Happy Birthday, Agnes

Here is a story I read in a new book here in Guatemala. We here need Pastors writing books that include this kind of story. I shared it with some of the young people who want to follow Jesus...The Voice of Harry is the one that got to them the most.

Its about Tony Campolo, who has been a hero of mine for 38 years, now. He was the first person I heard who said we need to take the words of Jesus seriously.

Tony was on a trip Honolulu to speak at a Christian Conference. On his first night there, he awoke sometime after three (jet lag from a six hour time difference was keeping him from adjusting to Hawaii time - he's from Pennsylvania) and left the hotel in search of a place to get something to eat. Eventually he found a tiny diner, with one man behind the bar who served him coffee and a doughnut. Tony was the only customer until, quite suddenly, the coffee shop was filled with girls. Some sat at small tables, others at the counter near Tony. From their conversation he learned an astonishing amount about Honolulu's night life, for the girls were discussing their night's work and their male clients. These girls were prostitutes. He tells the story:

I overheard the woman sitting beside me say, "Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm going to be thirty-nine."

Her friend responded in a nasty tone, "So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing 'Happy Birthday?'"

"Come on!" said the woman sitting next to me. "Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that's all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you it was my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"

When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women had left. Then I called over the fat guy behind the counter and I asked him, "Do they come in here every night?”

"Yeah!" he answered.

"The one right next to me, does she come here every night?"

"Yeah," he said. "That's Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why d'ya wanta know?"

"Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday," I told him. "What do you say you and I do something about that? What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her right here tomorrow night?"

A cute smile slowly crossed his chubby cheeks and he answered with measured delight, "That's great!..."

"Look." I told him, "if it's OK with you, I'll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I'll even get a birthday cake!"

"No way," said Harry (that was his name). "The birthday cake's my thing. I'll make the cake.”

At 2:30 the next morning, I was back at the diner. I had picked up some crepe-paper decorations at the store and had made a sign out of big pieces of cardboard that read, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" I decorated the diner from one end to the other. I had that diner looking good.

The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes...and me!

At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend. I had everybody ready (after all I was kind of the M.C. of the affair) and when they came in we all screamed, "Happy birthday!" Never have I seen a person so flabbergasted...so stunned...so shaken. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her. As we came to the end of our singing with "happy birthday dear Agnes, happy birthday to you," her eyes moistened, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry gruffly mumbled, "Blow out the candles, Agnes! Come on! Blow out the candles! If you don't blow out the candles, I'm gonna hafta blow out the candles." And, after an endless few seconds, he did. Then he handed her a knife and told her, "Cut the cake, Agnes. Yo, Agnes, we all want some cake.”

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, "Look Harry, is it all right with you if I... I mean is it OK if I kind of... want I want to ask you is...is it OK if keep the cake a little while? I mean is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"

Harry shrugged and answered, "Sure! It's O.K If you want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home if you want to."

"Can I," she asked. Then looking at me she said, "I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, OK? I'll be right back. Honest!"

She got off the stool picked up the cake, and, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail walked slowly toward the door.

As we all just stood there motionless, she left. When the door closed there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, "What do you say we pray?”

Looking back on it now it seems more than strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But then it just felt like the right thing to do.

I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed and that God would be good to her. When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said "Hay! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?"

In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning."

Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, "No you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a church like that!”

Here are some relevant Bible verses:

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him" (Matthew 21:32).

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you" (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).


Strange twist on internatinal adoptions

We have been focusing a lot on the children who were born in Guatemala, and end up being adopted by American families.

I have been in discussions with many people who are irate that Guatemala stopped this traffic, often claiming that the children would have had a much better life in the U.S. and are now condemned to live their lives in this backward little country that doesn't take care of its children at risk.

That may be true, as far a Guatemala not taking care of its at risk children...but this article points out that Guatemala is in this the same as the states.

I had no idea that international adoptions are a two way street in the states. What is up with that?

Please read this article, then get back to me with your thoughts.



The following came to me from a Latin American friend. Don't know who first said it...this friend sends me good stuff of all sorts gleaned form all over. This is what she and a lot of Latin Americans think of the U.S. I want to live up to their respect, and to Abraham Lincoln's advice.

It arrived in Spanish...in other words, it is not for U.S. consumption, but rather, is making the rounds of Spanish speakers. I simply translated on Babelfish...so it is rough...but worth reading!

it goes...

I invite them to read this message from serenity and the intelligence characterizes that them. They have been putting attention to the words of Abraham Lincoln for 150 years (quoted later).

Why some hate the United States of North America (the USA).?

They won the war against the Nazis and did not then claim ownership of no European country. How it is Europe nowadays?

They won the war to him to Japanese and did not claim ownership of Japan. How it is Japan nowadays?

They reclaimed part of Korea until parallel the 38 and did not claim ownership of Korea. (Coarse to compare the development, economy, sources of work and social welfare of South Korea nowadays with the one of North Korea to evaluate that better).

And then? Sometimes it becomes annoying that the hobby of all the humanity is to speak bad of the United States. Not only the Chavistas comunistoides of Latin America, but generally everybody. In the last years in Venezuela it is considered socially negative to say something good of the United States. The inference is that the Latins that they have in the United States more than average life, they do not find anything good what for saying of the USA. But they stay there, and they do not return to its countries of origin.

