Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Getting What We Want

I believe that God’s second greatest gift was his gift of free will to humans. Obviously, if we didn’t have free will, we wouldn’t need God’s first greatest gift, forgiveness through his son, but without choices, life would not be worth living. I also believe that a big part of the sinfulness of mankind is the desire to restrict the free will of others for mostly selfish purposes and sometimes even noble purposes. In its most extreme form, leaders like Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, will murder anyone and everyone who does not submit to their authority. In a less extreme form of free will manipulation, second grade girls will outcast their peers who do not wear the right clothes.

It is not always sinful to restrict the free will of others. Convicted murderers have forfeited the right to live freely. The risk to society would be too great if murders were allowed to run free. Children need to have their free will restrained in order to protect them and also prepare them to exercise their free will responsibly. However, when a person or a policy crosses the line from protecting and preparing to manipulating and controlling, the line into sinfulness has also been crossed.

Muslims mostly believe in a moral system of right and wrong that needs to be enforced using very strict controls. They believe power is the correct and most effective way to influence society. Christians mostly believe in a moral system of right and wrong that needs to sometimes be encouraged using the legal system. They believe persuasion is the best way to influence society, but when others aren’t persuaded, legal control is sometimes necessary. Atheists mostly believe in a moral system of right and wrong using whatever control is necessary. They would love to have agreement and compliance, but they are method-neutral when it comes to getting what they want. The end will always justify the means for them.

Muslims and atheists do not have a moral dilemma in order to get what they want if what they want is good in their own eyes. However, Christians should have a moral dilemma each and every time they determine the behavior of someone else needs to change. The Christian spouse, the Christian friend, the Christian pastor, the Christian boss, the Christian counselor, and the Christian government official all need to fight their own internal desire and sinfulness to manipulate and control others. Way too often Christians behave like atheists in getting what they want from government. Way too often Christians behave like Muslims in spreading the gospel through techniques not grounded in pure persuasion. Way too often, Christians are no different than anyone else in getting what we want.

Monday, May 30, 2005


Rob and his readers have been discussing “changing minds“ and “influence” at Dime Store Guru for about a week now. It has been a good discussion, but I feel the part of the discussion about “influence” has raised many more issues. My post today will be based on the last comment I left for Rob and his readers and I will add to it in the next few days.

“Influence” is not the same as “persuasion”. Minds are changed as a result of persuasive arguments and persuasive people. Minds can also be changed as a result of positive and/or negative experiences. However, for someone to be influential, a person needs to be able to change the behavior of others, not just the thinking of others.

Some people are influential without being very persuasive. President Bush can deliver an inspirational speech, but he doesn’t seem to be very persuasive when he articulates or fails to articulate his rationale for a government policy. However, President Bush has a record of influence because of the way he attained and wielded his political power. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t seem to be particularly persuasive to me, but he has influence as a result of the power he has acquired that is derived from the size of his radio audience. Our bosses and our spouses wield influence over our lives whether or not they are persuasive in their reasoning and arguments. Neither Madonna nor Tom Cruise are the least bit persuasive, but both of them have been influential as a result of their celebrity status.

Other people are persuasive without being very influential. Alan Keyes is extremely persuasive. I would challenge anyone to attend one of his speeches without being persuaded to a different way of thinking. However, Alan Keyes does not have a record of influence beyond a small sphere because he has never attained a position or the status necessary to wield influential power.

Therefore, I would describe “power” as the ability to change behavior without necessarily changing minds, “persuasion” as the ability to change minds without necessarily changing behavior, and “influence” somewhere in-between the “power” that doesn’t change minds and the “persuasion” that doesn‘t change behavior.

Friday, May 27, 2005


”I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands:
one Nation under God, indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all.”

Americans are members of many different groups. Each of us is a member of a family, a member of a city or county, a member of a state, and a member of the United States. Some of us are members of a church, a member of a denomination, and a member of a religion. Some of us are Republicans, some of us are Democrats, and some of us are members of other political parties. The groups which we can belong are almost as plentiful as there are Americans. We are passive members of some groups that don’t interest us and we are very active members of the groups that stimulate us the most.

As Christian believers who live in the United States, we should have some allegiance to each of the groups where we have membership, but we can’t ever subordinate our membership in the kingdom of heaven to our membership in any of these other groups. Christ, and the purposes of Christ, and the wishes of Christ have got to come first. The primary allegiance for the believer has got to be to our Lord; not the flag, not the republic for which it stands, and not the unity of all states.

