Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Leader among Women, the Hmong, and All the Saints: The Quiet But Powerful Influence of a Single Mother

Today I attended a Wisconsin ward with a growing number of Hmong-speaking converts. A sweet woman came to the podium to share her testimony, a woman I had known well when I was her bishop over 10 years ago. I had visited her family many times, helped the missionaries in teaching her, and have continued to drop by occasionally to visit or bring some of our world-famous homemade applesauce made from the trees in my backyard, with my wife's secret recipe of smooth and chunky blends. Mmmm, but I digress.

She had so much to be grateful for, she said. Four of her loved ones had just been baptized this week, and others in her large family of children and grandchildren have begun coming to church. What really surprised me, as I began thinking about it, was the huge circle of influence this woman has and how many people are in the Church because of her, including many I thought I'd never see in church again. How did she do it?

In Hmong culture, it's tough being a woman (not that it's especially easy anywhere, I suppose). It's especially tough being a Mormon woman. And monstrously tough being a Mormon single mother. One LDS Hmong woman in similar circumstances--financial handicaps, no education, a refugee of war trapped in a strange country whose language she doesn't speak, raising a family on her own as a single mom, and being a member of a religion that defies parts of her own culture and divides her from the majority of her people--told me that as a woman, she has no influence, no voice, and was just "a dry leaf blowing in the wind." The woman who said that was resigned to her powerless situation and pretty much gave up. Not so for the courageous woman who spoke today.

She has endured against all odds, against cultural pressures, against persecution and anger from others, against bias and prejudice in many forms, against the heartbreak of rebellious children who came under the influence of unsavory elements in society and fell away from the Church she loved and from the ways she tried to teach them. Through it all, she kept teaching and inviting her family to believe and come unto Christ. As I looked over the audience today, I saw many of her children there. I saw sons and daughters, cousins, daughter-in-laws who are glowing with the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and many grandchildren. After the service I talked with one of her boys who has come back to church and asked how it is possible that this quiet, humble, soft-spoken woman has been so successful in bringing her family into the Church. He praised her and said that no matter what bad things he and others did or said, she never grew angry and just kept loving and inviting them back. "That's why I am here today," he said.

Steady, persistent faith, courage, and love. Over years, it can work miracles.

From all outward appearances, it would be easy to consider this quiet, shy, and poor single mother as one of the least of the Saints, but in my view, she's one of the greatest. Few people are as loving and gracious. Few have been more successful than her in bringing family members into the Church, especially given the challenges she has faced. She is a true leader among women, among the Hmong, and among all the Saints.

Almost every month she dares to walk up to the podium and in front of a mostly English-speaking audience, a highly educated and comparatively wealthy audience, she sets the example for everyone by having the courage to stand and testify of Jesus Christ as her Savior, witnessing to those who will listen. What a wonderful example she is.

I bet she has no idea of just how amazing her contributions to the kingdom of God have been.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No, French Catholics Are Not Satanists: Understanding the Inverted Pentagram in Historical Christianity

During a pleasant but intense trip I once had in France, I was photographing a beautiful church in the Champagne region of France when I noticed an example of the inverted pentagram being used in an obviously Christian context. The church is the imposing Collégiale Notre-Dame de Vitry-le-François, a 17th century building that survived World War II, even though much of the surrounding town was destroyed. It is a beautiful and reverent building, filled with many images to remind people of Jesus Christ. One of those images--OK, two--are stars, inverted five-pointed starts, reminding us of the One the Bible calls the Morning Star (or "the bright and morning star" in Rev. 22:16). Yes, folks, we're talking inverted pentagrams, a Christian symbol that has very recently been hijacked by occultists.



Symbols can be used for good or bad purposes. The fact that pentagrams were used as pro-Christian symbols by earlier Christians and by Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo Temple does not imply any connection to pagan or occult uses that were developed and published after Joseph Smith's time (ca. 1855 and beyond). For detailed information on this frequent objection raised by critics who should know better, see "Inverted Stars on LDS Temples" at FAIRMormon.org and the question on occult symbols at my LDSFAQ page on LDS Temples and Alleged Roots in Masonry.