Here there are three examples of exemplary answers to these commentaries:

1) When in England, during a conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked Colin Powell if the plans of the USA towards Iraq were not simply more construction of " empire" on the part of George Bush. He responded the following thing to him: “With passing of the years, the United States has sent too many of their better young people, men and women towards the danger, to fight by the cause of the freedom beyond our borders. The only earth that we have asked in return have been the necessary ones to bury those who did not return”. The great silence in the enclosure became…

2) During a conference in France, in which a great number of engineers of diverse nationalities participated, including French and Americans, during a break, one of the French engineers said calmly: " Have you heard the last stupidity of George Bush? … It sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help to the victims of tsunami. What is what tries to do, to bomb them?” An engineer of Boeing rose and responded calmly: - “Our aircraft carriers on board have three hospitals, that can help several hundreds of people. They are nuclear, reason why they can provide electricity of emergencia to land stations, have three dining rooms with capacity to prepare meals for 3,000 people three times a day, they can daily produce several thousands of gallons of potable water from water of sea, and have an average of a dozen of helicopters to transport victims from and towards the ship. We have eleven equal boats. How many ships like this have sent France” Again, burial silence.

3) An admiral of the Navy of the United States was in a naval conference that included admirals of American, Canadian, English, Australian the Navy, and French. During a cocktail one was with a group of officials who included representatives of all those countries. Everybody talked in English while they took his drinks, but suddenly, a French admiral commented that, although the European learn many languages, the Americans are enough only with the English. Then he asked: “Why we must speak English in these conferences? Why not French speech” The American admiral, without doubting it, responded: " Perhaps it is because the British, the Canadians, the Australians and the Americans sacrificed so that you did not have to speak German, for the rest of your lives”. The fall of a pin could have been listened…!

Where is the secret of the Americans?

Very simple, more ago than 150 years they learned something that in Latin America seemed that we do not have nor we want to learn.

They are only ten very simple premises:


1. You cannot create prosperity discouraging self Initiative.
2. You cannot fortify to the weak one, by debilitating to the strong.
3. You cannot help the small ones, by squashing to the great ones.
4. You cannot help to the poor man, by destroying the rich one.
5. You cannot elevate to the employee, by pressing to that the wage pays.
6. You cannot solve any problems while spending more than you wins.
7. You cannot promote the brotherhood of the humanity, by admitting and urging the hatred of classes.
8. You cannot guarantee a suitable security with given money.
9. You cannot form the character and the value of the man without giving him his independence (freedom) and initiative.
10. You cannot help permanently men giving by them what they can and must do by themselves.

To this another lesson of Abraham Lincoln could be added: “A politician can deceive all along, and can deceive all by some time. But what he will not be able to obtain he is to deceive all all along”.


M&M's and Economics

[Shared with me by a friend]

Let me tell you a quick story about human nature. Things have been pretty tight lately, and I have been trying to watch all expenses carefully. We have had one round of lay-offs at the office, and there are rumors of more to come. But even so I was feeling generous a few Saturdays back, and I caved to my son’s request and bought him some peanut M&Ms in the grocery story check out line. I gave them to him under three conditions: that he was to share them with his little sister, that they wait until we got home to eat them, and that all the chores had to be done first. I have learned not to bend on the eating-in-the-car rule, otherwise french fries and cheeseburger bits will somehow start growing under my back seat. Lastly just to be sure there was no arguing, I bought the king size bag and watched with delight as he took them.

Once home my son and daughter diligently set out to complete their chores. Then they ran to the couch where sitting side by side the two savored each M&M. It was nice to see them motivated to work and then truly enjoy their treat. A few days later when putting laundry away in my son’s room, I was very surprised to find the little yellow bag of M&Ms, with the top neatly rolled down, tucked away in my sons sock drawer. Certain that I had seen him share, I decide to investigate before flying off the handle. When I asked my daughter later that night at bed time if she had gotten some of the M&Ms, she assured me she had. She said she had gotten five because she was five years old, but then she reminded me that her birthday was coming soon and she would then get six.

Somewhat disappointed, I decide to give my son the benefit of the doubt and trust that he was just was saving them for the two of them to share later. The following Saturday on grocery day, I once again succumbed to the request for M&Ms partly because it was such a good motivation for getting chores completed without complaining but this time more to satisfy my curiosity than anything else. I also made a mental note to check and see if the other M&Ms were still stashed when I got home.

That night at prayer time my daughter confirmed she had gotten five again. So early the next morning I quietly checked to find two little yellow bags of M&Ms neatly tucked away in the sock drawer. Determined to handle this correctly, I played along and repeated the same events the following Saturday. As you would guess, on Sunday morning I was very frustrated to find three bags, but this time the first bag seemed to have some missing. Hoping that perhaps he had dipped into his stash for the purpose of sharing, I approached my daughter as soon as she woke up and asked if she had gotten any extra M&Ms. She told me she had not, but she took the opportunity to remind me that in just four weeks when she turned six she would get an extra one. I could feel the anger rising in me. How could my son short change this precious little girl! How could my very own son do this to his sister! How could he be so sneaky and so selfish! I knew that he knew better. I had given him very clear instructions that the M&Ms were for sharing. As I sat there thinking up a good punishment, I decided to stop and pray. Since he was only 11 years old, I wanted to straighten him out, but not crush his spirit. Still angry I asked God to give me wisdom on how to handle this situation. As I closed my eyes to pray I felt in an incredible way God telling me that this was my fault and that my son was just like me. Confused for a moment, I went through the mental exercise of defending myself. I had been very intentional about teaching my son right from wrong. I had even made it a family decision when we decided to sponsor a child through the Orphan Care Program at church. I felt I had taught him well, and I knew that he had learned from a young age that God is watching every decision we make. Then again I felt the strong sensation that it was not how I had raised him, but it was the example I had set for him that he was following. The old saying came to mind “It is not what we say that matters, but what we do.” I slowly realized the issue was not what I had taught him but what I had modeled for him. At this point I dropped to my knees and ask God to please show me in what specific way I was modeling this selfish behavior for my son. In an instant God brought to mind my retirement account and all the money I had tucked away to insure that my future was comfortable. My mind jumped to the defensive again. My efforts to save for retirement were just prudent steps to insure my future was provided for, but instantly I realized that in effect that was all my son was doing. You see, by putting back a few M&Ms, he was no longer dependant on me to provide them each Saturday. He now had his own stash he could rely on just in case I did not come through one future Saturday or maybe so that at some point in the future he could enjoy some M&Ms without having to do chores first. And since I had entrusted him with distributing the M&Ms, he felt justified in deciding that age was a good distribution standard even though it favored him two to one.

