Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a house of cards

kudos to robert stewart (formerly of royal dutch shell), who recently published a brief, clear explanation of how we got into the current financial crisis. tracing the collapse back to the widespreach practice of subprime lending, he writes:

in summary, the essence of the subprime crisis is that money was lent (often through the agency of questionable mortgage brokers) at very low interest rates (courtesy of the fed) to hundreds of thousands of people (all they needed was a credit score and a pulse) who could not afford to pay it back; and it was backed by collateral (a house) that was not properly valued. such assets, accurately described as “liar loans,” were then packaged into opaque securities, known as structured-investment vehicles (sponsored but not guaranteed by a respected and well-known name), which very few people understood. they were sold on to pension funds, banks, and others whose gullible investment managers also did not understand them and failed to carry out the rigorous analysis that their clients had a right to expect.

government encouraged all of this by supporting affordable housing (which was politically correct) and accusing banks of redlining (failing to lend to poor and black people in the same proportion as they lent to the rich and white). when the borrower, already maxed out on his credit cards, predictably failed to make payments, the scale of the problems eventually became apparent to somnolent regulators and financial institutions. confidence and trust evaporated, because no one knew which institutions held suspect securities, how much the losses were, and who was ultimately safe. a financial system built on debt and excessive leverage was a financial system built on sand.
stewart's analysis doe not detail the moral rot underpinning the current predicament, but he does point out:

populist politicians rarely blamed the borrowers, because there are so many of them and they vote; instead they blamed greedy capitalists, speculators, short sellers, anyone except the debtors, and the imprudent economic policies of the u.s. government.
the entire article, which chronicles how this root issue led to the broader financial calamity, is worth reading and can be found here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

the light has come into the world

the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (isaiah 9:2)

that was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. he was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. he came unto his own, and his own received him not. but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (john 1:9-13)

joy to the world, the Lord has come
let earth receive her king
let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing!

Monday, December 22, 2008

cold as ice

they're calling it the worst snow storm in 12 years in the seattle area -- lots of snow and freezing rain, and because of unusually cold temperatures, none of it is going away. according to the latest forecasts, it looks like we'll be somewhat 'snowed in' for another week. "no need to dream of a white christmas -- it's coming." one local told me that this is the kind of thing that only happens once in 30 years.

thankfully, we were able to pick up b from the airport, after a bit of drama. she was supposed to come in on saturday night, the night when the big part of the storm hit. because of inaccurate communication from american airlines, i thought she was coming into seattle just an hour after her scheduled arrival, when in actuality, her plane was being diverted to san francisco. so i braved the blizzard en route to the airport, having to stop periodically to remove the ice from the windshield wipers when i could no longer see. driving in the snow here is typically more difficult than in montreal; even though the snowfall is not as heavy, they don't salt or clear the roads, so you're driving in a lot of snow and ice. thank God for those winter tires we brought from montreal, a gift from the river church community in san jose.

when i got to the airport, i discovered that they had closed the cell phone waiting lot, which i thought was ridiculous. but a number of us were actually chased away by a gruff police officer. i waited for about 90 minutes before we figured out what had happened, then made my way back to our house in the snow storm, only to find that the road was closed just a mile from home. i made it home anyway, passing at least one car that had been abandoned by the road side. i parked at the bottom of our hill and hiked up. the snow was so heavy and the hill so steep that i think i was getting about six inches per step.

upon returning home, we confirmed that b was on the ground in sf, awaiting departure to seattle. i worried about what we would do if she got to seattle and i couldn't get through, but her plane was finally grounded. good friends c and n rode to the rescue, picking up b at sfo and shuttling her back to their place for a nice dinner and a good night's rest in a warm bed.

yesterday morning, they took b back to the airport, where she finally departed for seattle. church friends on this end offered to pick her up at the airport and bring her to within a mile and a half or so, where we were hoping to hike out and pick her up. i wasn't sure what we were going to do with her (large!) suitcase, but before we had to find out, g from across the street offered to take me to pick her up in his awd. not long after that, we were all eating lasagna back at the house!

because of the dangerous weather, church was canceled for the second sunday in a row, so this time, we experimented with a live video broadcast, and i gave an informal message from our living room to some 23 viewers; don't know how many were watching per computer, but that was probably most of the bridge!
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

are you kidding me?

once upon a time, we lived in northern california. there were two seasons. one was warmer and drier, the other cooler and wetter. snow was a once-in-a-decade phenomenon, the kind of thing that kids wished for at christmas, but never got to see.

then a few years ago, we moved to montreal, quebec -- our first home with four true seasons, including some brutally cold, snowy winters. there's a lot that we miss about montreal, but snow hasn't really been the main thing, at least for me. i love the appearance of snow; it makes everything look beautiful and clean. but with snow comes ice and other safety concerns. that's the part i haven't missed since we moved to the seattle area.

