Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,  slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins;  he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve (Psalm 103:8-10).

Motivational speaker David G. Johnson notes that if you want to find your calling, it’s a good idea to ask yourself some questions:

1) What would I do even if I didn’t get paid or receive applause?

2) What problem do I feel compelled to solve for people?

3) What makes you mad?

I pondered that last question in the last 24 hours or so, when I wasn’t sleeping that is. I think I figured it out.

What makes me mad is injustice. I see a lot of it around these days.

When I probe deeper into my heart, though, I find an annoying truth. What makes me mad is when I or one of my loved ones get treated unjustly.

Do I get angry when I hear or read about somebody else receiving unfair treatment? The honest answer is probably,”Sometimes I guess. But not as much as when the experience involves me.”

Rage at my own unfair treatment has gotten me into trouble in the past. I’m not so sure trying to bail myself out of unjust situations is exactly what God had in mine when He gave me a “calling”.

Johnson does say that whatever our calling is, it involves serving people. So if I can figure out where I get really teed off when other folks are handled poorly, I may go a long way in discovering where to invest the rest of my life vocationally.

Injustice is nothing new, of course. If you read the media you would think it is, though.

The news is full of one injustice after another. Here’s a sample of today’s headlines:

“Blind Chinese activist says he’s been abandoned by American officials…”

“12 teenagers haul teenagers off of train by hair, steal cell phone”

“Computer glitch summons 1,200 residents to jury duty, causes traffic jam”.

It’s a fallen world, especially in politics.

If the current POTUS is not of your party, you have your eye on him. You are just waiting for him to assume dictatorial powers and institute a police state.

Interestingly enough, some folks in my birth state of Maryland felt that way about Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. As a border state, Maryland was subject to a lot of intense scrutiny from the US government and the military.

According to Charles W. Mitchell, who edited a book called “Maryland Voices of the Civil War”, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus for Marylanders in some cases.

The writ of habeas corpus is the longstanding right in the English legal system, passed down to Americans, in which an accused person is required to be brought before a judge by the arresting  party. The latter must show cause before the court as to why the person has been arrested.

The writ of habeas corpus is a foundation of the American legal system. It prevents unlawful detention of our citizens.

From Mitchell’s account, a lot of people in Maryland were held without charge, at least at the beginning of the Civil War. Mitchell produces one written account by one such man, Augustus R. Sollers. He begins:

“My arrest was a simple outrage only to be excused upon the ground of over zeal in th officer who ordered it”. Sollers goes on to describe the charges against him as “fabrications” and defends himself.

Furthermore, he goes into detail as to how he has suffered at the hands of the military when they tried to arrest him previously:

I was driven from my home, family and business and lived in the woods for weeks.  They visited my house the night of their arrival and searched for me; they placed a guard of 150 men around it.; they killed my hogs, sheep, poultry, and wantonly shot the best horse on the farm, for all I was never offered a cent nor have I received a cent.”

In his letter, Sollers insists he is a loyal citizen of the United States, but decries how much is fealty has gotten him:

“For all this I have incurred the displeasure of some of my best friends and looked upon with suspicion and distrust by many others. But for my loyalty I have received nothing  but persecution. I have been driven from home, my property destroyed, ny family harassed and insulted, and finally arrested.”

Imagine the cable news networks of our time. They’d have a field day with Sollers’ story.

If you are a dedicated Christian, you know full well how Jesus Christ suffered far worse treatment at the hands of the authorities of his time. Yet, he voluntarily submitted Himself to it.

The Scriptures say of Jesus:

 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature  of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death —
        even death on a cross! (Phillippians 2:5-8)

Indeed, on that cross, as he was being crucified with others who DID deserve the punishment,  Jesus asked God for leniency  concerning those responsible. Luke recorded his words:

 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34a)

Pastor Erwin Lutzer tells of  a discussion he had with another minister about David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam. Those of us around in the 1970s remember the hot summer he went around shooting numerous people  to death in New York City.

This pastor told Lutzer that Berkowitz is a saved man today, deeply regretting his actions, not asking for any parole, and leading Bible studies in prison. He is transformed according to this pastor.

However, when the pastor tried to get a Christian publisher to consider putting out Berkowitz’s story, he received resistance. The publisher said,

“Yeah, but do you know for sure he’s saved. You get weary of all these people being converted in prison. Prison’s a nice place to get converted, right?”

The pastor countered with this:

“I know Son of Sam–I know that he’s saved. But I am worried about you.” 