By the way, France is such a wonderful nation. So many American stereotypes of France and the French are wrong, at least based on the people I've met. Warm, kind, hard-working, competent, temperate and family-oriented, many of them. And no stereotyping of French food, no verbal descriptions, can prepare you for just how good it is. What a marvelous country!

Related post and discussion: "Occult Symbols on LDS Temples??, June 2004, at Mormanity.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No Man Knows My History

No man knows my history . . . at least not for the past few weeks. Guess I haven't been keeping my journal very well recently. Oops. Gotta fix that. Have had some amazing experiences I definitely want my posterity to know about someday.

Journal keeping is not just another way for LDS leaders to make Mormons feel guilty. As with so many things encouraged by the Church, it's there to bless us. I've been especially blessed by the journals of ancestors who told me important things about their lives and their adventure in faith.

I am also blessed, though perhaps less richly so, by having kept a journal from my early days, including my days in 7th grade. My journal from that awkward era is filled with snippets of wisdom like: "Tuesday. Kept my goal of not thinking about **** [girl's name] at all today." Completely missed the irony of that entry as I wrote it. There's nothing quite like reviewing your life and seeing how foolish you were, a review that for me creates the hopeful sensation that maybe I'm less foolish now because my mistakes have taken on a completely different flavor.

May your journal keeping pick up a bit so that your posterity and loved ones (hopefully there is some overlap between the two groups) will better understand you and learn from your journey.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Designed for Pain and Beauty


When I snapped this photo of a species of prickly pear in Sedona, Arizona recently, I was focused on the fruit and didn't notice the beauty of the spines until I examined the photo in more detail later. The fruit is nice, but to me the real beauty and elegant design is in the spines. Beautiful as they are, their function is primarily to cause pain. I've had a couple of painful encounters with prickly pears before--including digging into one of the fruits in the wild without noticing that in addition to the big spines, there are lots of very fine ones. A real pleasure to have those in your mouth. It took a day or so for that to go away.

There is a beauty and elegance to this mortal experience we have, but there are plenty of pain points along the way. Sometimes the pain of our journey is malicious and random, but sometimes we may see that the pain we faced was part of a plan with purpose, even beauty in the end. There is no beauty in humans choosing evil and hurting one another, and it's hard to see any purpose in some of the random disasters that we face. But what I have seen is that when we turn to God and seek His help, He can help us to find the path or the approach that makes us more and brings beauty and order to what once seemed like chaos. Mortality often isn't pretty, but when we turn to God, things can get prettier, and in the long run, His goal is ultimate joy and beauty for us through the power of the Atonement.

Nobody understand our pains better than Jesus Christ, the Son of God who took the pain of all of us upon Him. And He knows firsthand what it means to be pierced by spines and worse. His goal is to heal us, wipe away our tears, and bring us back, if we will let Him.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Savior of the World, the Entire World: Grace Effective to Save All Men

Some critics have argued that the Latter-day Saint concept of moral agency (a.k.a. free agency) would make God no longer sovereign if we were really free to choose and follow Him. While we cannot save ourselves or remove our own sins--this is only possible through the Atonement of His Son--God is so powerful that He has given us "all things pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3-4), including the power to choose Him, repent of our sins, and enter into sacred covenants wherein we learn to obey and more fully accept Him. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the great plan of salvation, we are made free. Our freedom to choose persists throughout life. Once we have chosen Him, we can later reject him and fall from grace. This continued freedom does not make Him less, but is part of His plan to make us more (see Romans 8:14-18; 1 John 3:2; Matt. 5: 48).

This freedom to choose God and repent of our sins through the power of the Atonement is not given to only a few whom God elects to save while all others are thrown into hell with never a whisper of hope. The true and living God is so sovereign, and the Atonement of His Son is so efficacious and powerful, that it can break down all barriers, breaking down the very gates of hell (Hades) to offer redemption to all those who will gladly accept it, to all those who will have faith in the Savior of the world. Those who limit God's love and desire to save to only a select few who lived after the time of Christ are missing the true sovereign power of God and fail to understood how great His mercy is. As the scriptures teach, He wants all to be saved. He gave His Son as a ransom for ALL, across all cultures, continents, and eras of time (1 Timothy 2):
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.
That passage of scriptures is consistent, of course, with 2 Peter 3:9 where we read that God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." That doctrine is better understood in light of the mission of Christ into the spirit world (1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6) to preach the Gospel to those who had died. This concept, restored through revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith and later to Joseph F. Smith (Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants), along with the attendant blessings of the Temple, baptism for the dead, and other sacred concepts pertaining to the amazing grace and mercy of our most sovereign God, was largely lost from mainstream Christianity for centuries.

