Thursday, May 21, 2015

Editorial on Pope Francis - Is Francis Moving to the Left - Part 2

On May 20th the Daily News Record carried an editorial regarding Pope Francis entitled “The Papal Seal” (see part 1 posted on May 29th on my blog for the text). While I’m not a Roman Catholic and it’s not my intention to defend specific pronouncements by Pope Francis or any other statements, I do defend the Pontiff’s responsibility to speak to various issues that impinge upon where life and faith intersect, and for those pronouncements to be given from a biblical perspective as viewed from a Roman Catholic theological perspective.  

While some religious officials, such as the Reverends Huckabee and Al Sharpton to name two, join political parties and become deeply involved in the body politic and should be evaluated within such a framework, the vast majority of clergy, from the lowest ranks to the highest, do not do so. To judge religious leaders such as the Pope from within political philosophy or a partisan politics does a disservice to them and the Bible.

By evaluation Pope Francis through a political dogma’s lens the paper’s editorial board has done a disservice to the Pope and all religious leaders.

Religious leaders must be apolitical, speaking to faith and life issues without a concern for political dogma. They must be free to speak to the consciousness of their adherents, the nation and its leadership. One set of comments may be in keeping with one party while another set repudiates the same party’s position. Our religious leaders must be free to speak out on host of moral issues, not from a right versus left perspective, but from the perspective of their understanding of faith. Their voices if used in a balanced manner helps our nation by asking us to pause as consider the morality and the impact of various political proposals.

What may be expedient for a particular industry and reap them riches, that pending legislation may be far from being moral. As we look at distant and the history of more recent years we must concede that what may be popular at a moment may be contrary to the moral and faith teachings of an idea’s most forceful proponents.

Using the structure and general thrust of the May 20th editorial I hope that the following will give those of faith a momentary pause. Coupled with giving some pause my intent is to note the significant danger that exists when politicians and news reporters/editors place a religious official into political box or upon them a particular philosophy. Religious officials need to apply Scripture to life, and do so apart from political dogma or affiliation. The flip side of the coin is that when religious leaders align themselves too closely with a political party/doctrine, the result is a compromising of the gospel since the gospel ends up being twisted to fit into a the framework of a particular dogma, and the religious official remains silent when questionable moral positions or actions are taken by the party to which one has pledged allegiance.

Is the People’s Preacher Jesus Moving to the Left?

There’s little question that Jesus of Nazareth – by virtue of his humility, spirit of inclusion, and desire to rid our Holy Temple and our Synagogues of their bureaucratic sclerosis, and even corruption – has rallied many common folk to his standard, if not the Yahweh standard. But, at times, we’ve been given to wonder if this humble preacher is appealing to the wrong people – and if he is, at heart, a man of the left.

Why such cause for wonder – and consternation? Consider these recent developments. This popular preacher from Nazareth, the self proclaimed messenger of God on earth, has reached out to the radical elements of the street, whose unorthodox theology seems animated more by the diktats of common street theology, and remnants of pagan mysticism than by the teachings of Moses and the learned teachers of the Law; he welcomed avowed tax collector and godless sinner, Matthew, to become part of his inner circle; and he gave his official imprimatur to prostitutes, adulteresses and other sinners who openly violate the Law, and has repeatedly distanced himself from the noble cause of resistance to Rome and fighting for liberty from tyrannical Rome.

The first two developments can be attributed – and readily explained – to Jesus acting as a good shepherd, tending to lost elements Yahweh’s flock, whether they be fallen-away Hebrews or, in the minds of conservatives, misguided ones. Even so, the tax collector Matthew casting himself in the role of the repentant son beggars belief – and sincerity – given that he long ago through his tax collection duties and tactics renounced the faith of his fathers for a total immersion in Caesar’s dispensation.

But alignment with the Samaritans and the Romans – is a veiled repudiation of the people of Israel – is not simply an apolitical act, but also one that suggests little discernment aforethought, and indicates that he is neither Yahweh’s prophet nor the righteous preacher as he and others claim. We understand in this street preacher’s eagerness to embrace others who claim to worship God – that in recent days he has told two stories about Samaritans as illustrative parables – but doesn’t he realize that by embracing such people he is compromising the true faith Moses entrusted to God’s people. The real threat to the well-being of God’s people and the Temple is from illiterate and unskilled preachers as is this Jesus. What’s more, by advocating a two kingdom view of the world with the heavenly kingdom and the fallen earthly kingdom being distinct yet coexisting together, and in his careless leftist handling and application of the Law Jesus of Nazareth is, at least implicitly, endorses the acceptance of a fallen sinful world as a normal reality, one where the earthly kingdom can refuse to even acknowledge Yahweh’s existence and Law.