and then last night, it started to snow. and snow. and snow. because snow is more rare in this area (at least at our elevation), there really aren't provisions for snow removal or (God forbid) salting of the roads. usually, people just stay inside and wait for it to melt. when they don't, it's not very safe, as many aren't experienced at driving on icy roads. combine that with some steep hills (like the one we live on) and the results can be... unfortunate.

so we canceled the worship service of the bridge this morning due to snow. there's a part of me that still can't believe it. this amount of snow wouldn't elicit a grunt in montreal; they wouldn't even bother with snow removal. but then, they'd have so much salt on the roads that it would look like it had rained. the road would be moist, but without a hint of ice. and it'd be mostly flat. for reference, what montrealers call 'the mountain' is only a couple of hundred feet higher than the east hill of kent!

the thing that has me concerned is that the weather forecast is for highs below freezing all week. are we stuck up here for a week? we might want to replenish our food before then...
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Friday, December 05, 2008

holiday stupidity

'tis the season to be... silly?

earlier this week, an atheist-sponsored sign disparaging religion was included in a holiday display (along with a nativity display) in olympia, wa. christians and other folks from around the country were outraged; some even called it 'hate speech.' the atheists insisted that it is the nativity that is the hate speech, indirectly threatening non-believers with violent, eternal judgment. a local pastor planned to hold a press conference to unveil his own counter-sign that says, in part, "atheism is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." now, the original sign has disappeared.

i will not defend the motives or actions of the atheists. was the sign provocative and insulting? sure, all of the atheistic protestations to the contrary. but i do sometimes wish that christians could respond with grace as well as truth. some of our reactions seem slightly hysterical to me. are we really that thin-skinned?

no one thought to have video surveillance on this obvious invitation to mischief, but i can only hope that christians were not the thieves. that's not only illegal and cowardly; it's also a strategic mistake. that sign was a great opportunity. it was the open door to talk about the true meaning of christmas and christianity, an invitation for the not-yet-believing to reflect on questions they might otherwise never ask, and a chance to demonstrate the love of Jesus. instead, we have discussions about first amendment rights vs. hate speech. not to mention that after the theft of the sign, the atheists are getting even more air time for their message.

maybe we should ask ourselves again, "what would Jesus do?" in addition to an unbending commitment to the truth, i'm guessing it has something to do with loving our enemies and laying down our lives for them, that they might come to know God...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the problem with government intervention

a friend recently asked me about my rationale for distrusting government intervention. is it really true that government intervention tends to make things worse? what's the evidence for that, she asked?

a current example would be the federal government's response to the current economic crisis. under 'conservative' george w. bush, it has been shoveling money at businesses "too big to fail" and buying an interest in some of them (why isn't anyone calling that socialism?). it has passed a $700 billion dollar bailout with no clear plan for what to do with the money, and with the prospect of rapidly expanding its powers. all of this, we were told, was to avert disaster in the economy, and anxious congressional representatives and senators lined up to pass the bill, shortly before the election; no one wanted to be perceived as "not doing enough."

less than two weeks after the election, treasury secretary henry paulson is on his third plan for what to do with the $700 billion -- with the possibility of more to come. even mainstream pundits are finally turning on the bailout; ed koch, floyd norris, and the wall street journal are concerned. their number is greatly multiplied as people look at the proposed bailout of the auto industry. now congress is grilling paulson and fed chariman ben bernanke. everyone suddenly wants answers (you can read about it here).

not surprisingly, the government's actions have not kept the economy from continuing to sour. they'll say that it's because there hasn't been enough time, or because it hasn't been enough intervention. but the truth is that they didn't understand what caused the problem and didn't know what to do when things began to unravel. they never knew whether or not the bailout would help, and they still don't. but it won't stop them from thinking of new ways to spend. they'll pass new bills -- economic stimulus package, anyone? -- and intervene in more and more sectors of the economy. they aren't 'saving the free market;' this is crony capitalism at its worst.

and one might even tolerate that if it helped the economy to get on the right track. the problem is that their intervention makes things worse. it actually slows the recovery because it creates uncertainty in the market to keep changing rules in the middle of the game. people and businesses can't make rational decisions when they're wondering if the government might come along with a big 'rescue.' with its sometimes well-intentioned actions (or in some cases, the implied promise of acting), the government creates a moral hazard, causing participants to act in ways that otherwise wouldn't make sense, in the hope of receiving 'help.' john stossel does a fine job of explaining some of the difficulties here.