I encourage you to understand the early Christian roots of these restored LDS doctrines and practices. It is a testimony-building experience to contemplate the evidences for the Restoration and the wondrous, true mercy of God in providing means that all who will accept grace may receive it in the covenants and blessings He offers.

A great summary of information about early Christian concepts in this area can be found in two recent publications from the Maxwell Institute. Please see "The Harrowing of Hell: Salvation for the Dead in Early Christianity" by Kendel J. Christensen, Roger D. Cook, and David L. Paulsen and "Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity" by Brock M. Mason, and David L. Paulsen. These are intelligent, interesting, scholarly articles that will help you better appreciate some of the reasons why we Mormons are so excited about the broad, broad scope of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the tools God has given us to participate in bringing the Gospel to His sons and daughters across the expanses of geography and time. Free agency and infinite mercy made available to all who will choose it--now that's a sovereign God.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Parable with a Warning to Forgiven Christians: You Can Fall from Grace

Every Christian should carefully consider the warning Jesus gave in His parable on forgiveness in Matthew 18. He is answering Peter's question about how often Peter should forgive others, and extends the answer with a parable showing that those who have had much forgiven can lose that forgiveness and face torment instead.
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.

24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.

25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.

29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.

32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:

33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
If the grace of Christ that we once received is to remain effective in us, if we are to preserve the confidence of salvation that we once had, we must endure to the end in following Christ and loving and forgiving others.

Growing in such love and charity is one of the essential steps "to make your calling and election sure" and to ensure that our forgiven state is not "forgotten," according to Peter in 2 Peter 1:
2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Marvin Perkins on Race and the Book of Mormon: Significant Insights Triggered by New Footnotes in the Book of Mormon

For anyone interested in the issue of race and the Book of Mormon, you need to consider what Marvin Perkins wrote on Feb. 7 about the new changes in the LDS footnotes to the Book of Mormon on race-related issues. You can read his message to friends at BlackLDS.org, "Changes To LDS Scripture Headings & Footnotes." It's also available at Times and Seasons: "Notable Race-Related Changes to Footnotes and Chapter Headings in the Standard Works" in a post by Marc Bohn.

Who's Marvin Perkins? You can see him in a short CNN video of an interview. He's a faithful black Mormon who helped found the Genesis Group and is part of the BlackLDS.org team, both LDS-related efforts to help African-American Latter-day Saints (and the rest of us). He's also a music producer and DVD producer. He's studied issues related to race and Mormonism in great depth and his insights are ones I think we should seriuosly consider.

Brother Perkins challenges some of the common assumptions we have made for years about some matters. I need to check out the work that is behind his conclusions regarding the more figurative nature of Book of Mormon language apparently dealing with racial distinctions between the Lamanites and Nephites. One subtlety he mentions, for example, is in Alma 55:1-15, where a group of Nephite soldiers, led by a Lamanite, Laman, are able to pass themselves off as Lamanites. Maybe there was an accent that required a real Lamanite spokeman, but the other men from the Nephites who go with Laman are not recognized as enemies by the Lamanites they are tricking. This is consistent with Brother Perkins' arguments. I missed that in previous readings. Interesting.