All those strange imprimaturs prompt us to ponder whether past statements from Jesus were not aberrations. For instance, in the last year in response to the burdensome heavy taxes paid to Rome, he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” He defends the unrighteous Roman government and its unjust taxation policies. Jesus, by healing on the Sabbath and allowing his followers to violate the Sabbath is teaching people to violate the Law.  Jesus again demonstrates his leftist nature by saying “Blessed are the poor,” elevating the state of being poor, creating the ground for class warfare, while in other addresses firmly condemning the wealthy for being successful. He demonstrates that he is man of the left by gleefully undermining the sacredness of the Sabbath laws, tossing out businessmen at the Temple who are merely providing a service to sincere worshippers who have traveled great distances and who lack the necessary ability to give a heart-felt sacrifice to Yahweh.

Has the Jesus ever understood the fullness and righteousness of the Law, how our religion stands far above all other religions as a beacon of hope and salvation afforded by carefully keeping of the Law and our faith in Yahweh? And what, pray tell, is the alternatives to the faith provided to us through Moses in divine Law? Surely not a watered down system of monotheism believes that “includes” an apostate belief in Yahweh but stifles opportunity and squelches human potential of true salvation afforded to us in the Law and sacrifices given in the Temple.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Editorial on Pope Francis - Is Francis Moving to the Left - Part 1

For today, I will allow the following editorial to stand on its own. I’ve included the full text here rather than a link since to view the editorial on the paper’s site one must have a subscription. Tomorrow or Friday I will publish an observation about the editorial.

Editorial – The Papal Seal
Daily News Record – May 20, 2015

Is Francis Moving to the Left?

There’s little question that Pope Francis – by virtue of his humility, spirit of inclusion, and desire to rid the Roman Catholic Church of its bureaucratic sclerosis, and even corruption – has rallied many folks to his standard, if not the papal standard. But, at times, we’ve been given to wonder if the Holy Father is appealing to the wrong people – and if he is, at heart, a man of the left.

Why such cause for wonder – and consternation? Consider these recent developments. The pope, Vicar of Christ on Earth, has reached out to the radical padres of Latin American, whose Liberation Theology seems animated more by the diktats of Marx, Lenin and Mao than by the teachings of Jesus Christ; he welcomed avowed communist Raul Castro, president of Cuba, to the Vatican; and he gave his official imprimatur to Palestine as a separate state.

The first two developments can be attributed – and readily explained – to Francis acting as Good Shepherd, tending to his flock, whether they be fallen-away Catholics or, in the minds of conservatives, misguided ones. Even so, Senor Castro casting himself in the role of the Prodigal Son beggars belief – and sincerity – given that he long ago renounced the faith of his fathers for a total immersion in the Marxist dispensation.

But alignment with the Palestinian cause – and with it a veiled repudiation of Israel – is not simply a apolitical act, but also one that suggests little discernment aforethought. We understand the pope’s eagerness to embrace Palestinian Catholics – he canonized two Palestinian nuns on Sunday – but doesn’t he realize that on all parties in the Middle East, Christians have nothing whatsoever to fear from Israel.  The real threat to their well-being is from Islamist extremists. What’s more, by advocating a two state solution, Francis is, at least implicitly, endorsing Fatah and Hamas, which have not only turned down statehood three times since they turn of the millennium but also continually refuse to even acknowledge Israel’s existence.

All those strange imprimaturs prompt us to ponder whether past statements from Francis were not aberrations . For instance, in 2013, he said, “Some people continue to defend trickledown theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.” He considers this defense of capitalism an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts.”