It struck me like a ton of bricks that this was much the same way that I operated. I was guilty of sending just a small percentage of my income to the Orphan Care Program at church while I justified my own healthy standard of living as a blessing from God. And, yes, my distribution standard was even more lopsided than my son’s if my income was in fact a blessing from God. His two-to-one ratio looked generous compared to what I held back for my own comfort and consumption. And if I was honest with myself, I saw my retirement account as security for the day I decided I did not want to do anymore ‘chores’ as well as security just in case my Heavenly Father failed to come through one day. I was always telling myself that I needed this not only to be able to retire but so that I did not have to depend on others. My mind raced to remember Scriptures that spoke of savings - you know the ones that said I had a responsibility to provide for my family’s future, but I could not remember any verses where we are told to save so we don’t have to work or where we could consume extra. In fact, the only one I could remember that came close to resembling a retirement strategy was of a wealthy guy building bigger barns so he could stop working and take it easy, but this one did not have a happy ending. As I sat there trying to justify my investment portfolio, the following questions came to mind:

When I gave the M&Ms to my son, was it ever with the intention that he withhold what was intended for his sister so that he could later enjoy the blessing without the responsibility of his chores? She was my child too! What made him more deserving than her? What makes me more deserving than others? How could I dare to ask God to bless my income and provide for my family if I continued to just hoard it for my future?

What about you? What’s in your sock drawer? How do you know if this applies to you? Well, 1 Chronicles 29:11 tells us that all riches come from God. So check your balance. If God has begun emptying your sock drawer of M&Ms, then you know the time to share is now. You see, I cannot let my son continue down this path because one day it would destroy him. When we have our ‘sit-down talk,’ one way or the other, the M&Ms have got to go. He will have one last chance to share and share generously, otherwise, not only am I taking all of my M&Ms back, but any future M&Ms are in grave jeopardy. For his own sake I cannot reward selfishness. And if one day I see improvement and begin to provide again, you can be sure that his future M&Ms will come through his little sister.

Hopefully like me, you now see what God is doing to America. We have stuffed our sock drawers full of M&Ms. We have repeatedly ignored the instructions that He lays out so clearly in His word. Do your homework! Take the time to look up the Scriptures below. But the time to act is now. Our M&Ms have been discovered, and our explanation is not going to fly. Telling God we were worried about our future while His precious children starve today will not be well received. Not only does this say we don’t think He can meet our needs, it also tells Him we think our comforts are more important than their lives. We seldom if ever go a day when we miss a meal, yet so many children may go days without a meal. How will we stand before God and explain that we truly believed we were so much more deserving than they? What will our justification be? I am sure we will be too ashamed to give our weak excuse that we just thought He was blessing us. You see, by then we will know that He blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others.

Still not sure if this applies? Then check your sock drawers. If the account balance on your retirement account is declining, you had better take heed. Remember, it is His to give and His to take away, and if He has switched from giving to taking then you had better find out why before it is all gone. If we are not willing to act quickly, we had better start working on our excuses, because God is preparing America for the ‘sit-down talk’ and it is not looking pretty!

Will we have to lose it all, before we learn to share it all?


Proverbs 28:27
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Proverbs 22:9
A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.

Proverbs 21:13
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Psalm 140:12
I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.

Deuteronomy15: 4
However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

Ps 37:16 Better is a little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked.
…. 21 The wicked borrows, and cannot pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.

Ps 37:25 I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging bread.
26 He is ever giving liberally and lending, and his children become a blessing.

Ps 37:27 Depart from evil, and do good; so shall you abide for ever.
28 For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. The righteous shall be preserved for ever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

Undocumented aliens and history

Then we can discuss the macrocosm. Speaking of foreign aid reminds me of the causes of inequalities between countries. What was the difference between the people of Nicaragua, for instance, and the people of New Hampshire? We have often said that they are lazy, and tropical, and live by a “Mañana” spirit. But my experience with poor folks in Central America, is to be put to shame at the work ethic. They are not poor because they are lazy. Maybe the people in NH are genetically more intelligent? Maybe there are more natural resources in NH. Don’t take their resources for Granite….er…actually that is pretty much what they have, naturally. So why are they so much better off than the Nicaraguans?

Think Boardwalk. Anyone who has played Monopoly knows that whoever gains the advantage first ( by being the lucky one in throwing the dice, to land on the valuable spaces) will probably win. Once that advantage happens, the roll of the dice only hurries or delays the inevitable. Sometimes people get upset, but the eventual winner hasn’t cheated, he simply rode the advantage to economically control his competitors. It’s just a game, after all. But as we become connected internationally, we can’t pick and choose when our influence stops at our border, and still consider it just. Once the advantage occurred, it is inevitable that one country will master the rest. I think that carries a moral responsibility, and I grew up believing that America was in fact living up to it. We are! In many ways, we remain a bastion of moral rightness. BUT our foreign policies have not reflected that American moral attitude. And so, we are bordered to the south with incredibly poor countries.