For many reasons, Americans are very fortunate to be members of the United States. We have more freedom, more safety, and more opportunities than the citizens of most any other country in the history of the world. One of the reasons for our good fortune has been our system of government and our willingness to obey the law.

Immigration is an area where American Christians have shown more allegiance to groups other than the kingdom of heaven. While it is not fair for some immigrants to break our law and move to the United States illegally, it is also not fair for Americans to shut our borders to foreigners who want to move to America and be a part of our society. American Christians should be leading the way in creating an America that opens our borders in a fair and orderly fashion. American Christians should not be leading the movement that closes America in a way that protects a birthright. American Christians do not have a birthright to be selfish with our freedom, our safety, and the opportunities in our country.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Politics

Christianity is not a social club, it is not a political party, it is not an ethnicity, and it is not a birthright. Christianity is a relationship with Christ that affects the earthly behavior of the believer. Everyone who accepts a relationship with Christ is no longer completely free to behave as they wish. Believers enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom by lving without condemnation. However, Christians also have a responsibility to be the representatives, and the agents, of Christ for the remainder of their days on earth.

Christians are free to determine their own path as they pray to Jesus, study Scripture, wait for the Holy Spirit, and interact with other believers. No believer, not a single one, is THE representative of Christ. Every believer falls short of perfect understanding of good and evil, and every believer falls short of perfect behavior. However, the more effort each believer puts into researching the truth, and the more effort each believer puts into practicing sacrificial behavior, the more likely it is that he or she will be closer to the person God desires him or her to be.

As agents of Christ, believers should understand how their political actions affect society, at every level. Just as there are many different flavors of Christian, there will be many different opinions and many different ways that Christians behave politically. Often times, the political opinions and actions of one believer will counter the political opinions and actions of another believer.

Many of the Generals and soldiers in the Civil War on both sides were believers. Thank God we don’t have that today. However, we do have a culture war in the United States being fought politically by believers and non-believers in both the Republican and the Democrat parties. Every believer in the United States who votes, gives money, or advocates a candidate or a cause needs to think long and hard about how his or her actions are representing Christ. It is not a fatal sin to make a mistake or occasionally make a bad political judgment. However, it is careless to take politics lightly and it is against everything Christ taught when a Christian has a selfish motivation for his or her political actions.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Senate Rules

The Federal government of the United States has three branches or entities that share power. Each entity has a purpose for exercising power and a purpose for limiting the power of the other entities. The President of the United States chooses the Judges who rule on the constitutionality of the laws passed by Congress and signed by the President. The American system may not be perfect, but it has over the years functioned pretty much the way it was designed to function. Each elected representative possesses power that is checked and balanced by other elected representatives as well as by the judicial branch of government.

The President of the United States may be the only elected member of the Executive Branch of government, but in some ways, each Senator, one out of a hundred, is almost as powerful as the President under the right circumstances.

Each Member of the United States Senate has four loyalties. First, each Senator is loyal to a political party. Second, each Senator is loyal to the Senate as a whole. Third, each is loyal to his or her campaign donors (not constituents). However, the fourth loyalty is the most telling because each Senator is sold-out loyal to his or her own ambition to attain, maintain, and exercise power.

With the current filibuster rules in the Senate [60 votes for cloture], the number 55 is a magic number for each Senator to maintain maximum power. Senators are constantly trading votes in a way to achieve some of their goals without having to abandon their campaign promises. For the most part, each Senator votes with his or her political party because Senate leaders in both parties offer favors for votes. However, in order for a Senator to be able to extract favors from other Senators and from the President, each one of them needs a certain amount of independence to oppose his or her own party.

The closer the majority party gets to 60 members in the Senate, the less favors need to be offered to each individual in the majority party. A few Senators in the majority party may not be as important to the majority party when there are 60 members in the majority since a few members in the minority party are also susceptible to receiving favors on each piece of legislation. In the other direction, the more the majority party gets closer to 50 members, the more all 50 members are looking for favors and the less power each individual Senator can wield.

By compromising on how the filibuster will be used to block Judicial nominees, Senator McCain and the other Senators who signed the agreement were able to make a deal that maintained the individual power of all 100 Senators and decreased the ability of President Bush to accomplish his goals without offering favors. It was quite an impressive Machiavellian feat for the Senator from Arizona.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Kissing Rules Explained

Last month I posted a piece named Kissing Rules. In the piece, I listed the seven criteria my daughters agreed to use before they kiss a boy. The comments that were left regarding my piece indicated that my reason for the kissing rules was not as obvious as I had assumed. The rules actually have very little to do with kissing and a lot to do with judgment.

