Can Christians “Get Lucky”?

Kok Leng Yeo

The maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”) is thought to bring good luck in Japan. Photo by Kok Leng Yeo

Have you been suffering recently from friggatriskaidekaphobia?  Or perhaps I should refer to it as paraskevidekatriaphobia, the other name by which it is commonly known?  Of course, in this case, the word “commonly” means “those who spend too much time reading Wikipedia”, which I’m sorry to say includes myself.

For those who lead a more balanced life when it comes to Internet usage, I can tell you that both terms refer to the fear of Friday the 13th, that most unlucky of days.  Have you ever wondered why this day is considered to be unlucky?  I did, which was why I looked it up on Wikipedia, and here is what I discovered. Continue reading

Vladimir Putin’s Exceptional Op-Ed

Pete Souza (2)

There’s plenty of space to spare between the United States and Russia. White House photo by Pete Souza

A funny thing happened when I opened my copy of the New York Times today.  Well, actually, that’s not quite true: I, like so many Americans, rarely buy a printed version of the Times or any other newspaper.  Instead, I squeeze what I can out of the handful of free articles I can read online each month.  Apparently, I’m just too cheap to reward journalists monetarily for the fruits of their labors. (However, I am happy to reciprocate by making my own articles available free of any fees or advertisements!)

As I was saying, I opened up the New York Times app on my phone and viewed a most interesting op-ed by none other than Russian President “Vladimir V. Putin”.  (The “V” stands for Vladimirovich, a middle name that more than makes up for its redundancy with its ease of memorization.) The headline reads “A Plea for Caution from Russia” and there is an image of a blackened hand with two black stripes running across it. Continue reading

The Many Wars of John Kerry

Pete Souza

White House photo by Pete Souza

John Kerry finds himself in a familiar position or two on the issue of Syria.

As the Obama administration continues to make its push for a military strike in Syria, a familiar face has emerged at the center of this global diplomatic effort: Secretary of State John Kerry, one-time Democratic presidential candidate, long-time U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, and part-time windsurfer.  No one has been logging more frequent flier miles or hours on camera than Kerry in this push to convince global allies and the American public that Assad’s misdeeds must be punished through military strength.

This is hardly the first time that Kerry has found himself at the center of the debate over a controversial war.  In fact, there are few people who could have been more ironic spokespersons for a Syrian assault than our current Secretary of State. Continue reading

Why Did Jesus Live?

DSC003071

A stained glass window depicting Christ calming the storm at St. Giles’ High Kirk, Edinburgh, Scotland.

On January 24, 2012, the noted British theologian N.T. Wright spoke at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan as part of the “January Series”.  The title of his lecture was “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels”.  It was almost a year later that I finally heard a podcast of this talk, which captured my attention almost immediately with a simple question: “Why did Jesus live?”

The point that Wright was trying to make by asking his audience this question was that when most of us consider the purpose of Christ’s incarnation, we tend to focus on his death.  Christmas songs are filled with lyrics declaring that the baby Jesus would one day become the savior of the world by dying for us all.  Indeed, the final days of Christ’s life and his execution are the main focus of all four biblical Gospels, and Church teaching has mirrored this approach throughout history.

This raises the question, if the whole purpose of Jesus’ life was to die, then why did it take around thirty years to get to that point? (Scripture never gives an exact number, but estimates tend to be around this mark.) What was all of that in between time intended to accomplish?  This question made me curious, and I proceeded to create the list you are about to read. Continue reading

Angela Merkel: Mädchen in Flammen

Aleph

Photo by Wikipedia user Aleph

Germany’s Chancellor looks set for another victory in this month’s parliamentary elections.  What, if anything, can we learn from her success?

On September 22, Germans will head to the polls to choose who will represent them in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament.  At the center of attention will be Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor (similar to a prime minister).  As head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the largest party in the Bundestag, Merkel has served as Bundeskanzlerin since 2005, and she is widely expected to remain in that position after the election.