Has the Pope never been to America, never witnessed success engendered by opportunity? And what, pray tell, is the alternative to capitalism? Surely not a socialism that levels and “includes” but stifles opportunity and squelches human potential, as practiced by the Raul Castros of this world.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Legalism vs. Spirit of the Law

In recent days in Harrisonburg Virginia, Steven Blatt, a lawyer, served a writ of mandamus on a local school board member, Dany Fleming, seeking Mr. Fleming’s removal from the school board as Mr. Fleming’s house is on the wrong side of town. While the writ and the controversy will not have earth shaking or ongoing effects on either national or even local policies or politics, it does reflect how Americans tend to think politically, the boxes we construct and to which we hold even when the box does not fit the situation.  

The Harrisonburg School Board has six elected officials and all members are elected by the whole city. Two seats are aside for the west side the city with the remaining four designated for the more populous east side. Presumably the division in this manner was established to help ensure that families on both sides of the city have a voice in Board decisions. It is a reasonable division to ensure that the more populous east side does control the whole Board.


Rather than defining the dividing line between west and east by the elementary school to which your address and neighbor’s is associated, it is defined by which side of a particular street your house is situated…in this case Main Street. As we know, to achieve population balance as well as to make maximum use of physical resources, which families/streets are assigned to which school change over the years. And that is the rub of the situation as Mr. Fleming’s house is on the wrong side of the street by several blocks.

When he registered to run, the registrar told him to register to run for one of the west side seats as that is where his children and neighborhood went to school. So he ran in good faith, and has been serving in good faith until Blatt for whatever reason takes issue. 


Mr. Fleming should be lauded for wanting to serve on the Board, to be invested in what is happening in the school which his children attend, to participate on the Board and wrestle with issues which impact his family, those who live in his immediate neighborhood and the families that attend the east side school which his children attend. Mr. Blatt’s position is that due to his address Mr. Fleming should not represent those views even though he is invested in the east side schools. Mr. Blatt’s position is that Mr. Fleming should have run for a west side position, thereby represent parents who are not his neighbors and who are not the parents of the students with whom his children associate every school day.


I cannot speak to Mr. Blatt’s motivation, whether he or a friend of his wants to fill the vacancy, or if he did not like a vote Mr. Fleming took, or Mr. Blatt simply wants the letter, not the spirit, of the divide upheld. I hope that it is not the former, and really hope it is not the second option which is very petty. And if it is the last noted, then the legalist position undermines the intention and spirit of why the divide was likely created in the code in the first place. Blatt’s position upholds the letter of the law while diminishing the intent and purpose of the divide. Blatt's view means that citizens whose children go to a school on the other side of the dividing line have less of an opportunity to participate in civic life than other parents whose children don’t go to a school across the divide.

In some respects Blatt’s position represents in a microcosm on one issue the dynamics of what is making the American political system increasingly dysfunctional.  


Unfortunately, the School Board’s response was to pass a motion to solve the issue by asking the City Council to do away with the east-west divide in the next election. The Board’s response is wrong headed as it means that one day the east side residents may well have all six positions on the School Board.


I support the rationale for the divide. What is wrong is not that there is a dividing line but how the dividing line is defined. The definition should be determined by which elementary school is associated with one's address. Why the elementary school…because there is only one high school for the whole city. Using the elementary school is a simple solution which allows a person to represent one’s immediate neighborhood and the parents of the children who attend the school your children attend.

The political leaders of Harrisonburg, as well as at the State and Federal levels, need to seek for reasoned and sensible solutions. Firm adherence to ideology destroys more than it builds, has brought about far more religious, civil wars and national conflicts than such dogmatism has brought about civility and peace.  We live in a dynamic society that evolves and changes. The laws, regulations and codes are not infallible…unfortunately our lower nature pulls us to become legalistic and act as if our views and dogma were flawless or divine writ.

We, our fellow citizens and our leaders must beyond legalism to recognize that sometimes a law, regulation and code can get out of keeping with its initial rationale. And when such awareness dawns, thoughtful reasonable changes need to occur, or reasonable exceptions granted. In  the Fleming matter, the legalistic position is wrongheaded. The Board’s response is equally wrongheaded and doesn’t support the rationale for the divide. I hope the City Council responds more wisely than both Blatt's supporters and the School Board. I hope that they will cease using a street as the divide and move to using what elementary school is associated with one's address.