moreover, the government's costly interference sends budget deficits and the national debt soaring -- effectively charging huge purchases to the nation's credit card, and leaving the bill for future generations. what would you think of parents who refuse to live within their means and keep running up huge debt, figuring that their kids and grandkids can always pay it off later? that's worse than unhelpful; it's immoral.

why is all of this so predictable? because government operates without many of the constraints of a private enterprise. it does not have to compete for customers. it does not have to make a profit to survive. it never has to be careful with money lest it risk going out of existence, as it can always tax or print more money. these factors allow it to continue in inefficiency and ineffectiveness long after a business would have had to change its ways or go belly up. there is little incentive to remove ineffective or even corrupt workers and leaders, or to change policies that aren't working.

so now people aren't happy with the bailout. but what will they do about it if the government throws tens of billions at the auto industry -- or plunks down more cash for aig a.k.a. 'the money pit?' at best, they remove this group of representatives, only to have the next group continue pouring their money down the same failed hole -- as will happen when the obama's liberal democratic administration replaces bush's conservative republican one.

i should be clear in stating that i don't think free markets solve every problem. but the current economic crisis is a great example of how sometimes, the government's doing something is worse than doing 'nothing.'

Saturday, November 15, 2008

change has come

i've read a lot of post-election articles -- on what an obama presidency will mean, for good and for ill, on how the republican party lost the election -- and lost its way, and on and on it goes. one thing's for sure: there will never be an end to words. these folk write and write, and after a while, the words blend together and are quickly forgotten. i think if some of these folk were honest, they'd admit that they really didn't have much to say. they just had a deadline to meet and column inches to fill.

but i highly recommend the article by leonard pitts jr. of the miami herald, entitled 'we' are finally a part of 'we the people.' his reflections are worthy of long consideration; and he has a sense of history, significance, and proportion that i greatly appreciated. here's an excerpt:

i always thought i understood what michelle obama was trying to say.... namely, that with her husband, this brown-skinned guy with the funny name, making a credible run for the highest office in the land, she could believe, for the first time, that ''we the people'' included her.

it is, for african americans, an intoxicating thought almost too wonderful for thinking. yet, there it is. and here we are, waking up this morning to find barack obama president-elect of these united states.

in a sense, it is unfair -- to him, to us -- to make tuesday's election about race.... but in the end, after all that, there still is race.

and it would be a sin against our history... not to be still and acknowledge that something has happened here and it is sacred and profound.

for most of the years of the american experiment, ''we the people'' did not include african americans. we were not included in ''we.'' we were not even included in "people.''

what made it galling was all the flowery words to the contrary, all the perfumed lies about equality and opportunity. this was, people kept saying, a nation where any boy might grow up and become president. which was only true, we knew, as long as it was indeed a boy and as long as the boy was white...

there was something bittersweet in watching michelle obama lectured on american pride this year, in seeing african americans asked to prove their americanness when our ancestors were in this country before this country was. there was something in it that was hard to take, knowing that we have loved america when america did not love us, defended america when it would not defend us, believed in american ideals that were larger than skies, yet never large enough to include us.

we did this. for years unto centuries, we did this. because our love for this country is deep and profound. and complicated and contradictory. and cynical and hard.

now it has delivered us to this singular moment. barack obama is president-elect of the united states.

and we the people should be proud.
those who opposed an obama presidency complained that there seemed to be more style than substance to his campaign, more rhetoric than reality to his promises. that assertion -- and obama's ability to govern -- will now be tested. will he lead in a way that helps americans to overcome the rancor of the past and find some common ground? will he be, as a recent president famously promised but failed to be, a 'uniter and not a divider?'

but even if an obama presidency isn't all that its proponents hope it will be, there is, as pitts points out, something that has happened that is both sacred and profound, something that should not casually or cynically be brushed aside. it may or may not prove to be the time when the oceans began to recede and the earth began to heal itself -- but it is undoubtedly a step forward on a significant front. and that's worth celebrating.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

making history

barack obama, 44th president of the united states of america.

who would have thought that only forty years after the assassination of martin luther king jr and the formal end of jim crow that a bi-racial black man would be elected president? what was especially impressive to me was the fact that the opposition argued against him because of his policies -- not because of his race.

having already written about my own reservations about an obama presidency, let me just say that there is still a part of me that is thrilled at his election. there's still work to be done in the area of race relations in america, but what an amazing distance we've covered in my lifetime.

i'll be praying regularly for president obama and his government. i hope you will too, no matter how you voted.