Merkel’s time at the top of German politics has come at a critical period for Europe.  The financial meltdown of 2008 and ongoing Eurozone crisis have placed her at the pinnacle of global power, the head of the most dynamic economy in the European Union.  Although the country’s economic growth did slip into negative territory in 2009 – the result of an international slowdown – it has since rebounded and is looking much better than France, Spain, or Italy. Continue reading

The Russians are Coming

Victory_Day_Parade_2005-5

Photo courtesy of www.kremlin.ru

As President Obama spends the day at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, trying desperately not to get caught dissing Vladimir Putin on an open mic, it appears that the Russians are planning to send their own delegation in the opposite direction. Moscow is naturally quite interested in the current congressional debate over the possible use of military force in Syria.  The Atlantic has an article up today by Abby Ohlheiser that details reports of lobbying efforts by the Russians on Capitol Hill.

Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested a plan to directly lobby Congress was in the works on Monday, after meeting with Valentina Matvienko and Sergei Naryshkin, speakers for the upper and lower houses of Russian parliament. They apparently proposed the idea to Putin, arguing that they could work U.S. lawmakers towards a more “balanced” stance on Syria.  Continue reading

Gluttons for Punishment?

Gluttony

An illustration by Albrecht Dürer depicting gluttony, circa 1498

What comes to mind when you hear the word “gluttony”?  My immediate mental image is of a rotund man sitting at a banquet table, turkey leg in one hand and wine goblet in the other, stuffing his face past the point of normal endurance.  My imagination then expands to the Independence Day hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s on Coney Island, sumo wrestlers gorging themselves on trays full of sushi, and frat boys trying to best each other in a drinking contest.  Perhaps I even see a cruise ship drifting through the Caribbean, its eager occupants devouring food and drink 24/7.

These scenarios range from silly to serious, and all of them have to do with the rapid devouring (I use this same word again because no verb in English seems to capture the meaning of gluttony as well as “devour”) of some kind of food or beverage, all of which usually leads to or is a part of bad behavior. But in our culture, such consumption is not considered to be especially bad.  Continue reading

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to War

s630_number10-960

Official UK government photo of the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street

Today, President Obama announced that he will seek authorization from Congress for a military strike in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, an act apparently committed by the Assad regime.  “This attack is an assault on human dignity.  It also presents a serious danger to our national security,” Obama said in his speech.  “In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.”

The President stressed that the scope of these strikes would be limited.  “This would not be an open-ended intervention.  We would not put boots on the ground.  Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.  But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.” Continue reading

Ain’t it Swell to Finish Well

Martin-Luther-King-1964-leaning-on-a-lectern

This photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. is part of a Library of Congress collection.

What can we learn from Martin Luther King Jr., George Costanza, Barack Obama, and King Jehoshaphat?

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech.  It was an appropriate moment to remember a man who gave so much and inspired so many.   He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.  Yet, even as we praise him, it is also worth noting that King had one advantage that is denied to most of us, and an odd kind of advantage it was: he died young.

Now, before I cause serious offense to anyone, let me make clear that I am in no way happy that King’s life was shortened.  This was a major setback for the civil rights movement and a great tragedy for America.  What I am referring to is not the fact that King was murdered, but rather that his early death has preserved him in our memory at the height of his success. Continue reading

The Trouble with Swallowing Syria

800px-thumbnail

U.S. soldiers delivering non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. They may soon be asked to do more. (Department of Defense photo)

WARNING: This is not an article about Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs on Sunday.  It is an analysis of a serious news story.  If you are looking for less serious news coverage, please feel free to check out any of America’s 24-hour cable news networks.

“Syria is not easy to swallow.”

This rather odd quote was made yesterday by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in regard to possible military action by Western nations against the Assad regime.  We can interpret it in a couple of different ways.  One would be to go for the most literal meaning: it is true that attempting to swallow all 71,479 square miles of Syria would not be easy.  In fact, if this is the meaning Mr. Moallem was going for, I would say he is a bit guilty of understating the issue. Continue reading