I suspect many people will swiftly jump on the legalist position. I suspect that a number will support the Board's recommendation too. Both would be unfortunate. I also suspect that within the week Fleming will resign, a resignation that the legalists would interpret as justifying the righteousness of their cause when such righteousness doesn't exist. I also fear three things will occur after Fleming's resignation, a) the true political issue driving the writ will become evidenced by his replacement, b) that the City Council will drop the matter and not correct a flawed dividing line, and c) that Fleming will not again become involved in civic life. All three would be a tragedy, particularly the last two.


Monday, February 23, 2015

The Tail That Wags the Dog

Last week Washington’s NFL team announced that its starting quarterback for the 2015 season will be Robert Griffin III. The announcement is not only curious but downright puzzling. There is no question as to the starter if we were talking about long proven quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Payton Manning or Drew Breeze. Or if the quarterback and the team had a good season it would be assumed Griffin would be the starter unless beaten out during training camp by an understudy, a drafted quarterback or a signed free agent. While Griffin entered the league with great promise with high expectations upon his shoulder, after a solid rookie year, Griffin is nowhere close to being a proven NFL quarterback.

During his rookie year he relied upon his scrambling abilities to get himself out of trouble again and again, and help generate wins. Once teams analyzed and adjusted to Griffin he started to struggle. Then when he got injured, the plan was to have him become a drop-back pocket quarterback like Brady, Manning and Breeze, and with some of Breeze’s ability to run out of trouble when necessary.

 I’m not a football expert but even I know that a quarterback is doomed in the NFL when that quarterback relies upon his own running abilities. In the NFL successful pocket quarterbacks not only need a good accurate passing arm, they must have the ability to in a split second read defenses and adjust to take advance of a different set of opportunities. While Griffin has great arm strength with above average accuracy, even I can see that his ability to read defenses, swiftly adjust and audible well into a new play is well underdeveloped.  He seems to have difficulty adjusting the NFL’s pace and the complexity of their defenses.


Some absolve Griffin by pointing to the offensive line or a poor receiver corps as the source of Washington’s struggles. In his second and third year, that was my perception too. I thought, “if only he had a stronger O-line and two strong receivers, he will become a solid quarterback” as expected coming out of college. Yes the O-line was and is not in the top half of the league but I’ve come to realize that that is not the heart of Griffin’s issues for a skilled quarterback who can make reads, adjust and quickly find receivers helps his O-line and receivers look stronger. With the same O-line and receivers playing, they seemed to look stronger when McCoy was the QB for a few games this past season.

At the end of the season seeing that no quarterback was performing much stronger than the other Gruden rightly noted that the starting quarterback position would be determined during training camp. And this is the way it should be when no quarterback has clearly outperformed.


Yet suddenly, without a snap and with training camp nearly six months away, Washington suddenly announces that underperforming Griffin is the starter. What gives? What gives is that the owner, Dan Snyder is again undercutting his coaching staff. Since arriving in Washington Griffin has had and continues to have access to the owner unlike any other player on the team. It has been reported on numerous occasions that Griffin has gone to Snyder, put forth his complaints and how he things should run which has resulted in Griffin’s plan superseding the coaching staff’s plans. No player should have such access and voice in running of the team, but Snyder has given Griffin such power…and that is part of Washington’s problems.

Griffin has chafed under both Shanahan and Gruden’s coaching. Griffin has disagreed again and again with his coaches. He feels he knows better than the coaching staff what is best for him and the team. During Shanahan’s tenure as coach, with Snyder’s knowledge and support, Griffin called for a meeting with the head coach and offensive coaching staff during which he stood at a white board listing off a long list of plays Griffin refused to run, calling them “unacceptable.” With Snyder accepting Griffin’s plan and feeling no support from the owner, no wonder Shanahan was looking forward to getting out of Washington, being fired, and taking Snyder’s money for the next several years.

When Gruden stated that the starting quarterback would be decided in training camp, Griffin was upset, which he openly expressed on ESPN and to Snyder that the lack of “organizational support” was the real issue. He noted that support is what makes a QB successful, not QB mechanics, not judgment, not intelligence, nor hours upon hours of film study and self-sacrificial leadership. According to Griffin, his failure was due to lack of commitment and support from the owner and coaches. His frail ego could not accept that he had to compete and win the position.

With millions being paid out annually, and to keep his “star” happy, Snyder had the team make the announcement; Griffin was going to be the QB. There will be no competition for the position. Griffin got his unconditional commitment from the owner. No matter what McCoy, Cousins, or some other QB in camp, may do, they cannot become the starter unless Griffin becomes injured. And what did Washington’s fans get?