I wonder what the loved ones of Son of Sam would think about this discussion. I would surmise many of them would be as skeptical as this Christian publisher and still demand every ounce in payment for the injustice done.

The work of Jesus, who was “pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins”  and “beaten” and “whipped” so we could be healed (Isaiah 53:5), shows God’s attitude toward injustice.  He took it upon Himself so that He could be merciful to those who were responsible for it.

So sure, I ought to be upset when there’s injustice and do what I can, at least for others, when it is perpetrated.  God hates injustice so much His Son died for it.

Yet, if I am to be like Him I need to slow down and be patient with some people. I might even attempt to show  them the error of their ways in a kind and gentle way.


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“Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close (Psalm 27:10)”.

Francis Phelan is a bum. That’s what he calls himself and his comrades on the streets of Albany, New York. Today, we call people like Francis homeless.

Francis is the lead character in the book “Ironweed” by William Kennedy. The book won a Pulitzer Prize.

In addition, the story was made into a movie by the same name. Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep were both nominated for Academy Awards for their roles as Francis and his girlfriend Helen.

The story is a moving and troubling one. It’s 1939 and Francis has been running from his past since 1910, when he dropped his infant son, resulting in his death.

His life had once been promising. Francis had even played Major League baseball.

Now he goes from place to place in Albany, trying to find a place to sleep for himself and Helen. Francis scrounges a dollar  or two out of odd jobs mainly to buy booze.

Helen is seemingly the more responsible of the two. She is better with money anyway, and chastizes Francis for his free ways with a buck.

Yet, she is also haunted by her past. Helen came from a good family and appeared to have a career as a singer or pianist in view.

However, she was eventually abandoned by her married piano teacher, a man who also seduced her. Helen, like Francis, ended up on the street.

“Ironweed” portrays the plight of the homeless from day to day. If it is true, as F. Scott Fitgerald wrote, that the rich are not like you and I,  then you could say the same about the homeless.

Out on the streets, it’s open season.  The hobos of Ironweed have a tough existence.

Before he returned to Albany, Francis rode the rails, a common occurrence in the Depression. During one episode in a boxcar, a man who admires his shoes tells Francis”I’m gonna cut off your feet” and proceeds to go after him with a meat cleaver.

Helen has her purse snatched on Halloween by a group of masked urchins. She had what amounted to her life savings in the bag -15 dollars.

Helen also suffers indignities no woman should have to face. Francis, seeking a place for her to sleep, puts her up in a car with a bum who spends his nights in an old wreck of a car.

Francis knows Helen will have to do more for the man than just be pleasant. However, in his mind he doesn’t have many options for her.

Both Francis and Helen are subject to incidents of mental illness. Francis hallucinates that the men he has killed in his travels, including the meat cleaver bearer, are in his presence taunting him.

Helen is invited to sing at a gin house by the bartender, a former renouned singer himself. As she sings, she imagines the audience is hailing her performance with cheers and great applause.

The truth is, when she finishes, Helen receives a mild clap or two. She idly leaves the stage with a sense of disappointment.

The life of the bum includes poverty, crime, mental disability and addictions. A good many of us have never experienced lives like those of Francis or Helen and can’t imagine having to live that way. However, in our current times  having to scramble hour after hour to exist isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

It’s not just the extremists and conspiracy theorists who are warning of potential economic collapse. Every day, I read some report in which a reputable government official or business  person  is decrying the state of the world economy and hinting at a future of economic hardhsip at least as difficult as the Depression.

I’ve never been homeless or extremely poor, although I’ve come close a time or two. It is a hopeless and powerless place to be.

At times I have been  poor enough not to be able to afford health coverage for my family, but with enough income to not be eligible for assistance from the government. During one of those periods, it was extremely frustrating to not be able to find medical care for a sick daughter at a free clinic because we didn’t live in the county offering it. (Our county was next door and didn’t offer such a service.)

When you are homeless and in poverty, or close to it, you feel abandoned. And you are to some degree.

In once scene from “Ironweed”, a drunken woman is sick and drunk outside a city mission. The preacher who runs it is a good man, but he refuses to  take people who are not sober in over night.

Francis tries to help her, but he is powerless except to ask for a blanket and some soup for the woman from the mission. When he returns, he and Helen find her being eaten by wild dogs.

The Bible describes such happenings. People in dire straits are subject to the attack of wild animals (Psalm 79:1-2).

Sometimes the predators are human.  Jesus desribed them as “dogs” (Psalm 22:16).”  Wild beasts of all varieties are out there who would like nothing better to make a feast of some vulnerable person on the street.