My wife and I want our girls to be able to judge the character of everyone they know based on behavior patterns; not just the behavior of boys or boyfriends, but everyone. We also want our girls to develop the type of character that is evident in their good behavior. Neither of our girls are the least bit interested in kissing a boy now, but they are aware that there will come a time in the future when they are old enough to want to have a boyfriend.

My girls will not always make the best choices regarding who they pick as friends and what activities they choose to do. Nobody does when they are growing up. I can make all kinds of rules to guide my girls, but part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from experience. If we have too many rules, my girls will not develop the judgment they need to be an adult; if we have too few rules, my girls will not get the guidance they need.

Our Kissing Rules seemed to be the perfect line in the sand. By drawing a future line in the sand, we are allowing our girls to have a little freedom to choose their own friends, and make a few mistakes. However, we are also teaching them that character has always and will always matter. They need to know there will come a point in their life when judging a person based on behavior patters will be so important, they can’t afford to make a casual or dumb mistake.

As their father, I don’t want my girls to take kissing boys lightly. I am hoping that by the time they decide they are ready for their first kiss, they will have developed the judgment they need to make a good decision regarding the boy they choose.

Monday, May 16, 2005


It didn’t take Hammer very long after he began leaving comments on my site to start challenging some of the points I was making. The comments he posted stood out from all of the other comments on my site. Quite frankly, his comments were blunt; just the way I like it; music to my ears. I knew exactly what he thought and I usually knew exactly what I needed to write in order clarify my position. If I could redesign the blogsphere to be perfect [for me], everyone would write like me and everyone would leave comments like Hammer.

My wife has spent a good part of the last twelve years rounding off a few of my sharp edges. Sometimes she gets discouraged by my unrepentant attitude and some of my casual remarks, but I am not the same person I was when we started dating. I don’t tease other people the way I use to, I try to focus on areas of agreement, not disagreement when conversing casually, and I’m never out looking for a fight anymore.

Jennifer has helped remind me that the lessons from my wife are just as applicable to the blogsphere as they are to my everyday life. I think Hammer and I could learn an important lesson from the way Debra responded to my comments at her site and the way Jennifer responded to Hammer’s comments. In my mind, I had a good challenge for Debra, but I doubt she ever heard the challenge because she couldn’t get past the “tone” of my comment. I’m sorry Debra. I don’t really want everyone to be like Hammer and me, I just know life would be easier for us if everyone was.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Motivating Factors

Personal [Micro] economics is quite simple in theory. In theory, every decision we make has a cost and a benefit. We make decisions about spending our money by first evaluating whether a product or service is worth what it will cost us in terms of reducing our savings. If the product or service is worth more to us than the money, we will decide to buy. If our money is worth more than the product or service, we will decide to save. It’s all quite simple; that is until we start to calculate our motivating factor into our decisions.

Why do some parents cut coupons and wear old clothes in order to send their only child to Stanford? Why do some families drive up to a church, that is barely able to pay it’s bills, in a brand new $50,000 car? Why do some politicians send their children to a private school while at the same time singing the praises of public education? Why do most of us spend hours and hours shopping for a $30 pair of pants, but don’t think twice about the $10 we spend for popcorn and soda at the movies? Is it because we are all natural born hypocrites, or is it because we have different motivating factors for our different decisions?

The politician who sends his children to private school while advocating public education is motivated to provide the best education for his own children while at the same time he is also motivated to get elected. The politician may be behaving inconsistently, or may even be behaving hypocritically, but both decisions are rational based on the primary motivating factor for each separate decision. Likewise, the parents who sacrifice day in and day out in order to send their child to Stanford are motivated to provide the best possible education for their child.

Sometimes, the motivating factor of others is obvious. However, often times it is not. Everyone has experiences, desires, instincts, and emotions that complicate all of their decisions. If we assume that others are hypocrites when they behave inconsistently, or when they make a decision that is the polar opposite of the decision someone good like us would make, we really are expecting too much.

Perhaps, our goal should be to aim for consistency in our own life and our own decisions, while allowing for a little inconsistency in others, and also showing a little grace when others appear to be hypocrites. Maybe, we should also go a little easier on ourselves and enjoy some of the freedom God gave us.

Attractive Site

Kevin at Short Attention Span has recently moved off of blogspot and on to his own site. His new site is very clean, crisp, and unclutered. I think it really stands out as unique and attractive. He has very good content, as well.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I don’t remember when I first heard the word “hypocrite”, but it seems as though I have always known what it meant. When I was growing up, hypocrites were the boys who acted holy when they were inside of Church, but couldn’t get out of the parking lot without finding a smaller boy to punch. Hypocrites were girls who were sweet to their teachers and sarcastic to their classmates. Hypocrites were the parents who talked about the importance of honesty, but seemed to tell the same story differently depending on who was listening. Hypocrites were the priests who lived in a better house than most of the members of our parish. When I was growing up, hypocrites were everywhere, in our Church, in our neighborhood, everywhere…or were they?