There are some good perspectives in the debate over at the Times and Seasons post.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Protecting Religious Freedom: LDS Apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks Calls for Unity, Respect for Constitutional Liberty

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke today at Chapman University on the topic of protecting religious freedom. Chapman University is a prestigious private university in beautiful Orange County, California. I am glad that they would host a leader from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called "the Mormon Church") on such an important topic. The LDS Newsroom reports:
In a landmark address today to the Chapman University School of Law, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirmed the importance of the free exercise of religion and called for people to work together to protect this First Amendment right. “It is imperative that those of us who believe in God and in the reality of right and wrong unite more effectively to protect our religious freedom to preach and practice our faith in God,” he said.
Elder Oaks is a respected LDS leader and a legal scholar who appreciates the significance of the US Constitution and the complex issues around religious liberty. His call for unity among religious groups is urgently needed to protect the easily eroded gift of religious freedom.
Elder Oaks noted instances in which individuals who have spoken out or acted in accordance with their religious beliefs have been disciplined, dismissed from their employment and otherwise punished, describing these cases as another sign of the threat to the free exercise of religion.

“All of this shows an alarming trajectory of events pointing toward constraining the freedom of religious speech by forcing it to give way to the ‘rights’ of those offended by such speech,” Elder Oaks said.
Looks like an excellent and much-needed message by someone who understands the importance of this topic. Religious liberty is being threatened here in the United States, as he illustrates with some examples in his talk. Of course, it is non-existent in many nations and has recently become more precarious in other places. Yes, I continue to worry about the future of religious liberty of any kind in the Middle East, in many parts of Asia, and throughout the world. May the flame of religious liberty burn especially brightly here that other nations may see more clearly.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calls for unity to preserve constitutional religious freedom.Elder Dallin H. Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calls for unity to preserve religious freedom.

Update, Feb. 5: The Deseret News provides more details about the talk. An important aspect in his discussion of the erosion of religious liberty here and in other nations is government pressure against speaking openly on religious teachings about marriage.
Of his four points, Elder Oaks spent most of his time on the third, offering a number of trends "eroding" both the protections provided by the free exercise clause and its historical public esteem.

He quoted Cardinal Francis George, the then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who referred in a 2010 BYU speech to "threats to religious freedom in America that are new to our history and to our tradition" — including threats to current religious-based exemptions from participating in abortions and the development of gay rights and the call for same-sex marriage.

Said Elder Oaks: "Along with many others, I see a serious threat to the freedom of religion in the current assertion of a 'civil right' of homosexuals to be free from religious preaching against their relationships. Religious leaders of various denominations affirm and preach that sexual relations should only occur between a man and a woman joined together in marriage. One would think that the preaching of such a doctrinal belief would be protected by the constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion, to say nothing of the guarantee of free speech. However, we are beginning to see worldwide indications that this may not be so."

He labeled as alarming recent evidences of a narrowing definition of religious expression and an expanding definition of "the so-called civil rights of 'dignity,' 'autonomy' and 'self-fulfillment' of persons offended by religion preaching."

And he took exception to the suggestion by President Barack Obama's head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that a "sexual-orientation liberty" could become such a right that it should prevail over a competing "religious-belief liberty."

"Such a radical assertion should not escape analysis," Elder Oaks said, because it condemns the notion of a centuries-old fundamental right of freedom of religion to becoming recast as a simple "liberty" ranked among many other liberties. It also would create sexual orientation as a fundamental right called "sexual liberty" and to the conclusion that religious expressions can be overridden by a fundamental right to "sexual liberty."

The result: Legal definitions of traditional marriage and family are deteriorating and under attack.

"All of this shows an alarming trajectory of events pointing toward constraining the freedom of religious speech by forcing it to give way to the 'rights' of those offended by such speech," Elder Oaks said. "If that happens, we will have criminal prosecution of those whose religious doctrines or speech offend those whose public influence and political power establish them as an officially protected class."
The full transcript of his speech, including numerous footnotes, is available online at LDS.org. (I love it when footnotes are included!) Here's an excerpt (footnote numbering left intact) that I found especially important, and surprising in the extent of troubling trends that he notes:
When Cardinal Francis George, then President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke at Brigham Young University last year, he referred to “threats to religious freedom in America that are new to our history and to our tradition."28 He gave two examples, one concerning threats to current religious-based exemptions from participating in abortions and the other “the development of gay rights and the call for same-sex 'marriage.'" He spoke of possible government punishments for churches or religious leaders whose doctrines lead them to refuse to participate in government sponsored programs.