Monday, November 03, 2008

the newest member of the family

this is baby a, the newest member of our family. she arrived a couple of weeks early, in late september. as you can see, she's beautiful. k and m make some good-looking kids!

i had the chance to see her and the other cousins on a recent visit to california, when i was meeting with my covenant group for a few days. my mom put together an incredible dinner, featuring prime rib and asparagus -- delicious!
we were also celebrating my sister k's birthday; that's the cake in the lower left-hand corner of the photo. i was going to write up some kind of joke about her miraculously getting older than me somewhere along the way, but the photo just ruins that. the former homecoming queen is still looking great.

i spent the night with my folks, which was a treat, and even had the chance to help my dad straighten out a few things on his computer. i'm using windows full-time these days (hazard of living so close to microsoft!), but in my heart, i'm a mac guy and can still do a thing or two with os x.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

a better shot of m and me

so a number of you commented on that last grouping of family photos, and i thought i had better follow up with a better one of m and me. this was at the wedding of a young couple from the bridge, back in july of this year.

in our fledgling congregation of about fifty adults, we've had two weddings (would have been a third, but the couple left our fellowship before they got married) and four babies (with four more on the way) -- since february! that's one way to grow a church...
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

back to your regularly scheduled program

i know that i've spent way too much blog space on non-family topics of late. i guess the combination of the presidential election and the financial crisis brings out the political philosopher in me. :-)

the good news is that the news from home is... mostly good.
  • n continues to excel in school, routinely ringing up quiz and test scores in the 90+ range; it's still a socially-challenging place to be for her, but it looks like she'll be going to the homecoming dance tomorrow night -- her first high school dance.
  • we hear from b fairly often, enough to know that she has a number of friends and is doing well enough in school. she is part of the intervarsity campus fellowship, and still finds time to tutor in harlem and enjoy new york city.
  • m is considering getting a job outside of the home, and wears a number of hats in the ministries of the bridge. she recently celebrated her birthday and her christian birthday, and she and i are getting ready to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary in less than a week -- praise God!
  • i just got back from california, where i spent a few days with my covenant group. we meet at least once a year to share, pray, encourage, and challenge one another, in the hope that we can help each other grow in Jesus and be faithful until the end. what a privilege it is to have that kind of partnership!
perhaps it's not a surprise given the turmoil in the financial markets, but we haven't been able to sell our home. we're not unhappy with this house, but were hoping to move into renton to be closer to the core of our church and immerse ourselves in the city. looks like that's not going to be possible right now, short of a miracle -- which we've been asking for. i honestly thought God was leading us in this direction. but maybe he just wanted us to clean and fix up this place so that others can come for a visit! on that front, montreal friends (and former iv staff partners) p and j will be coming next month with baby tj in tow -- whoo hoo!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

analyses of the current financial crisis

first aig needs $37+ billion supplemental loan, because apparently, the first $85 billion wasn't enough. now the banks are sitting on all that cash the government gave them (see here), pretty much guaranteeing that that move is doomed to failure. the chairman of the federal reserve and the speaker of the house are each talking about additional injections of capital into the economy (that's two separate plans), to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. and you can bet that won't be the end of it.

they say that one definition of 'insanity' is to do the same thing over and over again, but expect a different result. what do you call this?

looks like a few pundits are starting to question the orthodox view:
for some insightful analysis of our current predicament, along with a reasonable path forward, take a look at:

Friday, October 17, 2008

critiquing mccain

i've been meaning to get around to my critical review of john mccain as a presidential candidate, but i've been pretty busy, and there have been so many other things to write about. but having written critically about hillary clinton and barack obama, it only seemed fair to say a word about mccain before election day.

i want to start by saying that there's a lot that i admire about john mccain -- his courage and integrity as a prisoner of war, tortured but refusing to break faith with his fellow prisoners being among the first things to appreciate. he has spent his political career as a man with his own mind, willing to go against party orthodoxy and political expediency, even when it might cost him; i especially note his support for the surge in iraq, when it looked like political suicide. for all of his past mistakes, he seems to be a politician with a moral sense and convictions, something all too rare in this age of focus groups and poll-driven policy. and on some issues (notably his staunch opposition to abortion and his commitment to judges who will interpret the law, rather than legislate), i am much closer to him than to obama.