We may not have the greatest digs in the world, and might even end up homeless, but the person who follows Jesus can know one thing: they have not been abandoned.

In fact, every day we can live, at least spiritually, in a mansion. The Psalmist wrote:

“One thing I ask from the LORD,
   this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
   all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
   and to seek him in his temple. 
For in the day of trouble
   he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
   and set me high upon a rock.

  Then my head will be exalted
   above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
   I will sing and make music to the LORD. (Psalm 27:4-6)”

Governments, corporations and corrupt people may try to take away our dignity. That’s impossible though because the source of our self respect is in our relationship with God.

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“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (I Corinthians 13:6,7).”

I am teaching my student’s in my academic writing class about plagiarism these days. If you don’t recall your university days or aren’t a best selling author, plagiarism is when you take someone else’s ideas and use them as your own.

There are a lot of conventions in academic writing for acceptable, non-plagiarized work. Here is an exercise from John Swales and Chris Feak which help delineate what they are.

 “Here are some approaches to writing, beginning with a plagiarizing approach and ending with an acceptable quoting technique.  Where does plagiarism stop? Draw a line between the last approach that would produce plagiarism and the first approach that would produce acceptable work.

 1)Copying a paragraph as it is from the source without any acknowledgement.

 2)Copying a paragraph making only small changes, such as replacing a few verbs or adjectives with synonyms.

 3)Cutting and pasting a paragraph by using the sentences of the original and leaving one or two out, or by putting one or two sentences in a different order.

 4)Composing a paragraph by taking short standard phrases from a number of sources and putting them together with some words of  your own.

 5)Paraphrasing a paragraph by rewriting with substantial changes in language and organization, amount of detail, and examples.

 6)Quoting a paragraph by placing it in block format with the source cited.”

(John N. Swales & Christine B. Feak, Academic Writing for Graduate Students (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994), 126.)

Swales draws a line after number 3. Feak draws hers after number 4. Numbers 1-3 are plagiarism in academia.

The authors note that when plagiarism comes up, an issue that is regularly discussed is “intent to deceive.” In other words, did the writer knowingly violate the conventions, or did they cheat in ignorance.

This “intent to deceive” issue is one reason I cover the issue of plagiarism and show them how to avoid it. After that, I hold them accountable.

They have to learn how to paraphrase and summarize. These are skills, and I do not expect perfection in their papers. However, I at least expect a decent attempt to give credit where credit is due and put ideas in their own words.

Occasionally I will come across students who blatantly cut and paste material from the Internet and not change anything. This is where the “fun” begins. It is a “weeping and gnashing of teeth” scenario for both me and the student, and sometimes even the school administration.

As I said above, the rule for me is that they have been taught about plagiarism and the ways to keep away from it. If they still clearly copy from someone else, they’re in big trouble.

In this “everyone gets a smiley face” and “everyone plays” society, far different from the one of my youth, it seems to me that students are given a lot of slack on this “intent to deceive” issue. In my experience, the words “mistake” and “clarification” have been used as a defense for what I see as clear plagiarism.

I do know that some people in this world think that lying is not only acceptable, but actually a virtue if the falsehood is meant to benefit them in some way.  Thus, cheating on an exam or an academic paper is seen as within the realm of honorable behavior.

When the cheater is caught, the lying is also thought to be all right as a strategy for avoiding punishment. It is extremely frustrating.

Even Christians have a hard time making decisions about what to do when faced with two competing agendas.  The choices involve doing what is right for themselves or their loved ones, or obeying some authority such as the government.

I even recall reading some Christian book on situation ethics in church youth group when I was a teenager.  I think it was called “It Really All Depends” or some similar title. This was the heyday of that philosophy, as proposed by Joseph Fletcher.

An introduction to Fletcher’s book “Situation Ethics: The New Morality” reads:

Igniting a firestorm of controversy upon its publication in 1966, Joseph Fletcher’sSituation Ethicswas hailed by many as a much-needed reformation of morality–and as an invitation to anarchy by others. Proposing an ethic of loving concern, Fletcher suggests that certain acts–such as lying, premarital sex, adultery, or even murder–might be morally right, depending on the circumstances. Hotly debated on television, in magazines and newspapers, in churches, and in the classroom, Fletcher’s provocative thesis remains a powerful force in contemporary discussions of morality.

Here is the question in my mind:”When is one person’s lying and deception honorable (or at least tolerable) and another’s unacceptable (or intolerable)?”I believe Fletcher would save that what we do must be done out of “love” to be honorable.   