Hypocrites don’t practice what they preach. Hypocrites apply justice and mercy inconsistently. Hypocrites blame others for their own problems but never take the blame for the problems they cause. Last week when Debra at as I see it now deleted one of my comments, I had just the label for her: HYPOCRITE. I instinctively considered starting a new blogrole category on my site named “Pharisee” or “Church Lady” for her blog. However, I know better than to go with my instincts this time because my instincts are the feelings of a young boy expecting perfect consistency in the behavior of others and perfect understanding of their motives by me. Neither of which has ever nor will ever exist.

Labeling others as hypocrites is the cheap shot of the simpleton. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, is so consistent as to be able to avoid the hypocrisy label. We all change our minds, we all make mistakes, and we all apply different criteria for different decisions in our life. Even if we had the wisdom to know the motivation of those who we think are hypocrites, their motivating factor for one decision may be different than their motivating factor for other decisions; just like the rest of us.

The game of politics in America nowadays is played using accusations of hypocrisy as a strategic ploy. Both sides are always pointing out the hypocrisy of their opponents. Do they do it because they are simpletons, or do they do it because we are simpletons who keep falling for such a ploy?

Friday, May 06, 2005

Emily Post (Get It?)

I’ve never had anyone leave a comment on my site that I thought was offensive. I’ve also never had a reader I didn’t want to come back as a regular reader. Until yesterday, I’ve also never had one of my comments deleted from another site. I guess leaving a comment is a little like an unsolicited phone call.

Blogger’s should have the right to “hang up”. However, unless a comment is offensive, it seems a little weird to me to delete a comment just because it presented an alternative view from the blogger.

However, I’m sure there are times when some blogger’s would want a reader to quit posting comments. Has anyone else had such an experience; either as the blogger or as the one leaving a comment?

What should be the best etiquette for “hanging up” on a commenter or asking a commenter to quit leaving comments on your site?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Shut Up

While roaming the blogsphere today, I came across this site with a post titled, “Does It Matter What We Blog?” with this quote:
"I could never tell everyone to say whatever they want to in their publicly-shared blog. Not in a million years. That would be like telling people that God thinks it's just fine and dandy to say out loud anything that pops into our heads.

And I cannot believe that."

There were eight or so comments agreeing with the writer, so when my contrarian nature kicked in, I posted a comment of disagreement with her and how refreshing it is for me to see such honesty in the Christian blogsphere. I agreed with her that we need to be careful about how we present our ideas, but that I believe it is much better to have ideas expressed and challenged than it is to tell people to “shut up”.

Her response to my comment was that I was the type of blogger she was writing about. I left another comment about how ideas are more important than words and then she deleted all of my comments and her responses.

Now, I’m left wondering, “What would Hammer do”?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


If you haven’t read Jennifer’s Graceland series yet, what in the world are you waiting for?


I realize that new readers, and probably even a few of the regulars, might come to the conclusion that I am a little unbalanced in some of my views. I don’t have the time, inclination, or even the ability, to present a comprehensive view of any topic.

I tend to look at issues a little differently than the majority of the crowd. My goal with this blog is to present views that are valid, well reasoned, and fairly well written, but different than what we read and hear everywhere else. I am not trying to discount the views of anyone else. Occasionally, I strongly disagree with the crowd. Mostly though, I am just trying to present valid alternatives to the crowd.

The major beliefs of Christianity have stood the test of time and have been validated by great thinkers throughout the ages. Hopefully, my contrarian views will not conflict with anything that has been validated, but when it does, I hope to be called on it by my readers.

Welcome back Buz! It may take me a few days to respond to some of your recent comments which were all very good.

Teresa, you are still one of my favorites. I hope nothing I wrote the last few days offended you personally.

Steve, thanks for the encouragement. Sometimes, I just hope what I write will resonate with one other person besides myself. I had my doubts with the last one.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Keeping Up With the Joneses

At a very young age in my life, I heard the term "keeping up with the Joneses" and I knew exactly what it meant. It was a seminal moment in my life; the seed of my contrarian nature. I reasoned that trying to be like, or slightly better than others was a weakness I needed to overcome. Over the years, as I married and had children, I have sometimes surrendered to the wishes of my family, but I am still very aware of many of the manifestations of the innocent need for acceptance and the more devious need for admiration.