so why am i reluctant about mccain? aside from a variety of policy differences, some of which are significant (on the use of the military, on immigration, on the most crucial challenge facing our generation), i've begun to wonder: who is he, anymore? in 2000, mccain ran as a straight-talking, problem-solving maverick -- a kind of hybrid conservative who liked to reach across the aisle to solve problems, even when it angered the power brokers in the republican party. he still says some of those things about himself. but his 2008 campaign has seemed strangely disjointed and incoherent to me, causing me to wonder if he's really himself anymore. To wit:
  • gas tax holiday: during the republican primaries, mccain came out in favor of a gas tax holiday (along with clinton). this just seemed like an obvious pander that didn't address the underlying problem. in other words, it felt very political and not like a proposal that came out of his core values. obama got this one right by refusing to join in the chorus.
  • $300 billion mortgage buyout: mccain's proposal for the federal government to spend $300 billion to buy up trouble mortgages is certainly bold, but aside from the fact that i think it's a dubious solution, it makes me wonder about mccain's consistency -- is he really for fiscal responsbility and less government?
  • $52 billion tax cut stimulus package: i appreciate what he's trying to do here, but again, what of fiscal responsibility? mccain has spent his career as a budget hawk, but this (along with the mortgage buyout) looks like an invitation to massive deficits and an increasing national debt. in the short-term, that's a problem (inflationary pressures), but in the long term, it's immoral (saddling succeeding generations with an ever-increasing debt burden). where will he cut spending to compensate? in mccain's defense, obama's economic proposals have the same problem, perhaps to an even greater degree. but at least obama advertises himself as a big government liberal; these proposals have me questioning who mccain really is.
  • turning molehills into mountains: i've been surprised at mccain's persistence in going after greed and corruption and earmarks, while ignoring the bigger-ticket items of social security, medicare, and military spending. this seems like straining at gnats and swallowing camels. if he's really the maverick reformer he says he is, if he's really going to talk straight to the american people, how about a little truth on how we're going to address the real programs that are bankrupting america? again, obama doesn't do any better, but as a liberal, i don't really expect him to address these issues.
bottom line: i wonder if mccain has lost his true self in the midst of trying to win the presidency (a charge that might stick to obama as well). i don't need to agree with a candidate on everything, but i do want to believe that he is going to do what he thinks is best for the country -- not for his own election (or re-election). and with all of the pandering and populist rhetoric, i wonder if mccain is giving up his most attractive quality -- his personal integrity and moral convictions -- in search of enough votes to go to the white house.

perhaps my root problem with mccain is that i want him to be something that he's not. i wish he could cast a contrasting and compelling vision of an america with a constitutionally-limited government and greater individual freedom and responsibility. but what i mostly hear is a less drastic version of obama's government-will-save-the-day vision. and i just don't believe in it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

how long, o Lord?

i was telling the folks in our bible studies on acts that the greek word for 'witness' is the one from which we get our english word 'martyr.' the example of those first disciples reminds us that being a witness to the reality of Jesus' resurrection and working in the world might someday cost you your life. for most americans, that's more of a theoretical possibility than a reality. but it is what some christians are facing today, as i write this.

india is the world's largest democracy and supposedly a tolerant, secular state. but for weeks, christians have been told to convert or be murdered. dozens of people have been killed, over 100 churches destroyed, and some 3,000 homes burned -- and it hasn't really been reported in the mainstream media, until recently. check out the ny times article for more information by clicking here.

and don't forget to pray. Lord God, have mercy. please protect and save our brothers and sisters by your mighty hand. speak words of affirmation and blessing to them, and give back twice what they've lost. help them to face their enemies with courage and compassion. and bring justice and a speedy end to the violence -- in Jesus' name.

when the Lamb broke the fifth seal, i saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “how long, o Lord, holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” and there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
(revelation 6:9-11)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

all better?

so after an awful week on wall street, the market makes a furious rebound on monday -- the biggest one day gain ever. guess the government has finally fixed everything?

don't count on it.

no one is saying that the government can't make a substantial difference in this mess. they will, and in the process, they will create winners (mostly wealthy friends of the powerful) and losers (nearly everybody else). when the progress seems to stall, they will insist that what is needed is more intervention. and the problem will drag on and on. for a recent example, take a look at what happened to the japanese in the 1990s (here and here), where a similar economic crisis and series of government 'fixes' led to a lost decade in which economic expansion came to a complete halt.

they say that those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. how can we walk right into the buzz saw? unfortunately, our political leaders (and perhaps the majority of the american public) can no longer face the prospect of a painful readjustment -- the public, because we're used to living well beyond our means, the politicians, because they'd probably lose their jobs if they were perceived as not doing enough in the midst of a crisis. and since long-term problems end up being someone else's problem, they'll act, even though the long-term results are very likely problematic (cf. the unwillingness to tackle the problems in social security and medicare).

the neo-cons tell us that the great threat and challenge of our generation is militant islam. but i think that the greater challenge is internal. we are looking at a lot more than a crisis in the economy. we're looking at an american identity crisis.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

down again?

sure am glad we passed that $700 billion bailout to stabilize the economy. let's see...
somebody stop the madness! when will we all acknowledge that the government can't fix every problem -- and that in many cases, it causes and exacerbates them with its willy-nilly interventions?

