Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Loose Lips

From historical accounts I have read, pirate ships were often very democratic enterprises. Pirates were sometimes allowed to vote on who would be their Captain. If he failed to fulfill their goals – pillaging, plundering and all that – a vote would be called and they could elect a new Captain.

The previous Captain would often be set adrift in a dinghy or marooned on a deserted island, with scant provisions and a single merciful shot in his pistol.

But according to The Code, once engaged in combat, the Captain’s word was law. There could be no arguing in the midst of battle.

This is pretty much the attitude our nation held to when then-President Bush took America to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Demanding some sort of response to the 9-11 attacks, the nation went to war. And anyone who dared criticize the President / Commander-in-Chief was shouted down.

Here’s TV personality Bill O’Reilly in 2004: “You don’t criticize the commander-in-chief in the middle of a firefight. That could be construed as putting U.S. forces in jeopardy and undermining morale.”

And then there’s Sean Hannity in 2006: “He’s the commander-in-chief. And what I find frankly repugnant about you and some of your fellow Democrats – you have undermined our president…”

Of course, that’s when the President was a Republican.

So last week, in the face of a new threat – created in large part by the previous U.S. intervention and the upsetting of the balance of power in the Middle East – President Obama announced the return of a military campaign in Iraq. As did his predecessor, the President is working to pull together an international coalition to stop ISIS, optimistically limiting the scope of engagement to aerial bombardment.

No “boots on the ground”.

A surprisingly bi-partisan Congress voted its approval of the President’s decision, but stopped short of officially declaring “War” before leaving town to go campaign for re-election.

So have the O’Reillys and Hannitys of the world stopped the endless partisan attacks on the Democrat President now that we are again in the midst of combat? Have they thrown their undying support behind our Commander-in-Chief?


Bill O’Reilly, yesterday: “Let me repeat. President Obama has put together 62 nations that say they don’t like ISIS and are willing to help out. Yet only four will bomb ISIS positions in Syria and not Great Britain, France or Belgium. They won’t do it. So that’s a weak coalition – a bunch of nations that are talking, but not acting.”

Sean Hannity, today: “A new report shows that our president couldn’t be bothered with daily intelligence briefings. That might help explain his unparalleled incompetence when it comes to foreign policy.”

Wow. Talk about undermining the Commander-in-Chief! So much for boosting the morale of our troops! Not to mention how our allies must feel!

A WWII Billboard

Oh, if only we had a REAL Commander-in-Chief once again – like the one that got us into this mess in the first place: the one who convinced the world of a non-existent threat to justify removing Saddam Hussein from power; the one who declared “Mission Accomplished!” well before the mission was accomplished. 

The one who, in a moment of refreshing honesty, declared to the American people: 
“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Yep. That’s what we need. Said no one. Ever.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Can't We All Just Get Along?

I came across the following video the other day while surfing the internet researching a sermon.

It depicts the nightly flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah Gate.

A little history is needed to understand this interesting pageant.

By the early 18th century, the East India Trading Company was a firmly planted British enterprise on the coast of India, supplying the British Empire with the raw materials needed to keep the empire running smoothly. As EIC grew larger and stronger, it began to act as an arm of the empire, affecting everything from commerce to education to politics. By 1858, the British had declared India to be a colony of the empire.

Fast forward almost a hundred years. After much sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims, the British decided to grant independence to India, thanks in no small part to the activism of Mohandas K. Gandhi. 

Gandhi envisioned not only a free state but also religious pluralism – Muslims, Hindus, and Christians living together in peace. Yet despite all his dreams and efforts, that was not to be. Rioting prior to the 1947 Indian Independence Act took as many as 500,000 lives, leading to the drawing of a dividing line granting Pakistan to the Muslims and India to the Hindu majority.

Sadly, the dividing line was drawn up hastily by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a Brit who had never set foot in India. His line put Muslim communities in Hindu territory and vice versa, and split villages and even individual residences! 

Hindus and Muslims quickly grabbed up what personal belongings they could carry and moved off to start a new life in their respective lands.

Wagah is one of those villages split by the Radcliffe Line.

More importantly, it contains the only road border crossing between Pakistan and India.

A gate was built, and the border is closed every night at 5 p.m. And since 1959, there has been a flag-raising ceremony every morning, which is just as silly interesting as the evening flag-lowering ceremony.

But for all the prancing and stomping and silly-walking, a relative peace prevails, and commerce flows freely between the two nations during the daytime while the gates are open.

And each ceremony ends with a smile and a handshake between historic enemies.

If only we had something like this in the church.

Not long ago I preached a sermon that really pissed off a church member.

This is nothing new. Early on at this church, I made a member mad when I tried to explain that the “Sabbath” is on Saturday, not Sunday. She argued with me for three weeks – because her Daddy had taught her it was on Sunday. I was enjoying the exchange, more or less, because it didn’t matter to me one way or the other. We don’t really observe the Sabbath anyway.