The need for acceptance has positive and negative connotations. Organizations with members who have a high need for acceptance are usually very efficient due to conformity. Families with members who have a high need for acceptance will have less conflict. However, these organizations with members who have a high need for acceptance will also have weaknesses due to a lack of diversity. In these cases, the need for acceptance can start as a very positive attribute of an organization and mutate into a very sinful aspect of an organization. Japan at the end of the second World War is an example of an extreme need for acceptance where soldiers were expected and willing to perform suicide missions and civilians were committing suicide in order to preserve their dignity.

The more devious need for admiration also has positive and negative connotations. Leaders are often the people in an organization who want to rise to the top and be noticed for their willingness to do more than the average member. In competitive sports, the need for admiration will drive an athlete to push beyond his or her natural ability into greatness. However, the need for admiration can become very sinful when it becomes a controlling reason for making a decision. Sometimes, the desire for admiration is actually the desire for others to be jealous of our actions or our possessions. The accumulation of debt is a sign that the need for acceptance or admiration has become sinful.

Churches, just like all organizations, are comprised of people hoping for acceptance and needing to be admired. Sometimes the needs are worldly such as a nice car or a big house and sometimes the needs are churchy such as a position on the elder board or the lead role in the passion play. Sometimes these needs can enhance our Church organization and sometimes they can be destructive and sinful.

Jesus instructed his followers to pray and he also modeled for them a consistent and holy prayer life. It is clear he expects us to pray. However, he also warned us to pray with a sincere heart; not in public for public approval, but in private for a time with God. When I hear of a Christian leader who gives 90% of their earnings to charity, I wonder how much of the gift is coming from a pure heart and how much of the gift is a devious Christian need for admiration.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: How Would Jesus Want to be Treated?

After making a compelling case for why, in most cases, it is better for believers to spend money rather than give money to charity, Teresa leaves a comment claiming she would like to someday give away 90% because she believes it is what Jesus would do. [Big Sigh!] Obviously, I have work to do. Let’s try again.

It is impossible to know exactly what Jesus would do since there is no record of Jesus ever spending money, or giving money away, or even ever having his own money. Almost certainly he had his own money and he spent and gave, but we just don’t know. However, it is clear from what he taught, we are expected to be good stewards of everything we possess, including money, and we are expected to treat the poor as if they were Jesus himself. Therefore, the question we need to answer is: How would Jesus want us to treat him? HWJWTBT? Did Jesus ever take without giving? Would Jesus want to receive something for doing nothing?

We could also look at the type of charitable behavior Jesus modeled? On the cross, Jesus gave us what we could not earn. This is the ultimate model of charity. No amount of brilliance or effort on our part will lead to salvation. Jesus also performed miracles by healing many sick people. He never healed anyone who could have been healed using the medicine or medical techniques of his day. He only healed those who had no other alternative. We don’t have salvation or healing to offer, but we can and should be careful to preserve the dignity of recipients of charity by allowing them to do for themselves what they can do for themselves.

As I pointed out in my previous post, every time we pass money to someone else, either through giving or spending, we reward and encourage certain behaviors. Perhaps, I wasn’t as clear about when we reward and encourage some behaviors, how we also penalize and discourage other behaviors. Giving money and time to a charity could be, and I believe often is, much more selfish than spending money. Would Jesus want to receive the rewards of the work of others while at the same time making life more difficult for others who are poor?

Habitat for Humanity is an example of a well meaning, but misguided, charitable organization. Anyone who donates time or money to Habitat for Humanity is doing more harm than good to the poor; especially in places like southern California where the price of a home is based on the supply of homes and lots that are listed for sale. Every time Habitat for Humanity builds a house, the supply of available houses goes down, and the cost of available houses goes up. Poor families working to earn a house are penalized while a poor family that didn’t work to earn a house is rewarded. Carpenters who earn a living by building houses have one less house to build and earn a living. Those who donated time and money to this cause may selfishly feel good about themselves, but what they have done is rob a certain amount of dignity from one family and made life more difficult for many more families. Sadly, most charities are in the very same business of making donors feel good at the expense of the poor.

I don’t believe for a second this is what Jesus would do. I think if Jesus had to choose between buying fish and giving money to charity, he would buy fish from the fisherman who was willing to get up early and stay out late in order to provide for himself and his family. I also think Jesus would be the one to get up early and stay out late in order to provide the fish as a food supply for his village. Obviously, I am projecting on to Jesus what I would do without really knowing what HE would do, but how is that any different from thinking Jesus would want anyone to give 90% to charity?