Enron: The Smartest guys in the Room

enronI watched this movie last Tuesday. It’s a documentary about the Enron downfall. It’s very informative for someone who didn’t know a lot of the details of what Enron was and did. From my perspective the movie did not take any sort of slanted bias in any direction. They did seem to make the governer of California (previous to Arnold), Gray Davis, look like a victim of the corruption of Enron, you can decide if that’s biased or not. Now for my commentary.
It’s not very often in life we see big examples of the negative consequences of not following basic values. Our world seems to teach our children, “don’t lie, cheat, or steal… but if you can do it secretly and get away with it, then go for it.” I spend my days trying to teach high school kids that living by virtues like honesty and respect is in the best interest of ourselves and our world. Yet, everyday there are a thousand situations like the Enron scandal where people get away with it. They go on to live lavish and enjoyable lives while others our cheated out of their mere survival needs.
In the movie you see a guy who’s worked his job laying powerlines for twenty some years. Enron took over his company and the guys on top fraudently took a lot of money. Now this gentleman’s $300,000 pension is just $1200. That’s his retirement, that’s his life. I think far more often then we realize, those situations are happening. It’s rare that it comes into the light and we can point and say, “this is not good.”
I don’t have any real strong point to make about this whole thing. When I saw the front page news about Worldcom and Enron, or political corruption like Abramoff and Tennessee’s legislative corruption, the first thing I thought was, “Is this surprising?”

Augustine: his most famous quote

According to John Piper this is the most powerful and impacting quote of anything Augustine had written:

“Who am I? What kind of man am I? What evil have I not done? Or if there is evil that I have not done, what evil is there that I have not spoken? If there is any that I have not spoken, what evil is there that I have not willed to do? But you, O Lord, are good. You are merciful. You saw how deep I was sunk in death, and it was your power that drained dry the well of corruption in the depths of my heart. And all that you asked of me was to deny my own will and accept yours. But, during all those years, where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke and take your light burden on my shoulders, Christ Jesus, my Helper and my Redeemer? How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose and was now glad to reject! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honour though not in the eyes of men who see all honour in themselves. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”

More Augustine to come in future months.

Thou Shalt Not Steal…

I don’t think anyone who reads this will be offended or bothered. This was letter I wrote and gave to a few guys in my dorm who kept taking the dorm furniture out of the lounge and putting it in their own rooms. It also was during a time of a lot of people stealing silverware from the dining hall. That should be all the context you need:

“Thou shalt not steal..” –Exodus 20:15

It’s the eighth commandment. One of those pinnacle commands that not only born-again Christians uphold, but nearly every religion and culture in the world. So then why do we steal? I’m not taking about car heist or bank robberies. I’m not even talking about five finger discounts at Walmart, we are to well off to need to do that, and the consequences of getting caught are worse then we want to deal with. Stealing is taking something that is not yours. Whether it’s food from Saga or a couch from the lounge, it’s stealing. Be for you try and justify the incidents that are beginning to come to your mind, pause for a minute. The fact is it doesn’t matter if they have tons of leftovers anyways, or that nobody would miss that couch; it doesn’t matter if the person never even notices you took it, it’s still stealing. Do you find it interesting that we think ourselves to be pretty good Christians because we don’t do any of the “really bad stuff?” Or is it more interesting that when something is a slight inconvenience for us, or would be a little more to our liking a different way, we justify every slightly immoral thing we do. If you think this is a guilt trip it’s not. This is a rebuke. Be willing to suffer for the cause of Christ. Next time something is not to your liking wait before you bend the rules. It doesn’t matter if it would be more effective (If that’s your concern, talk to the people who make the rules), if you break a rule, if you “borrow” furniture, it’s still wrong.

So for the sake of Christ,

Return furniture, and follow the rules at Saga.

Guns at the Playground

This was written by my good friend, Karma:
Imagine you are the most popular kid on the playground. Also, your mom lets you take a gun to school with enough clips of ammo to go Columbine on the whole school. This isn’t something that you are thinking about doing but because you’re the most popular, you get into a lot of fights sticking up for your friends, doing what you think is right.