One Bible story that always engenders a lot of discussion is the story of the Hebrew midwives. These ladies saved the lives of  Israelite babies (including Moses) in counter to the orders of the Egyptian government.

The Egyptian ruler ordered up a form of what Hitler called “The Final Solution” when it came to the treatment of Jews.  He told the midwives to kill the babies on the birthing stool.

The Hebrew midwives did nothing of the kind. They let the children live, and had to deal with the wrath of the king.

When called to task, the midwives lied, saying that the Hebrew mothers were so energetic that they gave birth before they could participate. The Scriptures say that God blessed the midwives for their actions (Exodus 1:1-21).

In another story, one that doesn’t have a commentary which says that God was pleased or not pleased, an advisor to King David deceives the monarch’s rebellious son Absalom, who has begun a civil war with his father.  Hushai is planted in the court of Absalom to give bad advice, and he does so.

The good news for David was that his son took Hushai’s advice over that of a highly regarded advisor named Ahithophel, whose counsel was thought to be almost a “word from the Lord”. This led to David’s escape from Absalom when he was in a weakened state and eventual victory in the civil war ((II Samuel 16:23-18:16).

In this story, it seems God again favored the lying and deceitful party. The Scriptures say “…the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom (II Samuel 17:14).

In both the case of the Hebrew midwives and Hushai, the “intent to deceive” was clear. Both parties sought to give false impressions, and both gained God’s support.

Yet, God has his own set of rules we call The Ten Commandments. One of them says,”You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16).” How do we  reconcile God’s seeming support of deception over and against His command, this one in particular.

This is not the place for a long theological treatise, but here are some thoughts:

In some respects, I believe Joseph Fletcher was correct. Sometimes, when we are caught between a rock (obeying God’s commands) and a hard place (an extremely damaging circumstance), we may need to deceive and lie. It may in fact be the “loving” thing  to do.

On the other hand, we ought to give the matter a lot of prayer. To me, the matter almost has to be “life and death”, as illustrated by the biblical cases above, to consider lying or deceiving.

Furthermore, we should be willing to accept the consequences of our deception if we are caught. Righteous people in World War II sought to hide the Jews from the Nazis, and paid the price for it when found out.

Consider even the case of a professional American football player when he was fined for a flagrant violation of the rules. His story was reported this week in Sports Illustrated:

“Saints safety Roman Harper says he does not regret a late hit on Carolina receiver Steve Smith that drew a $15,000 fine from the NFL this week.

Harper says the fine was worth it and that his decision to shove Smith as the receiver slowly crossed the goal line last Sunday was good for his team and got his point across.

Harper had said after Sunday’s 30-27 Saints victory that if a player is going to score on the Saints, he’s not going allow anyone to just ‘walk it in’ the end zone.”

Harper thought his punishment was acceptable when compared with the return he and his team garnered through his actions.
All I can say is, when we think about deceiving and lying to authorities or other institutions or persons, it ought to be out of love for other people. It had better be worth it!

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Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:14).”

I respect many people who draw a government paycheck. I really do!  I respect police officers.  They have a difficult job and put their lives on the line. Similarly, I respect people in the armed forces.  They too risk their necks for us all.

But then there are others on the government dole I have a hard time with.  I won’t review my personal “dis list”, but some government agencies and the people who work for them serve only themselves, not the people.  I usually deal with poor treatment by workers employed by these institutions by adopting a fatalistic attitude. “Well, government is corrupt. What do I expect?”, I think at those times.

But the Lord tells us that these people are His servants (Romans 13:6).  We are to submit to them because their role is to implement God’s goodness to us. It’s not God’s fault that some of these servants of His don’t know what they are doing, or are rude, or make decisions that block our personal plans.  We are still supposed to submit to them.

This doesn’t mean that we just should roll over and die when some government worker pushes drivel at us.  We live in a free society, one meant to be governed ultimately by the people, and we have the right to speak our minds, to protest and to fight bad decisions legally.  Therefore, we ought to submit to the government and honor and respect those who work for us, even if some of them aren’t very likeable (Romans 13:7).

I know I want my pound of flesh when the government does me dirt, but doing anything else but honoring, respecting and submitting to it is sin.  Of course there are times government decisions are immoral and wicked and go against God’s law. In those cases we have no other choice than to respectfully disobey. 

Ultimately, we may not get justice in this life.  True justice comes from God and may not be seen until we see Him in eternity.

But in flesh and blood day to day living, one nice rule of thumb when faced with dealings with the government is asking the old question, “What would Jesus do?” We can even ask Him directly.

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