Along with many others, I see a serious threat to the freedom of religion in the current assertion of a “civil right" of homosexuals to be free from religious preaching against their relationships. Religious leaders of various denominations affirm and preach that sexual relations should only occur between a man and a woman joined together in marriage. One would think that the preaching of such a doctrinal belief would be protected by the constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion, to say nothing of the guarantee of free speech. However, we are beginning to see worldwide indications that this may not be so.

Religious preaching of the wrongfulness of homosexual relations is beginning to be threatened with criminal prosecution or actually prosecuted or made the subject of civil penalties. Canada has been especially aggressive, charging numerous religious authorities and persons of faith with violating its human rights law by “impacting an individual's sense of self-worth and acceptance."29 Other countries where this has occurred include Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Singapore.30

I do not know enough to comment on whether these suppressions of religious speech violate the laws of other countries, but I do know something of religious freedom in the United States, and I am alarmed at what is reported to be happening here.

In New Mexico, the state's Human Rights Commission held that a photographer who had declined on religious grounds to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony had engaged in impermissible conduct and must pay over $6,000 attorney's fees to the same-sex couple. A state judge upheld the order to pay.31 In New Jersey, the United Methodist Church was investigated and penalized under state anti-discrimination law for denying same-sex couples access to a church-owned pavilion for their civil-union ceremonies. A federal court refused to give relief from the state penalties.32 Professors at state universities in Illinois and Wisconsin were fired or disciplined for expressing personal convictions that homosexual behavior is sinful.33 Candidates for masters' degrees in counseling in Georgia and Michigan universities were penalized or dismissed from programs for their religious views about the wrongfulness of homosexual relations.34 A Los Angeles policeman claimed he was demoted after he spoke against the wrongfulness of homosexual conduct in the church where he is a lay pastor.35 The Catholic Church's difficulties with adoption services and the Boy Scouts' challenges in various locations are too well known to require further comment.
These concerns are not paranoia. In a world and nation of growing power in the hands of the State, the threat of intrusions on religious liberty are real. Various excuses can always be offered for curtailing the influence of religion, but to protect liberty, lines must be drawn that the State cannot cross. I agree with Elder Oaks that we need concerted effort among religious groups, however divergent our theology, to preserve the liberty guaranteed by the Constitution regarding religion. That liberty is not just the liberty to silently believe whatever we want inside our own little cranium, but to preach, to speak, to influence, and to practice. And the freedom to speak must include the ability for religions and religious people to speak out on social issues.

Here's a video of some comments by Elder Oaks in an interview after his speech at Chapman.


Update, Feb. 6, 2011: For those interested in further details and legal analysis regarding the threat to religious liberty associated with conflicts around same-sex marriage, see Roger Severino's article (PDF) "Or for the Poorer? How Same-Sex Marriage Threatens Religious Liberty" in the Summer 2007 issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. It's easy to say that the issue should not affect religious liberty, but it's quite a different matter in practice. The legal implications are serious and merit further debate and discussion.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Totally Outclassed by that Grapefruit Guy

Ouch--I felt so outclassed (not an uncommon feeling, I admit) after reading "The Grapefruit Syndrome" by Lola Walters, a classic LDS story from The Ensign. In this story, a woman after two years of marriage has begun to develop a mental list of some minor annoyances regarding her husband. She reads an article suggesting that couples ought to have regular sessions where they discuss their grievances with one another, and she got him to agree to the idea. She begins with her list.
As I recall, we were to name five things we found annoying, and I started off. After more than 50 years, I remember only my first complaint: grapefruit. I told him that I didn’t like the way he ate grapefruit. He peeled it and ate it like an orange! Nobody else I knew ate grapefruit like that. Could a girl be expected to spend a lifetime, and even eternity, watching her husband eat grapefruit like an orange? Although I have forgotten them, I’m sure the rest of my complaints were similar.

After I finished, it was his turn to tell the things he disliked about me. Though it has been more than half a century, I still carry a mental image of my husband’s handsome young face as he gathered his brows together in a thoughtful, puzzled frown and then looked at me with his large blue-gray eyes and said, “Well, to tell the truth, I can’t think of anything I don’t like about you, Honey.”