The USA grew from a bunch of colonies to become a vibrant member of the international socioeconomic community. We then leveraged that advantage to gain political and economic control of most of our hemisphere. Once the U.S. gained economic control over Central America and the Caribbean, many laws and actions of Governments and large corporations had significant affects on the lives of the populations of those countries. There was a time, when the prevailing attitude was simply stated: “What’s good for business is good for America”. So, when the government of Nicaragua wanted to tax the Banana exports, the U.S. Marines were the response. When a George Washington like figure appeared in response to the Marines invading, and running all over the country, which was a sovereign state at the time, treachery was used to dispatch him by murdering him. The payment for the Judas, was lifetime presidency of Nicaragua, backed by those US Marines. The legacy of Somoza in Nicaragua is a continued level of poverty completely out of proportion to its level of natural resources and the industriousness of its people. The force of the early advantaged country, like that of the Monopoly game’s leader, determined so much of what occurred.

To cry foul when Nicaraguans invade our territory for economic gain ( at a hugely smaller and more peaceful level) it is a bit hypocritical.

Morally, but also economically, it would behoove us to keep our neighbors healthy. After all, when the game of Monopoly ends, the winner is finished, too, as the economy collapses.


Undocumented part 4 : What are we afraid of?

The biggest event in recent history might be the failure of investment banks, and the downturn in the US economy. Many immoral and possibly illegal actions caused this. BUT none were done by illegal, or undocumented aliens.

My point?

Undocumented aliens did not ruin our economy, which I think was the largest fear I heard expressed regarding the need for border control. Think about it. The piddling size of adequate health care and schooling for non citizens, who fill the lowest rungs in our labor force, is nothing compared to, and has nothing to do with, the huge trillion dollar burden placed on our future generations.

But even in that realm: Welfare and healthcare. The undocumented did not create that broken system. If they abuse it, they are joining the majority of Americans…who I feel are complicit, if not explicitly guilty in a system that markets to our fears to deliver a false sense of health security for a huge premium. Our fears, and the amoral corporate response to seek profit, drive our health care costs through the roof. Idolatry comes to mind, as I hear the religious fervor of the participants of the Health Care reform debates. ( that is certainly fodder for a rant at another time and place)

Regardless, the undocumented did not create the problem. Throwing them out will not fix it. As a Christian, I am sure that “Loving your neighbor as yourself” and the fear of aliens is pretty much incompatible. You could say that perfect love casts out fear, not poor people. As a somewhat anarchistic libertarian, I want to see our society ( all of us) focus on the real causes of the problems, and leave the scapegoating to Levitical priests.


Undocumented part 3: Aliens and Foreign aid

As a republican, and economic and social conservative, I am upset that the people who had been ruining our country, and still run our economy have our (Christian Right) vote, but do not allow market forces ( much less the many references in the Bible to have pity on the alien and foreigner who are economically disadvantaged) to direct our immigration policies.

Simple economics.

There are jobs here.

There are willing workers.

Unless the idea is a liberal protectionist unionist attitude, there should be a reasonable, legal mechanism for those two elements to come together.

It also is the free market response to what our government tries to do in foreign aid. That money sent to the villages of Guatemala is the purest form of help we can think of. SO much more efficient and much less “overheaded” and “payoffed” to corrupt NGO’s and Government officials, as is the case with USAID and other programs.

The basis of conservative economics is that people will take care of themselves if allowed to.

This is  A good place to recommend a great book I am reading, which challenges both our paternalistic AND maternalistic mistakes in poverty alleviation: “When Helping Hurts”


Undocumented but NORML

Then there is also the NORML logic. The National Organization to Repeal Marijuana Laws has often stated that criminalizing pot use is the problem. It creates more problems than the free use of said substance would.

I don’t agree.

But I do think that this logic might better apply to honest people who are responding to historically accepted economic forces, and migrating to where the work is. They would not be criminals if our laws more closely reflected time honored economic as well as Spiritual laws. Maybe if we focused on proper laws, and administered the entrance and exit of migratory workers, we would resolve many of the problems now facing us in light of the issue.

The costs of border integrity, and processing of aliens could be funded by the $5,000 now paid per person to Coyotes to smuggle them in. The workers demonstrate that they are not asking for a free ride, only an opportunity they are willing to pay for. Registering and paying taxes, etc, would be a lot simpler than treating a humble worker and a heroin smuggler the same.

There is also the aspect of stress on families caused by this criminalization. Imagine the chances for problems if you and your spouse did not see each other for more than 5 years. Workers have to plan to be here till they have saved enough money to return home and live from the investment in a hoped for store or business. They cannot travel back to visit their families, even when illness or difficulties would normally demand their presence. Many are aware of their illegal status, and know they are stuck. But some, who, you must realize, never read a newspaper or watched Fox News, think they are here in a semi legal limbo. I have spoken with Guatemalans in the states, who expressed surprise that I could travel back and forth between the countries at will. They had been told their visa only allowed the one trip, and they could not return to the States once they left. They came across the border on a bus, and all the paperwork, which I am convinced they feel is legal at some level, was processed by the coyote who bought the fake documents and bribed the border patrols.

Yes; bribed the Border Patrol. One of the myths is that illegal immigrants only cross in the desert, or through the River.

Corruption is the natural consequence of economic forces running into prohibitive laws.