Its soccer practice one day and you’re talking to two of the neighborhood kids. They have figured out where their parents keep their guns too. The first one, little Suzie, is friendly, nice and fair to everyone she meets. Everyone likes her. She doesn’t get into arguments on the playground but if there were a conflict she would resolve it without violence. She respects other peoples beliefs and is willing to compromise. She says she is planning on bringing her gun and collecting some ammo next week.

The other child is Marcus. Marcus is not very popular. He is always getting into fights with other kids, sometimes he gets hurt; sometimes the other kid gets hurt. He’s also very stubborn. Usually Marcus disagrees with you about everything and he tells you so, rudely. Some of his friends are bullies and many of the kids are afraid of him. He’s planning on bringing a gun next week too, but he hasn’t figured out how to get any bullets. During the conversation with Marcus and Suzie, Marcus promised that he wouldn’t hurt anyone with his gun. Suzie kept silent.

1. Who are you more worried about, Suzie, or Marcus?
2. Do you try to convince either of them not to bring a gun to school? How do you convince them? Do you ask nicely, kick their ass, get the other kids to gang up on them, or something else?
3. What about your gun? Are you willing to stop bringing the gun to school if it means that they agree not to? Do you trust them? Is it fair to continue bringing a gun, if you convince them otherwise?

My little metaphor may seem silly but think about it seriously, as you would in such a ridiculously scary situation. Please think about your answers before you continue…

…Maybe discuss them with someone in the room, what the heck, see what they think…

… Or post them in the comments box…

Okay, so here’s the deal.

You are the U.S. Suzie is India and Marcus is Iran. Both countries are close to producing nuclear weapons. Iran has signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty; India has not. On the other hand, India is a democratic nation while Iran is expansionistic. They’re harboring Al Queda. Everyone pretty much agrees that though they comply with the treaty and India has not, it is Iran that is a danger to the rest of the world. So the debate seems to be, who should we go after, why and how? India is one of our allies but some people think that we shouldn’t be letting them play with plutonium.

Does anyone else see the hypocrisy here? Remember when all of the nations got together and voted to stop producing nuclear weapons? I’ll remind you: The vote was in favor of reducing nuclear armament 147 to one (UK and Isreal abstained). The vote against was yours truely, the good ole’ U. S. of A. How long do we think we can keep producing nuclear weapons and telling other people its not okay to produce nuclear weapons? According to a speech by Noam Chompsky, a recent study showed terrible errors in the security or our nuclear weapons. On top of worrying about other countries making them or our country using them, now we have to worry about terrorists stealing them.

Its happened before and it came close to happening again in the 1960’s. Russia was literally a phone call away from giving the Okay to strike the U.S. Is this frightening to anyone else out there? Sometimes I don’t feel like this is a safe country to live in. Everyone has their crosshairs pointed at us.

How long will these children play with guns before someone gets shot?

A working definition of Poverty

I’ve recently started reading the book A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne. I’d highly recommend it to anyone (but particularly those who work with or live in poverty situations).
I’ll be posting a lot of my thoughts on what I read in the book over the next few days or weeks (it helps me to process information). Today, I want to talk about a definition for poverty.
Commonly when we talk about poverty we usually focus on finances. The national poverty line is measured solely on the income of an individual or family and takes nothing else into account. The first thing Dr. Payne does in her book is lays out a working definition of poverty: “The extent to which an individual does without resources.” This is a clear and simple definition which she goes on to further explain by defining resources as the following:

Financial: Having the money to purchase good and services.

Emotional: Being able to choose and control emotional responses, particularly to negative situations, without engaging in self-destructive behavior.

Mental: Having the mental abilities and acquired skills (reading, writing, computing) to deal with daily life.

Spiritual: Believing in divine purpose and guidance.

Physical: Having the physical health and mobility.

Support Systems: Having friends, family and backup resources available to access in times of need. These are external resources.

Relationships/ Role Models: Having frequent access to adults who are appropriate, who are nurturing to the the child, and who do not engage in self-destructive behavior.

Knowledge of the Hidden Rules: Knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group.