Gasp.

I quickly turned my back, because I didn’t know how to explain the tears that had filled my eyes and were running down my face.
Wow. I just feel so outclassed by that guy, the Grapefruit Guy I call him (though I'm guessing Brother Walter might be more accurate). I'm afraid I would have become defensive or come up with my own list or some other stupid thing. What a terrific example he showed!

It will be difficult, but I'd like to be more like that. I'm not quite sure how to become that gracious and sweet, but I've got an idea on how to start. On my way home from work tonight, I'm stopping at the grocery store and buying a bag of grapefruits. Wish me luck!

Egypt and the Future of Religious Liberty in the Middle East

While many in our nation are rejoicing over the uprising in the Middle East, I'm quite worried. What is the future of religious liberty in Egypt? It hasn't been great in the past, but it's a place where it was possible to be a practicing Christian. Will it be much harder in the near future?

In spite of his obvious problems, Pres. Mubarak was an ally of the United States and a supporter of the peace with Israel. Can we throw him under the bus so readily? He oversaw and helped preserve decades of peace and some degree of religious toleration. Is there any chance that such conditions will remain under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood? Is it so difficult to see that under the influence of Iran and other Islamic extremists, that the vacuum created by Mubarak's fall will be used by radical forces that may threaten Israel and perhaps even us? Are we really supposed to trust the Muslim Brotherhood in spite of their ties to Hamas and terrorists of the past, and their stated goal of establishing Shariah law? Abandoning the Shah of Iran in favor of the radical Khomeini was one of our most tragic foreign policy crimes ("blunder" is far too generous a word). Will the new Egypt be a puppet of Iran?

Iran is gloating over the events in Egypt, while Israel is worried and disturbed by the position the U.S. has taken. After all, they couldn't help but notice a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood calling for war against Israel. The Coptic Christians in Egypt--yes, Christians in a Middle Eastern nation--are worried about their future. We should be too. Will peace be threatened? Will religious liberty be further eradicated? These are fair questions to ask.

Pray that there might be peace and genuine liberty in Egypt. The imagery of looting, destruction, and calls for war and vengeance don't bode well for the future, though. Yes, idealistic young students yearning for liberty and opportunity have been involved--a group that is not too difficult to manipulate, especially in times of economic distress. I fear that many of them will be surprised at what rises from the ashes they create.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

"Save Me a Spot" - The Touching Story from Sports Hero Aaron Rodgers

I live just 30 minutes away from Green Bay, Wisconsin, a.k.a. the Center of the Football Universe. Though I'm not a huge football fan, it's a privilege to be in a region with such a great legacy of excellence. As dramatic as the Packers games can be, some of the most important drama occurs off the field. One touching example was shared by an observant reporter in Milwaukee who attended a charity event that Aaron Rodgers did for the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer).

"'Save me a spot': A side of Aaron Rodgers you may not know" by Jen Lada of WITI-TV in Milwaukee gives some great insights into Aaron. I was thrilled to see that Aaron's favorite book is the Bible. Wow. I was also thrilled to see that we share the same favorite movie, The Princess Bride. But I was caught by surprise and a bit of emotion with the dedication that he wrote that night on a father's football, something that wasn't done for show but was simply a reflection of the mindset and compassion of this real hero.
Rodgers' answers and poise on this night were certainly admirable. And I honestly didn't think I could respect Aaron more than I did when we wrapped our hour-long question and answer segment. But I was wrong.

My friend, the father of that young girl who passed, was there that night - enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with many of his MACC Fund family members and revel in the charity's big night. He was one of several attendees brought up on stage where he caught a football thrown by the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. The evening was already a smashing success for him and his grateful family.

And then he asked Aaron to sign the football he'd caught. He wondered if he'd make it out to his daughter. It isn't shocking that Rodgers obliged. What caught me off guard was the dedication he made. It wasn't until after Aaron left that I first saw the autograph... and the simple yet sweet message that brought tears to this father's eyes: "To Cheri the angel. Save me a spot. - Aaron Rodgers"