I don’t mean that we should repeal all laws that are circumvented by corruption. Rather, I think we could more effectively enforce the important laws if we stopped wasting resources in the wrong places.


undocumented = illegal part 2...criminality

Well, my last post was  succinctly reiterated by Larry James' comment.  Although I think the path that he advocates leads to ... Golgotha...speaking truth to power might be called a suicide mission... ;-)....He certainly has thrown the gauntlet down regarding obeying laws.

But what about those of us who do obey the laws?  and believe in them? 

“Yes, they are poor, disenfranchised, and maybe the laws need review, But criminal is criminal”, you might say, "and until they are arrested, and pay for their crimes, there will be no respect for the corrected law, either".

OKAY, the woman caught in adultery deserved to be stoned. The Law was clear.  But are you dealing with the whole law, here?  Just as the men who brought her to Jesus had turned a blind eye to the missing co-adulterer, we have often ignore the obvious:

Who is hiring these people you call criminal? They would not come if there was no work. Someone (a lot of someone’s) is hiring them. Is that a criminal activity?

I have heard of cases of abuse of our welfare system by undocumented aliens. That is not right. I don’t sympathize, but I can understand it, because we are so stinking rich in comparison to where they come from, that if they are given food stamps or free medical attention by filling in forms, I am sure they are thinking that there is a limitless supply from which to draw. (like many Americans do when they say…”insurance will pay for it”, for instance ) It just doesn’t seem all that immoral to a person who grew up in a hut with a dirt floor, and now sees the incredible excesses of our society.

But I cannot understand the motivation of someone who is already fairly wealthy, who hires the undocumented, and then (as I have also heard first hand) takes advantage of their illegal status to defraud them of agreed upon wages. Even those agreed upon wages would have been considered immoral by some. Who is the criminal? Let’s see…the result of one of these “criminals” is economic growth in a poor family and town ( I have witnessed this effect in the communities of Guatemala). This sounds like one of our cultural heroes; Robin Hood. The other “criminal” in this combined effort to break US laws takes his ill gotten gain, and helps who?

For decades, the influx of aliens was absolutely ignored, as they earned money for the movers and shakers of our communities, and cared for the children and washed the clothes of our best families at a discounted rate.

So, who is qualified to cast that first stone?


a continuing debate on undocumented aliens

Just found a challenging question in an old e-mail from a good friend. It was a response to something I said in a prayer e-mail, and deserved response. I wanted to put into words my thoughts on the subject, because I don’t like it either, when people make statements and do not explain why. It is most certainly not the end all response to the issues addressed, but I wanted to fly it here to get responses. Iron sharpening Iron, and all that!

I said:

"If the US starts cracking down on undocumented aliens, this (the situation in Guatemala) will get worse".

He said:

“…you seem to indicate that you believe the enforcement of our US immigration laws is somehow wrong. Would you please clarify your position on this? “

First, on the microcosmic level: regardless of legal status of the individuals, the effect of those people working in the states was a very positive one on the lives of their family members in Guatemala. That is simply a fact. Changing their ability to earn money in the States directly affects their family’s health and security. There is no other source of income to help them. That was the point of my comment. It will be worse for poor Guatemalans if the US cracks down on their providers. That is a fact. In that regard, enforcement of the US immigration laws hurts poor people.

I say that Laws that hurt the weak need review. I think the beauty of our system is its ability to evolve, without needing revolution. I believe in a republican form of democracy ( although my allegiance is to a King and so I guess I really am a monarchist) and so believe in the ability of people to govern themselves, and respond correctly when something needs fixing.

I believe the immigration laws are one part, and only one part, of the present system that needs fixing.

But your question might be asking me if I believe we should not enforce laws I do not agree with. I do not think anarchy works. But absolute conformity does not work well, either. I used to work as a Quality Control manager. One of my responsibilities was to monitor parts to see that they conform to the prints. But when a perfectly working part did not conform to the print, sometimes, my responsibility was to then investigate, and negotiate a change to the print. I am not in any kind of position in the US to be a part of that negotiation. I am not in the mindset to start an uprising. That doesn’t mean I agree with the print. So, as you asked for clarification, let me share what I would say if I was part of the negations.

I will be breaking that down in the next few blogs.  For now, what do you think of the moral part...that the law hurts poor people.  Is that compelling?


The sad wind down of a sad situation

Last night, friends from the states called saying they had heard that a notorious adoption facility had been raided by the Attorney General of Guatemala. They were calling us for their friends who have been caught in an excruciating process of trying to complete adoptions grandfathered in since January 2008. They wondered if we knew where these children might be taken.

My heart breaks for these parents, even as I wish they hadn't started the process. The State Department, and honest people in the adoption community had warned against initiating adoptions from Guatemala as early as 2006. But the potential parents were hearing different stories. The Adoption agencies as late as the fall of 2007 were still saying these children would die if not adopted. When your heart is inclined to adopt, choosing which of the conflicting reports to believe is a no brainer. Hmmm. Unintended pun there. It is a heart issue, not a brain issue. The only problem is that the conflicting reports on one side were conscientious attempts to protect these hearts. The other, a shameless attempt to profit from the desire of these hearts. And a lie.

The adoption debate is winding down in Guatemala, as agencies reportedly focus on the "next Guatemala" in Nicaragua or Ethiopia. But it still rages in the hoping hearts of these potential parents. And it still lives in the lives of these children...caught in a limbo where their mother cannot be found in some cases, and in which they have no other option than these American parents. Theior legal status is tied up in the adoption started way back when, so they can't even be presented to Guatemalan families.

The debate is winding down, but the residue is all over, staining the lives of women and attorneys, and Chrsitian Agencies and adoptive parents. And especially the children. The children adopted from Guatemala in the past 5 years will grow up to learn of the doubts and even sad facts of adoptions, and wonder.