why is there no emerging movement to shut down fannie mae and freddie mac and get the government out of the home loan business? where is the independent investigation of these and other failing institutions that have given tons of money to the politicians who are now bailing them out?

and where's ron paul when you need him?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

tahoma (aka mount rainier)

when grandma p was out visiting, we had the chance to visit tahoma national park. just beautiful. we often see the mountain from where we live; on a clear day, it dominates the southern landscape. no wonder -- it's the tallest mountain in the cascade range, at over 14,000 feet (almost 4,400m). it's also a volcano (scary, huh?).
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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

the end of the world as we know it?

save yourself, serve yourself. world serves its own needs
listen to your heart bleed
tell me with the rapture and the reverent in the right - right

you vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched

it's the end of the world as we know it
it's the end of the world as we know it
it's the end of the world as we know it and i feel fine

(from "it's the end of the world as we know it," r.e.m.)

it didn't seem like that long ago that the u.s. economy was envied and our freedoms and opportunities were a model in many parts of the world. but that was then.

today, banks are failing, including some of the giants. the housing market is tanking. credit markets are (supposedly) seizing up. the dow dropped another 500 points today, to its lowest level in five years -- a 33% decline from its high a year ago. in the last five days of trading, that's a paper loss of $2.2 trillion (!). just to get an idea of how much money that is, if you made $1/second for every second of every day , you'd be making nearly $31 million per year -- and it would still take over 30,000 years to make a trillion dollars. and now the crisis is threatening to go global.

in response, the u.s. congress has committed something like a trillion dollars to 'fixing' the problem -- apparently with more to come. it is a power grab unprecedented in american history. will it help? no one knows for sure, but the conventional wisdom seems to be that we can't afford to do nothing.

i disagree with the conventional wisdom. i think no matter what we do, we're in for a rough ride. lots of companies could fail. people will lose jobs and houses. retirement savings could be wiped out. it might get ugly. but it could be even worse. no one knows for sure what the result of these government bailouts will be. we could end up with the same painful economic correction and pile up a mountain of debt for future generations. hyperinflation or stagflation are also possibilities.

the first rule of medicine is "do no harm." it ought to be the first rule of governing. yet if history is any guide, there's reason to believe that the government intervention will only lengthen the pain. so why do politicians insist on a bailout and predict disaster without it? some of them are staring at the trouble ahead, and hoping their 'hail mary' pass will connect. but some of them are bullying other politicians (and the public) into this 'rescue' before it can really be analyzed. and all of them surely know that it helps to solidify their power. no one wants to watch the economy tank and be perceived as having done nothing. better to do something, even if it's ridiculously costly, even if it makes the problem worse in the long haul. after all, in the long haul, someone else will have to take the blame.

our leaders on both sides of the mainstream political aisle seem to have lost the will to analyze problems with cool heads and attention to history, and to make hard decisions that put the country first, fearing that it would cost them their jobs. it's not just the financial crisis (which, imo, was caused largely by well-meaning but misguided government policies, not by the unpredictability of free markets! it's always easier to blame greed or deregulation than it is to take a good, hard look in the mirror). they know many of the issues that are blowing up and cannot continue as they have -- the deployment of american troops in over 100 countries around the world, engagement in two hot wars, the insolvency of social security and medicare, and more -- but they simply will not confront them head-on. in some cases (like president bush's prescription drug plan) they add to them.

and what are the american people doing? worrying. waiting for the government to save them. trading freedom and opportunity and their children's future for perceived security now. what they aren't doing, for the most part, is accepting some personal responsibility for what has happened and for the solution. nor are they demanding a more constitutional, restrained form of government than the one that helped create this mess. whatever else happens, the federal government will surely grow more powerful and more invasive than ever before. the old saying that in a democracy, you get the government you deserve, never seemed more true.

this may not be the end of the world. but it is, perhaps, the end of the world as we have known it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


the more things change, the more they stay the same.

magazine wrote about resegregation more than 40 years ago (find the article here). less than a decade after court-ordered desegregation, schools were becoming more segregated than ever. back then, many whites were leaving for the suburbs, leaving higher concentrations of blacks in the cities. and a number of black students, for a variety of reasons, were beginning to avoid racially-mixed schools. the article concluded, "the phenomenon of resegregation also suggests that the law can go only so far in correcting racial inequalities...."

fast forward to 2008. the christian science monitor reported recently that schools around the country are rapidly resegregating, citing a study from the civil rights project (see the article here). the reasons cited? in addition to the recent court rulings striking down voluntary integration programs, the main ones are white flight from the cities and widespread de facto segregation in neighborhoods. in a separate piece, pulitzer prize winner cynthia tucker adds that in her hometown, which remains racially integrated, whites have largely deserted the public school system -- in effect, recreating (mostly) black and (mostly) white schools.