Already, she has done such a crucial thing in expanding ones understanding of poverty and how it functions. I often point to the lack of support and relationships the poor have to help meet their needs. More specifically I usually point to the support structure that I have in place (family primarily) that would keep me from being out on the streets no matter what good or bad decisions I make.
Hidden rules are another section that speaks volumes to understanding the barriers one has to overcoming poverty. My dad works with people who are chronicly-unemployed and he talks about the need to teach some of the “hidden rules” of being and staying employed. These are things many take for granted and others simply never learned growing up.

This is an excellent book, and I got all that from just the first page!
Lot’s more to come.

Peter in the Paper

Peter's AIDS Talk

I figured I needed to get this posted sometime soon. This is my friend, Peter. He’s some what of a celebrity in China these days. You see he went to South Africa and saw first hand some of the ravaging effects of AIDS in that country. Then he went back to China and started telling folks about it. He’s taught his classes about it (He teaches English at one of the Universities). He’s talked to lecture halls full of doctor’s and nurses.
All that to say, Peter really cares about helping fight the pandemic of AIDS. I’m hoping to help him do that. Sometime this summer or fall we’ll be launching a non-profit focused on addressing just that issue.

UPDATE: Peter is continue to work and further his education to help address this issue, but we are no longer working on the Non-profit front. Thanks for your support.

No Easter outrage?

It’s over a week since the Easter holiday, so I feel safe venturing some critiques about it. My friend Bryan pointed out that there hasn’t been much outrage around Easter about the bunny and eggs.
During Christmas there was so much outrage at the idea of calling the evergreens people where buying “Holiday Trees.” When my mom was growing up they had a Hanukkah Bush. My family had decorations for Christmas and Hanukkah (as well as a strange assortment of other family ornaments). Mindy and I have not had a tree in our living room since we’ve been married, and yet I don’t think we missed out on anything essential concerning the birth of Jesus. Celebrating the birth of Jesus is a good thing, but his birth is not what is central or pinnacle to the Christian faith; it’s his resurrection.
I wonder then, where is the outrage at Jesus’ resurrection being taken over by a giant bunny that hands kids pastel eggs full of candy? If you ask me, that’s what people should be upset about. I think it’s probably because nobody’s trying to trump the word “Easter.” Maybe they’d be bothered if someone decleared it the Buddha Bunny? Or what about just “The Bunny” leaving “Easter” out all together?

My point in saying all that is not to incite outrage over the Easter bunny or to start a boycott of pastel eggs. I think I’m just bothered by the lack of consistency and focus on such unimportant things. Let other’s call the evergreens what they want, maybe you should be ditching the Easter bunny altogether. Probably we should be spending a little more time trying to explain why some old guy dying and then rising from the dead is so important to our children. Believe me, you’ll have your work cut out for you.

Forwards make me cry

I can’t believe I’m actually making a post of this. I’ll start by saying most of the time I find forwards very annoying. If it’s got an “FWD:” multiple times at the beginning of an email I usually delete it. There are all kinds of real life sentimental stories out there, I don’t need to hear another cheesy forwarded one. On top of that, these forwards usually come from folks I barely ever email with at all, they come as a forward with no personal greeting or note on how this little story has impacted their lives, nothing of that nature. The only thing you can hope for is the good luck charm at the bottom if you send it to five friends before you delete it.

Yet, even after all of that, I sometimes take a minute and read through a forward or two. Usually it’s because I miss the person who sent it, and if that’s all I get from them, well, at least that’s a start. And as I get about three lines into it I can already guess the incredibly obvious and cheesy way the story is going to end. After one line you can tell if there is a political bias or agenda to the story at all.
I keep reading though, just to see if there is a twist to the story I didn’t expect, and rarely is there, it’s usually just the cheesy ending I expected.

And yet, even though I know how it’s going to end, and I know it’s probably a made up story just to tug at my emotions…
I still cry.

Here’s the most recent culprit.

(note: I think what I find so moving about the story above, is that it shows humans capable of an understanding of love being a more important motivating factor then winning. I long to see that more often.)