Parents who love their children need to prepare for that time. They need to do everything they can to determine the veracity of the adoption . But there will also be a portion, who upon further investigation, find that their adoption was a false process. They need to come to terms with the implications. You can't change the past. But ignoring and denying it doesn't work. Truth is the only hope for being free from the residue, for all of the victims of the scam artists.

The parents who care about what their children will face, need to stop listening to the profiteers of adoption, and consider hearing from fellow victims.

Here is an article written by Mirah Riben, who has taken up the cause of honesty in adoptions since she relinquished her child in the 60's. The article's title was provocative, but I don't find her in spirit to be vindictive, and her implication of the Religious Right is not glaring. BUT the idea that false premises have created the fiasco that international adoptions have become here in Guatemala is thought provoking.

Mirah quotes Jae Ran Kim, a South Korea-born/American raised adoptee and social worker in the field of adoption and child welfare laments: “It is ethnocentric and arrogant to think that the United States has any business telling another country how they should manage the problem of orphaned, abandoned or relinquished children. We can’t even solve this problem within our own shores."

I feel like Jae's comments can also be applied to missionaries in general.

Maybe a truth and reconciliation commission is necessary for these children. And their parents.

Let those who have deceived well meaning parents and manipulated and abused poor mothers go swimming with millstones.


Why are we here: to Glorify Jesus or feed and clothe the poor?

Why are we here: to Glorify Jesus or feed and clothe the poor?

It didn't start out as that, but it seems that a lot of Evangelical Christian discussions boil down to this basic question.

I sent out a request for prayer for a Catholic group who was trying to gain hearing in the United Nations regarding the lives of babies at risk of being aborted worldwide.  I guess their acts appeal to my sense of standing against impossible odds.  Sort of like Daniel in the court in Babylon.   A dear friend who I consider a true partner in the kingdom took issue with my request.  He said to me we should not count on the UN for anything, and that the church was the primary agent of real and meaningful change in the world.


I appreciate his reply, edited, and stated here: 

What is real and meaningful change?  It's change with a kingdom impact. 

If the UN feeds a village of hungry people that's a wonderful thing.  It's also shameful that the body of Christ was not there feeding them already.  God has given his bride the means to reach the world and she squanders it on primping herself.  But the UN hasn't made a real and meaningful change. 

Consider this encounter with Jesus:

Matthew 26

6While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

8When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. 9"This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."

10Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."


My friend concluded:   There's an important principle laid out here.  Bringing glory to Christ is more important than even helping the poor.  We can and should do both, but help to the poor that brings no glory to Christ should not be a priority."

I appreciate my friend's love for Jesus and the poor he meets.  But I disagree with the duality of his summation.  I think it reflects the problem with much modern Evangelical Christian theology.  My friend does not allow this to hinder his incredible work for the poor.  But that just makes him a rarity as a pastor in our churches.  It causes people like him to almost be apologetic about obeying Jesus.  "Kingdom impact", must be the litmus for programs, as if it is separate from Loving our neighbor as our self.

Here is my attempt at answering the title's question: 

Jesus and the woman in these verses showed proper priority of actions.  Jesus was about to CHANGE EVERYTHING.  It was good to treat him in that moment in that special way.  Hardly matched what he was about to accomplish, really.  She might have sold the perfume for money, and given it to the poor in His name, and He would have accepted it too.  But it would have been almost formulaic, and not what really moved Jesus. 

A good teaching emerged:

1) It is good to treat Him at all times in special ways, and

2) our special treatment does not in and of itself mean much in light of who He is and what He has done and is doing. 

But, to make my point by pushing grammar:  which way should we adore him when? 

A good way to gauge the best way to honor him might be by listening to his own words about it.  This precious woman's simple private act of worship delighted him.  And so if I am ever close enough to do something similar, you bet I will sell all, and get that alabaster and perfume!

Today, we are in the time of "always" that Jesus spoke of in verse 11.  We indeed have the poor with us, and now we can honor Jesus in a very special way.  We can treat him as our lord, and give honor and weight to his words and commands. Allow me to boil down the sum total of his commands: 


"Be like me, and do what I do." 


Yet the church worries that it will not bring glory to Jesus if it chooses to minister to the physical needs of the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged as he did continuously.   Various reasons are given, such as fear to mingle with those like the UN who are doing it already.  One reason given too often resonates with that of the original disciples:   "Our budget won't allow it."

The disciples were right there next to Jesus, but they blew it.  Their hollow argument was exposed in the Gospel of John's version of this scene, as a ruse that used the poor to resist giving glory to Jesus, but had no base of real compassion for the poor.  I wonder if we don't today see an inverse reflection of the disciple's error… a ruse using Jesus to resist showing real compassion to the poor, but with no real desire to give glory to Jesus.  Remember the 5,000 hungry souls and stomachs? (Mt 14:15) 

Remember who Jesus said should feed them? 

Remember who got the glory?

Jesus said the Pharisees used "obedience to God" as an excuse to not do right by their families and neighbors.  Sometimes very good leaders use focus on "the gospel" (e.g. theological preparation, tithing, evangelization) to excuse them from acting like the people who will be welcomed by Jesus in Matt 25:34ff.  The teaching there clearly states something about Jesus, as comes into his ultimate and earned glory, and the method of determining who joins him in that glory. 

The strongest terms are used in describing both happy reception of the obedient sheep, and utter damnation of the disobedient goats.  Jesus was serious.   Shouldn't we also take this passage seriously?