But this latest disagreement was different. This man was livid. He stormed out on me when I tried to talk to him about it. Stormed out a second time when I invited him to my office in an attempt to reconcile.

Reconciliation for him will only come when I recant my sermon and my long-held religious beliefs… which I believe are very plainly backed up by scripture.

The very words of Jesus, no less.  

My chaplain in college used to tell me, “You do things your way, and I’ll do things His way.” (pointing toward heaven) I always thought that was kind of presumptuous, even arrogant.

I still love him though.

I’m not arrogant enough to think that I am always right or always doing God’s will, or to presume that everyone should always agrees with me, or even that they have to.

We each must decide for ourselves how we will live our lives and live out our faith. So I am more than willing to “agree to disagree” with this man.

But such anger toward another – in the name of God, no less – is unacceptable.

It has damaged our relationship. And as a prominent member of the church, we have to continue working together on important projects.

It also has me second-guessing myself now when I sit down to write a sermon. How is he going to receive what I say?

But I don't write my sermons to please him. I have a Higher Authority to please.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts 
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.”

That is my prayer every Sunday. Now even moreso.

Would that there was some ritual in the Church where we could meet face to face with our “enemies”, strut and stomp, intimidate and posture… but then smile, shake hands respectfully, and honorably walk away.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

If I Were A Rich Man...

Last week the venerable Wall Street Journal released a short educational video entitled, “Do You Make $400,000 a Year But Feel Broke?” 

The Captain was thinking that very thing just the other day!

Veronica Dagher narrates the piece, which has been derided across the internet. But that’s only because I’m pretty sure they didn’t watch to the end.

They missed the point.

And if you want to know the point, you’ll have to read to the end of this blog.

Dagher lays out what she apparently considers typical expenses for a person earning $400,000 per year, noting that this fictitious family lives in Chicago in a $1.2 million home and has two kids.

Apparently when you pull down $400K per year, a $1.2 million home is doable and expected!

I wouldn’t know.

So here’s what Dagher says this family will spend each year:

            $87,000  mortgage payment
              24,000  property taxes
              25,000  home improvements
              15,000  utilities
              30,000  groceries
                9,000  auto insurance
         $190,000  “Core Expenses”

            $25,000  two vacations
              15,000  car payments
              10,000  dining / entertainment
              12,000  club dues
            $62,000  “Discretionary Spending”

            $10,000  kids’ sports
              10,000  “529 contributions” (savings for college)
                6,000  gifts / holidays
                5,000  school fundraisers
            $31,000  “Misc.”

This brings us to $283,000 in annual expenses. Dagher then throws in income taxes and “a modest contribution for a 401K”, and …"Voila!"

You’re Broke!

The Captain has given the WSJ presentation a great deal of consideration. And after some time – and not a little rum – we have come to the only obvious conclusion.

Don’t have kids and it’ll save you $31,000+ per year!


But seriously…

No, come to think of it, I am serious!

Now, some of the naysayers suggest that Dagher is trying to be humorous with this piece. Sarcastic. Even mean-spirited. But in actuality, she is being very serious.

The purpose of the video is to answer the question, “Have I saved enough money for retirement?” Dagher’s answer is “probably not” – which is true for most of us – and that  NOW is the time to make the necessary adjustments to your lifestyle so you can save more for retirement.

Supposin’ pillagin’ is out of the question after retirement…

So go cogitate on these things whilst the Captain tries to imagine what a $1.2 million home in Chicago looks like!

Nope, that’s Michael Jordan’s place in Highland Park, IL, about 25 miles down the road from Chicago. Feeling the need to downsize to a 40,000 square foot home in Jupiter, FL, he originally wanted $29 million for this 56,000 square foot bungalow. But the market has been tough and he has had to lower his asking price to a mere $16 million… and it’s still not selling!

Can you believe it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gee Whiz!

the Captain doesn't want to sound too much like a Luddite here...

Google it if you don't know what that is...

but we weren't impressed by Apple's big reveal yesterday. 

Sorry, Tim Cook. I mean, really, what did you give us?

A larger iPhone.

And an even LARGER iPhone!

Captain's Note: Yes, I know this is not an Apple product!

 Seriously! This has got to stop!

And a watch.

Captain's Note: This is not to scale. Yes, I felt the need to say that.

A wonderful, cutting edge, $349 watch...

...that won't be available until sometime next year!


You may not have noticed, Tim, but since I've been carting around your iPhone for several years now (still a 4s) with a clock on the opening screen, I haven't really needed a wristwatch.

Plus, it helps the Captain's laid-back image to not be wearing a watch. After all, why do I care what time  it is, right? 

Actually, it's been more fun this time just watching the speculation about what Apple was going to reveal.


C'mon guys! Next time you will really need to impress me with something better than a wrist watch that may or may not hold a charge for a full 24 hours! 

If nothing else, Steve Jobs taught us to expect greater things from Apple. If we're going to line up outside of Apple stores two weeks before the release, we need to be dazzled!

...and for $199 or less!