about the events in Paris as my Facebook feed overflowed with grief and anger for the victims. What an incredible tragedy to see innocent people slaughtered in the name of an ideology that is ruthless and has no regard for human life! We can all imagine being in similar settings and feeling the horror of being attacked at times we’d least expect it and losing loved ones in the prime of their lives.
Media coverage will of course go wall-to-wall, creating a continuous wave of grief and fear that is made worse by how powerless we feel to do anything about it.  For most of us Paris is a long ways away, and we have no way to affect the turbulent events in the Middle East in any way that matters.
Interestingly I had an exchange last week about how God wants us to respond to our enemies by loving them and what it means in situations like this. And my answer was, I don’t have a clue.  When I think of the big-ticket items in our world, I’m at a loss as to how love would work in such extremity. But maybe that isn’t the point. We can’t see what it means here because we’re not really involved with any of it.
We can grieve for the people in Paris. We can pray for God’s intervention in these desperate circumstances and for the wisdom of global leaders to deal with all the chaos in our world. But it will help to realize that our media overwhelms us with storylines that invite our emotional responses to situations we cannot influence. And that can be crippling. We grieve for people we don’t know fear circumstances we can’t control. I don’t know how to comfort the people in Paris, or to end Islamic fundamentalist aggression in the world. But I do know how to love the people around me today. I know people going through painful circumstances and grief of their own and can comfort them. I know those who treat me with distain and betrayal and what it means to love them is very clear. We can’t really love “the world” in any meaningful way. It’s too abstract and generalized at a macro level to make any difference, but is richly powerful in the immediate circumstances of our own life.
Is that why Jesus asked us to, “love one another,” not to love the crowds or the whole world? Love is applied in the singular, not the plural. If you want to be the change in the world, get your eyes off of circumstances you don’t control and on to those people and circumstances right around you where your loving can make a difference. If you grieve for the people in Paris and feel powerless to help, think of someone you know going through deep grief or challenge and find a way to encourage them today.  Instead of leaving in fear or frustration of ISIS, find someone who has done you wrong and ask Jesus if there is a way to love him or her today that will begin to reverse the cycle of evil that only adds pain to pain.
We overcome evil in the world not by fussing and fretting, but by loving some one in front of us.  Every act of generosity and kindness brings light into the world.  Every time you comfort a broken heart, offer kindness to a stranger, or make time for someone who is lonely you pour a bit more of the kingdom in the world.
Wherever our fear gives way to love in the immediacy of our own circumstances, the world changes a little and the power of wickedness is broken. Find someone to love, encourage, or bless today and you will have been part of something significant.  You can leave the bigger things in Father’s hands, who is well up to the challenge.

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The Political Battle of Our Time

I don’t often use this space for political commentary, but a new election cycle is in full swing and though my hope for a better world is not invested in politics, I care deeply about governance in our society and the decline of quality in political leadership over the last fifty years.  I am convinced that the great political battle of our time is not Republican versus Democrat, or liberal versus conservative, but the people versus a government industry that is ripe with corruption and who use every election to exploit the legitimate passions of the electorate to enhance the personal ambitions of the one percent. This industry is made up of a diabolical, symbiotic relationship between politicians, Wall Street bankers, media personalities, and lobbyists pursuing their own selfish ambitions for wealth and power.

And I’m not saying that there aren’t good, conscientious people working for the government who want what’s best for the country, I’m just saying their voices are drowned out by the human quest for money and power by those at the top.  While many of them may have begun with a passion for the common good, it is almost impossible for humanity to fly so close to the power and money that collects in Washington without abandoning their principles to benefit themselves as every one else around them is doing. 

I am not suggesting this is well-organized conspiracy of elites, but the simple fruit of hundreds of thousands of people doing what most people do every day, maximize their opportunities to make money and gain power for their own comfort and security. It’s called capitalism, doing what you can to better your own life. But when a certain class of government elites profit off the vast resources and power of the government, it is crony capitalism, a system contrived by the rich and powerful that undermines equal opportunity for everyone else. They spend the people’s money to buy votes and grant special favors to their friends while their own personal power and wealth grows.


Republican, Democratic, and Independent leadership are all in on the joke. They can posture for the cameras and feign great disagreement over core principles, but when the lights go off they all shake hands, make deals, and laugh at how easily the American people are duped by their game. That’s why no matter who is in power, the federal deficit grows along with the size of government itself.  They delight in stalemate because they really don’t want to solve the problems that they use to divide the electorate.  It’s those who go into government service with little equity come out remarkably wealthy and well-connected. They are well-paid actors creating a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy. When will the electorate decide that enough is enough!

These politicians are not public servants, but parasites on the American dream, who quickly turn into lobbyists or pundits when their terms are up to leverage their power into even more wealth. Media personalities are not purveyors of truth, but players in a game that twist facts into their own power-building narrative. All are beholden to Wall Street bankers who take turns rotating into government jobs to write their own regulations and purchase the political influence they need.

If you don’t believe me, read the eye-opening books by Mark Leibovich that unmasks the illusion Washington culture tries so hard to keep secret:  This Town and Citizens of the Green Room.  Ask yourself why the wealthiest counties in the United States surround Washington, DC, when they produce nothing except an endless set of laws and regulations while lining their own pockets and why our government officials are more concerned about lavish parties than providing health care for our veterans. And if they can’t get such a noble mission right, why do we think they will succeed at lessor tasks.