Back to Jesus as our example:  notice how He moved from the Spiritual to the physical part of His presence and work seamlessly.   His preaching was part of and consistent with His ministry to the poor, and His healing and touching, holding and welcoming was part of His preaching. We don't have Him physically to adore, and wash with perfume, and feed, and clothe. But He has chosen surrogates: the least of these, and widows and orphans in their distress.  Why don't we preach AND touch?  Why don't we as a church consider these to be vital?   We sometimes worry that "doing" will hurt our "being"; our relationship to God through grace.   He will not be glorified in that. 

Can we give what we have to the poor and sacrifice all without adoring him?  Apparently.  (I Cor 13) 

But that does not mean that it is not the proper form of worship, and relationship, and even "true religion".  It is true religion, and causes what real religion should.   It creates that relationship with Jesus, and the Father, and the Holy Spirit that is mandated in the First and greatest Commandment. 

It will transform the world.  Starting in the church.

This transformation will not happen under our control or by our power.  That is the difference between true religion and magic.  

Determining to live in obedience of Jesus' teachings and commands will bring about a transformation in us that brings about a transformed society.  The transformation occurs through God's grace and redeeming atoning love FOR us, not FROM us.  It occurs because trying to obey Him leads to being overwhelmed in our inability.  When faced with true discipleship, and true religion, and true love, we are undone, and must cry out "God have mercy on me, a sinner!!   And He does.  You can enter His rest assured, He does!

Unfortunately, we have allowed reason to rule our churches.  Reasonable and prudent men respond to being overwhelmed, by retreating to lesser goals.  They focus on attainable things: things they can achieve without miraculous intervention.   Things like theological consistency.  Doctrinal integrity.  Church growth programs.  Good things, in their way.   For 2000 years, we as a church have succeeded at that level, and probably will continue to succeed.  Many will continue to be content with that.


But they will miss Jesus. 

Stephen Osborn
Love the Child
Amor del Niño


Some Call it a Hunger Strike

Literally in the Shadow of the Supreme Court of Guatemala, a small group of women are hoping to have an impact. Their hope is very focused: the return of their stolen children. They know where the children are, but a business transaction, although dubious in every way, has been finalized, and so the people who have the children of these women feel they have a right to the children.

The sign above argues the point that "Trafficking in people, and illegal adoptions are grave crimes. [therefore] We request the anulment of the adoptions of Arlene, Anyeli and Heidy"

The bottom asks for transparent elections of the high court judges. The process has been one of the ways that Judges hold their posts with impunity, and complete immunity from scrutiny. It has been presented by a number of activists, that this is one of the areas that aided and abetted the corruption of many adoptions in the last few years

In the middle of the massive buildings where well dressed lawyers are herded through high tech security systems, this hand made sign stands out in its simplicity. It says" Mothers request our children to be returned"

Isa 59:14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth has fallen in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.
16 ¶ He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intervene;

So some are calling it a hunger strike. But these women do not have much hope that they will be heard by human ears. So they are calling it a time of praying and fasting.


Shameless Endorsement

I really want all my friends to get this new book, just out from NavPress.

selfish motives.

I think they will become better friends if they read it.

Actually, I have prayed that they will get it.

I have prayed more regularly and consistently since starting to read “A Praying Life
I am not even finished with the book, but already see that very real result. And not only that. I feel a new delight in Jesus, and the love the Father has for me. I have a new freedom and delight in loving my wife and kids. Joy in all my relationships. And I didn’t even try to be better in any of these areas. It all sort of snuck up on me as I read. The author wasn’t being sneaky. He pretty much lays it out from the first page that he wants to help us learn to pray. And that Prayer really changes things.

It wasn’t sneakiness. It’s that I did not expect it to work. After all, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks…or worse: you can’t teach an old fool new tricks.
The area I have always felt maybe the most foolish is prayer. I am not good at it. I don’t get it. I don’t feel comfortable discussing it. I have often wondered whether I fear unanswered or answered prayer more. I have forced myself, by desperation, to ask people to pray for me. But I am more personally comfortable with a discussion that tends towards cynicism, as we ask theologically, “Why pray?” and try to dissect God’s machinations of providence, grace and redemption. Discussion of prayer, rather than praying, is my spiritual comfort zone. Satan likes that. I don’t. But I have to admit to paralysis, as I don’t know what to do about it.

Cato the Elder said that a wise man can learn from a fool, but a fool can’t learn from anyone. We like that quote, but in our deepest parts, worry that there is then no hope for us in the areas where we are…well…fools. It takes wisdom to gain wisdom. A fool is stuck being a fool. And so we give up hoping to fix the areas where we know, but cannot admit, that we are fools.

Cato would agree that it takes more than wisdom alone to teach anything to a fool. That may be the brilliance of the book.

Paul Miller, in this new book about prayer, has a lot of wisdom and excellent research on the subject. But more than that, he allowed me to see (and relate to) his foolishness, disarming my defense mechanisms in a truly Christ-like way. That’s Jesus’ way, isn’t it? The power of becoming weak. Paul’s humility in sharing his failures and fears gives him boldness to then call me to task about similar things in my life. His openness is hard to resist, and smoothes the way to my heart, allowing the truth to be well planted. He then helps me see how it is in my relationships, and in the moment by moment parts of those relationships, that the fruit of my life is revealed. That revelation leads to prayer.

Being honest about my behavior in light of the important relationships ( Shyrel) and less important ( other drivers, for instance) makes me come to the point where I can’t help but cry out, “God have mercy on me, a sinner”. And all of a sudden, I am praying.