the forces that keep us separated from one another are powerful and persistent. but God is at work. and he will reap the harvest he has sown.

for he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in his flesh the enmity, which is the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in himself he might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (ephesians 2:14-16)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

faithfulness with money

a christian friend recently shared some of his reflections on what he should do with a sizable inheritance. he listed ways that he could potentially use the money, and wrote about how God has been leading him to prioritize the needs of those who don't yet know Jesus and those whose poverty is desperate. he asked for our opinions as well. this was mine.


i read your reflections with interest. thanks for sharing.

i am glad that you have done some in-depth thinking on the issue of money. i think that christians in the affluent west do far too little of that, especially given that Jesus talked so much about wealth.

it's hard to argue with the imperative to use the money to reach those who don't yet know Jesus and to be the tangible blessing of God to the poor. these are the direct commands of the Lord, and God will bless obedience.


i do think that the calculus on financial decisions can be complex, and i don't think that a direct gift of money is the only way to be faithful to God. the difficulty is that there are always immediate needs (a starving child, a medical emergency for someone without health insurance, people groups that don't yet know Jesus), and if the only legitimate use of the money were to give the money to them or to their causes, you'd never be able to do anything longer term -- the important-but-not-urgent things.

your college education was not urgent, compared to the needs of poor and dying people in the world, but getting one has given you the ability to serve needs in the community that you couldn't otherwise serve, and has also multiplied your ability to gain and even create wealth. i can imagine that as a godly choice, even if it didn't serve the immediate need. similarly, the christians who own businesses often have large amounts of capital at their disposal that could be given away or put into expansion of the business. the former is an immediate blessing, but the latter can also be a blessing to hundreds or even thousands of workers, providing jobs, health care, and the personal capital of work experience that gives them greater opportunities in the future. what is more godly -- to feed the hungry and provide temporary shelter in an inner city, or to start a profitable business that employs dozens of young people, gives them the dignity of work, and creates a pathway out of poverty? aren't both critical?


also, many items aren't simply 'for our comfort' or 'for someone else's need.' take the case of giving money to a camp. yes, it could be that their primary concern is to bless future generations of christians -- not a bad thing, but perhaps not as immediately urgent as people who are going to hell now. but what if the camp is also used to bring in public school kids for nature camps and becomes the on ramp to their getting connected to summer or family camps and coming to Christ?

likewise, your gym membership is not simply a matter of convenience (or at least, it need not be). it's also a way of stewarding your health, being faithful to your family, and even potentially a chance to gain relationships with non-christians and reach out to them on their turf (vs. trying to get them to come to your turf, i.e. church or a bible study).

finally, if you pay off your mortgage now, that money isn't 'gone.' it's just stored away for future use. you can always get it back out (e.g. by selling the house) and use it for some purpose ordained by God. i still remember that, years ago, bill bright of campus crusade took his sizeable retirement savings/package (something like $1.7 million) and used it as a down payment on a crusade-sponsored graduate school. i don't know how well the grad school worked out, but i was struck by how even retirement savings belong to God and can be called up at any time.


over the years, i have been on the receiving end of your generosity, and have been very grateful for God's working through you and your family. so i hope you won't look back at your past as being completely self-centered and indulgent. i don't think that's true at all.

i do know that there are always new frontiers of faithfulness, and it sounds to me like God has really grabbed your heart with the compelling needs of the world's poor and hungry. if so, i think it's wise to go with that with gusto. God's blessing on you and your family as you respond in these new ways!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

the bridge's new website

we've had a clean, simple website up for some time now, for folks that might be looking for the bridge. but with our grand opening finally here, we're almost ready to roll out the new site, thanks to the talents of old berkeley pal c. check it out here and tell me what you think.

Friday, August 29, 2008

the crossing's first retreat!

not too long ago, the bridge youth group (dubbed 'the crossing') took its first-ever retreat out near brinnon, wa. we stayed with m and m, a wonderful senior couple who hosted us in cabins on their property out near a river. by day, we engaged in various activities from clam digging and waterfall swimming to scripture study and group reflection. among the more memorable happenings:
  • n was quite daring, playing in the waterfall, swimming in the icy river, and generally being the nature girl that she's never been before. she also took a ton of photos. it was fun to see her stretch in some new directions.
  • c, the only non-family member on the trip, jumped right in and had fun mixing it up with us. he wowwed the assembled with his eating of a raw oyster (a move he almost immediately regretted), swam at every opportunity, and helped lead the way on 'talk triggers,' questions we used to stir up discussion so we could know one another better.
  • b, in her final 'crossing' activity, took a special liking to the s'mores and demonstrated her prowess as a log splitter, being the only one of the youth who managed to split a log with a single blow.
  • m led the weekend and did most of the cooking and driving, and i... well, i fell down really hard at the waterfall, busting open my elbow and soaking my shoes, while managing to save the camera. that was two weeks ago, and my elbow still smarts -- ouch!