An owner who by the consequences of his actions that is giving the fans team that will continue to fight hard to remain near 500. Snyder reminds me of what happened when George Steinbrenner took over ownership of the New York Yankees. The Yankees were a strong team, but ten years later they were struggling mainly because of how Steinbrenner kept medaling with the team.

Steinbrenner as a practical businessman came to the conclusion that he should not get involved in the day to day management and personnel issues of the team. When he let the team to the managers and coaches run their plans, the Yankees moved back towards being contenders year after year. Will Snyder change like Steinbrenner? Maybe, but it will not be soon.

Besides an interfering owner and mediocrity, what else did the Washington fans get? They got a real life ongoing soup opera playing out before them, albeit a costly one. The team will still have an untrained quarterback who is not teachable, overconfident and believes he knows more than the coaching staff. With coaches undermined the cycle the fans will have the firing of Gruden in a year or two. Regretfully with some of priciest tickets in the NFL fans will continue to fill the stadium as they dream that the glory days of yesteryear may soon return all the while filling the owner’s pockets with their money.

In short, the fans have a tail that is wagging the dog.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Vaccination Dust-up

Following an outbreak of measles traced back to visits to Disneyland and then comments made by President Obama encouraging parents to vaccinate their children a flash controversy erupted. Over the last decade a growing number of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children against long conquered diseases.


The controversy increased further following by comments made pending GOP presidential contenders Senator Rand Paul and Governor Chris Christy a flash controversy has erupted over vaccinations of children. While neither gentleman said parents should not vaccinate their children, libertarian Paul said such vaccinations should not be mandatory. His view should not be a surprise for his consistent libertarian position is that government, particularly the federal government should not mandate personal conduct. As Christy more or less stated that the government should stay out of such affairs, that childhood vaccinations should be a matter left to parents. He implied that such vaccinations are not important, and that there is ground for concern and no vaccinations should not be required by government agencies, including schools. It appears to me that Christy’s comments were more off the cuff and a poor effort to pander to what he thought the Republican base wanted to hear. As a result Christy’s aid had to clarify what their boss really meant and to walk back some of what seemed to be implied in his position.


Christy was wrong about what the republican base believes on the matter. Polls indicate ( that one’s views is not linked to one’s political views as they are to one’s age. The older the person, the more likely they will see both the value in vaccinations and feel that vaccinations should be a requirement. Why is it more linked to age than one’s political tendencies? Two reasons, the first being the younger generation is more linked into the internet and the various “experts” and “stories” claiming that vaccinations are not safe and if parents vaccinate their child they are increasing the risk that their child will develop autism and other emotional maladies. While Rand Paul was unable to cite a credible incident his comments indicate that such is the case.


The second reason is that the younger generation have not experience with the a range of diseases. Those who are now 55 and older were the first generations to receive the vaccinations that eliminated diseases the quarantine families from the rest of the community. My parents’ generation well recall polio hospitals and how polio crippled people they knew. I still recall parental concerns and fear over how damaging rubella, typhoid, measles, the mumps, etc. could be upon their children. My children don’t fear those long conquered diseases. For then diseases are just names, not experiences encountered first hand or by observation.


My wife and I vaccinated our boys. Why? Because it is safe and we had some experiences with some of these diseases and had heard stories from our parents and grandparents about the diseases. Given their lack of experience, my children are susceptible to arguments against vaccinations that Evie and I view as both fallacious. I support the mandatory requirement as one's personal freedom has limits and required vaccinations to keep these dreaded diseases conquered is a reasonable expectation. Given the lack of experience, the number of unvaccinated children may well grow, and at some distant point, possibly 30-45 years from now, there will be sudden decline in unvaccinated children following a rash of wider spread and more frequent outbreaks of these ancient diseases.   


As an aside, I’m was really disturbed by a handful of politicians who have blamed the recent outbreak upon illegal aliens and their children saying they brought the disease into the country. What I find most interesting is that vaccination rate in the countries from which are pointing have a higher vaccination rate than the United States. The thought provoking and insightful Richard Cohen wrote, “Anti-Semitism does not need a reason. It only needs an excuse.” Racism only needs an excuse for it to pour forth in comment and deeds.