If we’re serious about fixing it, it’s time we voted out the career politicians and elect a new class of citizen politicians, those who want to put the common good above partisan politics.  They will spurn special interest money as tainted attempts to purchase influence. They will demand accountability from government workers instead of guarding their job security when they are corrupt or incompetent. They will not be career politicians, but men and women who have been successful in the private sector and who want to go to Washington not because they need the money or power, but because they want to broker solutions that will take government back for the people.  And, they will go back to their homes and careers once their service has ended.

No, this is not in support of Donald Trump’s candidacy. While he does talk in refreshingly honest ways about political corruption and boasts about the politicians he has bought, he is part of the problem and has benefited for a long time from the corruption he now mocks.  We need people with greater depth, graciousness and far less vitriol and ego.

Is it too much to hope that the ship of state can be turned from such dark waters? I don’t think so.  If the we as citizens demanded more of our elected representatives they would have to respond. But it will take a lot of us caring enough to speak out, reject the status quo, and look for a different breed of politician.  


At the very least we have to start laughing whenever our current politicians and bureaucrats refer to themselves “public servants”, because they only ones they are serving are themselves. 

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How Dry Is California?

On a hike the other day in the Sierras, I thought I’d see just how dry California really is. So, taking a page from Moses’ book I spoke to the rock. I could split it in two easy enough, but as you can see in the picture above, I wasn’t able to ge the water flowing.  Man, that’s dry! 

Seriously though, we’ve had four years with less than half of normal snow and rainfall and our state government has not built any new water retention projects in the last 50 years despite a constantly growing population. The combination of this weather cycle and government shortsightedness means we are in a state of crisis with many resevoirs bone dry or nearly so. Our underground aquifers have been pumped to depths never before seen.  

To help, we are under severe water restrictions. Yes, we have enough to drink and to take shorter-than-average showers. Many continue to water lawns, though the price of water above the allotment can get expensive very quickly.  But the immediate threat is from our tinder-dry fields and forests, which can explode into raging wildfires in an instant and have in many places. Fortunately none are burning near us at the moment.  

But there is lots of talk of a strong El Nino forming in the eastern Pacific, which could mean a wetter-than-normal winter. Some are calling it a Godzilla, with the potentional to bring torrential rains, which might cause mudslides as it did in 1996.  Who knows? We need about three winters like that to replenish California’s water supply, but at what cost?  

It’s a strange time to live in California when earthquakes seem to be the least of our troubles!  


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A Tale of Two Magazines

I read two magazines last week. My father had a Charisma Magazine laying around and I had not seen one in almost 20 years since I gave up reading it because I felt I needed to take a shower when I did. It was filled with self-promotion, boasting, and exalting men and women instead of Christ. It expressed everything that had gone wrong with the Charismatic Renewal and at the time appealed to all the wrong motivations inside me. And that has always been sad to me, because the reality of the Spirit working in each of our lives is the most important component to this journey of knowing and loving him.  But so quickly those who built empires out of it turned toward personal greed, judgments against others who didn’t have “the anointing”, and distorting the image of God by their demeanor and focus on performance.  

So it was interesting to read it again and though I was still turned off by misplaced priorities of this publication, but it didn’t stir up any of the old motivations I struggles so hard to resist. And I found the last article by Lee Grady, which talked about how the life of the Spirit had been quenched by those who used the Renewal for their own ambitions. Strange. The magazine had just exalted the very people who had done the things Grady said destroyed God’s purpose in the Renewal. Of course, he doesn’t see it that way, nor do the editors of Charisma, which makes it all the more sadder. 

Then I read National Geographic this month, which has a wonderful piece about Pope Francis. I realize the aquarium he swims in is an oppressive religious institution that is given to indulgence and gratification, like every human institution. I even think the title he carries is an affront to the message Jesus taught and the life that he lived. That said, I love his approach to the position he has been thrust upon him. He lives simply, loves the touch with common people, and is challenging his institution back to a heart for the marginalized people in our culture. I do admire that. It’s an article worth reading and I came away appreciating the challenge he faces to stay true to his heart in the midst of such delusions about power, and the pomp and circumstance of his office. 

I had a friend recently meet with Pope Francis who said he had a heart for all of God’s children to be united under the name of Jesus, not the Catholic church, but who Jesus is and what he came to do in the world. That’s an awesome statement.  

And then yesterday morning this quote from him crossed my desk. I love it.  

For me, the sign that there is no brotherliness is gossip.…There may be various points of view and differences (this is normal and it is Christian), but these differences must be brought out by having the courage to speak directly to others.…And when this is not possible, because at times it cannot be done, tell another person who can act as an intermediary. But you cannot speak against another person, because gossip is the terrorism…of religious communities.  

Pope Francis

Source: Vatican Information Service,  March 23, 2015

​”Gossip is the terrorism of community.” I love that. I have often said that the surest evidence of community is open and authentic lives. The surest evidence that it does not exist is gossip. Gossip only prevalis where people pretend to be better than they are, but when people are already open and authentic about their strengths and weaknesses it holds no power.  

I‘ve been part of many wonderful connections that have been destroyed as soon as whisper campaigns began by those who had more to gain by destroying community than enjoying it’s beauty. It is painful to see God make such wonderful connections and then have them squandered wittingly or unwittlingly by the insidious power of gossip. Those who do not have the integrity to talk directly to those with whom they have differences and who will instead talk them down behind their back, unleashes great destruction on the body of Christ and the culture of the world we live in. 

As much as it lies within you avoid every opportunity for gossip, sharing the concerns you have only with the person you have them about. The family of God and indeed the world would be a better place if we didn’t tear each other down behind their back.  

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