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on the nomination of barack obama

i was recently commenting on a friend's blog entry about barack obama's nomination by the democratic party, and found myself going on and on. apparently, this historic event has stirred up more in me than i allowed myself to verbalize. and since i've posted negatively about hillary clinton in this space (see here and here), i thought it only fair to share my reservations about obama, which i noted in that comment (see below). at a later date, i'll post my critique of john mccain, to complete the set.

i should say up front that there is a part of me that is thrilled by obama's nomination; that someone of african descent can run as a candidate for president without his race being the primary topic of discussion is measurable progress. i find much to appreciate in his call to serious-but-civil discourse on the critical challenges of our generation, his challenge to work together (even with our disagreements) by trying to find some middle ground, and his casting the vision for taking both individual responsibility and some responsibility for one another. still, i have serious reservations, as you'll see below.

please note: my goal here is not to endorse a candidate for president, but to interact in a thoughtful way with their candidacies and proposals. for the record, i disagree with both major candidates in significant ways, and i'm guessing many of you do too. for the less politically-inclined, especially those of you who frequent this space to see photos of my beautiful family or to hear what God is doing in our lives and ministry, feel free to skip this one...

i'm surprised you've only gotten one comment on this [blog post on the nomination of barack obama]. it is, indeed, a historic and amazing moment, and one worthy of reflection.

i will admit to being conflicted about the nomination of barack obama. on the one hand, i'm excited. what a life story this guy has -- bi-racial (though simply consider 'black' by most americans), raised by a single mom and grandmother, lived in hawaii and overseas, columbia- and harvard-educated, and against all odds, democratic party nominee. he's obviously an impressive fellow, but i'm especially fascinated by what his ascent says about the progress in race relations in the u.s., no matter how uneven and imperfect.

but i'm also concerned -- at his relative lack of experience at governing (especially at the national level) and exposure to international political realities, and at the media's seeming unwillingness to really discuss that in a somewhat objective, dispassionate way. it's either the right-wing fireballers calling him 'hussein' and insinuating that he's a muslim on the one hand, or msnbc's chris matthews has a tingle coming up his leg?!! what was that all about?
i don't doubt obama's intelligence. but i do doubt that his experience at this time makes him a strong candidate to be president. if colin powell were accepting the nomination, i'd breathe a lot easier. he's actually led a large organization before (albeit not as an elected official) and quite successfully.

and that's aside from the policy disagreements that i have with obama. his record on abortion notwithstanding (and that's a huge problem for me), i probably disagree with his approach to solving just about every major national problem. without picking a political fight with all of my berkeley friends, i am not a liberal and do not share the progressive 'faith' in government and government-run enterprises. obama and the democrats in general worry me with their reflex action of turning over so much of life to government leadership, intervention, and oversight.

so, there it is. am i inspired? almost every time i hear obama speak. am i worried that the bandwagon is going to lead to a morning-after case of buyer's regret? yes. do i think obama has the policy prescriptions to renew america's promise? sadly, no.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

baby columbia debuts at columbia

well, the deed is done. after nearly a week of sun and fun in new york city, we dropped off b at columbia university. i'll write more later about our trip, but for now, it's just an amazing thought. all week, i saw little girls -- from infant to about five years old -- and thought about how it wasn't that long ago that we were carrying b around and trying to answer her surprisingly deep theological questions. now look at her!

we praise God for the young woman that she has become -- and for the one he is making her to be!

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Friday, August 08, 2008

a blessing of discomfort, anger, tears, and foolishness

heard recently at the willow creek leadership summit, from craig groeschel of it is from a franciscan benediction...

may God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart

may God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

may God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

and may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

how's that for a blessing? we keep using that word -- perhaps it doesn't mean what we think it means.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

renton river days, 2008

here we are at renton river days -- our church's first contact with the public. we had a great time playing with the bubble wand, giving away freebies (bottles of bubbles, bookmarks, and candy), playing with kids, and talking with their parents. i wish we could have gotten a photo with all of the bridge people who hung around at our booth, so you could get a glimpse of the emerging diversity of our nascent congregation. and given the wide variety of folks we met -- old and young, varying levels of education and wealth, and a wide range of cultures and languages -- we're hoping that our growth in that direction will accelerate!

you may notice that b isn't in any of these photos. that's because she was in hawaii...
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