The negative motive is my sin. The positive is God’s love. Paul boldly reminds me that God loves me in an intimate, mystical, joyful way. God loves the people around me. God went to great lengths to be a part of our lives. That revelation leads to prayer! I want to be a part of this incredibly good work that God is about in my world. And all of a sudden, I am praying.

Praying is a natural outcome of spending time in this book, but the book is about LIFE.

But don't take my my word for it!!!! Buy it now!!!!


The rythms of history

The basis of doing good has to be hope, or it is, well, hopeless. I don't know how people who don't believe in the resurrection of our Lord keep charged, but I for one, enjoy the Easter season to reflect, and recharge. I also enjoy U2's music, and many times, Bono's reflections. I guess if a movie star can become a president, maybe a Rock star can become pope?

Here's a piece from the NYT

Published: April 18, 2009

I AM in Midtown Manhattan, where drivers still play their car horns as if they were musical instruments and shouting in restaurants is sport.

I am a long way from the warm breeze of voices I heard a week ago on Easter Sunday.

“Glorify your name,” the island women sang, as they swayed in a cut sandstone church. I was overwhelmed by a riot of color, an emotional swell that carried me to sea.

Christianity, it turns out, has a rhythm — and it crescendos this time of year. The rumba of Carnival gives way to the slow march of Lent, then to the staccato hymnals of the Easter parade. From revelry to reverie. After 40 days in the desert, sort of ...

Carnival — rock stars are good at that.

“Carne” is flesh; “Carne-val,” its goodbye party. I’ve been to many. Brazilians say they’ve done it longest; they certainly do it best. You can’t help but contract the fever. You’ve got no choice but to join the ravers as they swell up the streets bursting like the banks of a river in a flood of fun set to rhythm. This is a Joy that cannot be conjured. This is life force. This is the heart full and spilling over with gratitude. The choice is yours ...

It’s Lent I’ve always had issues with. I gave it up ... self-denial is where I come a cropper. My idea of discipline is simple — hard work — but of course that’s another indulgence.

Then comes the dying and the living that is Easter.

It’s a transcendent moment for me — a rebirth I always seem to need. Never more so than a few years ago, when my father died. I recall the embarrassment and relief of hot tears as I knelt in a chapel in a village in France and repented my prodigal nature — repented for fighting my father for so many years and wasting so many opportunities to know him better. I remember the feeling of “a peace that passes understanding” as a load lifted. Of all the Christian festivals, it is the Easter parade that demands the most faith — pushing you past reverence for creation, through bewilderment at the idea of a virgin birth, and into the far-fetched and far-reaching idea that death is not the end. The cross as crossroads. Whatever your religious or nonreligious views, the chance to begin again is a compelling idea.

Last Sunday, the choirmaster was jumping out of his skin ... stormy then still, playful then tender, on the most upright of pianos and melodies. He sang his invocations in a beautiful oaken tenor with a freckle-faced boy at his side playing conga and tambourine as if it was a full drum kit. The parish sang to the rafters songs of praise to a God that apparently surrendered His voice to ours.

I come to lowly church halls and lofty cathedrals for what purpose? I search the Scriptures to what end? To check my head? My heart? No, my soul. For me these meditations are like a plumb line dropped by a master builder — to see if the walls are straight or crooked. I check my emotional life with music, my intellectual life with writing, but religion is where I soul-search.

The preacher said, “What good does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” Hearing this, every one of the pilgrims gathered in the room asked, “Is it me, Lord?” In America, in Europe, people are asking, “Is it us?”

Well, yes. It is us.

Carnival is over. Commerce has been overheating markets and climates ... the sooty skies of the industrial revolution have changed scale and location, but now melt ice caps and make the seas boil in the time of technological revolution. Capitalism is on trial; globalization is, once again, in the dock. We used to say that all we wanted for the rest of the world was what we had for ourselves. Then we found out that if every living soul on the planet had a fridge and a house and an S.U.V., we would choke on our own exhaust.

Lent is upon us whether we asked for it or not. And with it, we hope, comes a chance at redemption. But redemption is not just a spiritual term, it’s an economic concept. At the turn of the millennium, the debt cancellation campaign, inspired by the Jewish concept of Jubilee, aimed to give the poorest countries a fresh start. Thirty-four million more children in Africa are now in school in large part because their governments used money freed up by debt relief. This redemption was not an end to economic slavery, but it was a more hopeful beginning for many. And to the many, not the lucky few, is surely where any soul-searching must lead us.

A few weeks ago I was in Washington when news arrived of proposed cuts to the president’s aid budget. People said that it was going to be hard to fulfill promises to those who live in dire circumstances such a long way away when there is so much hardship in the United States. And there is.

But I read recently that Americans are taking up public service in greater numbers because they are short on money to give. And, following a successful bipartisan Senate vote, word is that Congress will restore the money that had been cut from the aid budget — a refusal to abandon those who would pay such a high price for a crisis not of their making. In the roughest of times, people show who they are.

Your soul.

So much of the discussion today is about value, not values. Aid well spent can be an example of both, values and value for money. Providing AIDS medication to just under four million people, putting in place modest measures to improve maternal health, eradicating killer pests like malaria and rotoviruses — all these provide a leg up on the climb to self-sufficiency, all these can help us make friends in a world quick to enmity. It’s not alms, it’s investment. It’s not charity, it’s justice.

Strangely, as we file out of the small stone church into the cruel sun, I think of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, whose now combined fortune is dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty. Agnostics both, I believe. I think of Nelson Mandela, who has spent his life upholding the rights of others. A spiritual man — no doubt. Religious? I’m told he would not describe himself that way.

Not all soul music comes from the church.

Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 and a co-founder of the advocacy group ONE, is a contributing columnist for The Times.