Friday, May 29, 2009

Half-Full – or Half-Empty?

Michael J. Fox’s TV special, “Adventures of an Incurable Optimist,” intrigued me. Fox talked about his personal optimism despite battling Parkinson’s Disease, and explored possible roots of optimism.

Why are some people optimistic, he wondered, while others are pessimistic? Or putting it another way, why do some individuals see glasses as half-full, while others see them as half-empty? A friend of mine describes himself as a “optimistic pessimist”: “I’m positive things are going to get worse,” he explains.

In the documentary, Fox interviewed optimistic people, consulted with psychologists, even visited Buhtan, “the happiest country in the world.” He mentioned “faith,” but the faith he described basically believes “everything works out for the best,” or as some would phrase it, “It’s all good, man.”

I’m also optimistic, but my attitude has a more specific basis. It’s not confidence in myself, because I know how often I have failed others – including myself. I’m not confident in mankind, because everyday we hear about how wretched, mean and self-centered people can be – and I see no evidence things are getting better.

My optimism is grounded in unwavering faith in God and His perfect, sovereign plan for His creation, including me. When He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11), I believe it.

And when He says, “do not fear, for I am with you, and do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10) that means despite a troubled economy, health challenges, or any of life’s many other terrors, He’s in control.

With promises like that filling the Bible, why not be optimistic?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thanks For the Sacrifice

The closest I ever came to serving in the military was one quarter of ROTC in college. I attended Ohio State during the height of the Vietnam War, while the draft was still in effect, but my lottery number was 279. As long as I remained in good standing with the university, I did not need to be concerned about rice paddies, monsoons and jungle warfare.

But my father was in the Army for 22½ years, serving in armored and infantry divisions in North Africa and Europe during World War II, including the famed Battle of the Bulge, being wounded twice. So I still have a very personal interest in Memorial Day. Julius Tamasy was one of the courageous men and women who since the founding of our nation have experienced war’s horrors – literally devoting their lives for our freedom.

Dad hardly ever talked about the war, at least not when I was around. But I do remember the nights when his muffled screams would shatter the quiet, a vivid wartime nightmare disrupting his sleep. So I knew that, unlike depictions in the John Wayne movies, his were not fond memories of battlefield camaraderie.

I’m glad this day is devoted not only to those who did not come home, but also to those noble veterans who did return and resumed lives unpunctuated by gunfire and explosive concussions. We owe them all far more than we could ever repay; more than we can truly imagine.

Jesus, looking ahead to what would prove to be His ultimate of “ultimate sacrifices,” said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). To the servicemen and women who have ventured to foreign lands to help protect freedom and combat tyranny, we are in your debt.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Free Speech – An Endangered Species

When the year 1984 arrived and left, George Orwell’s futuristic novel “1984” suddenly seemed archaic. America had no “groupthink” or “Thought Police” as Orwell envisioned in the fictional totalitarian regime. Fast forward to 2009 and it seems his prognostications just might have been off about 25 years.

Recently Miss California Carrie Prejean, while competing in the Miss USA pageant, was asked by an openly gay-activist judge to give her views on same-sex marriage. It was a classic lose-lose situation, like asking a man if he has stopped beating his wife.

Prejean attempted a polite but honest answer: “Well I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other…. You know what, in my country, in my family, I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there…."

For her response, even though Barack Obama and Joe Biden took similar stances while seeking election, she was blasted by the 21st century’s version of the Thought Police. How thoughtless of her to wave her beliefs in the face of “politically correctness.”

In 1791 the Bill of Rights was ratified, stating, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” Obviously, this excludes the “right” to yell “Fire!” in crowded theaters. But opposing same-sex marriage is hardly yelling “Fire!” Nor is it “hate speech.” Prejean was simply asked for – and expressing – her sincere, personal opinion.

The Bible states, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). Prejean seemed to be trying to be gracious in her reply, but apparently that’s not good enough.

If we don’t act quickly to protect free speech, groupthink may soon become more than a fictitious notion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wanted: Redemption

Deep down we all long for redemption – to see the broken made whole, wrongs made right, “happy ever after.” That’s why we enjoy stories about puppies rescued from bad circumstances; disadvantaged people receiving a needed break; romantic comedies morphing like-hate relationships into true love just before the credits roll.

Someone has observed Creation, The Fall, and Redemption are common elements of all great films, reflecting the biblical narrative. Things start well, but something shatters the idyllic moment. For the rest of the film, the characters work toward resolving the problem – and pursuing redemption. We see it in movies as disparate as “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Star Wars.”

The film version of C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” introduces us to stark, snow-encrusted Narnia, where it is “always winter, but never Christmas.” By movie’s end, Narnia’s pristine beauty is restored – good conquering evil.

Two recent films also prove the point. In “Seven Pounds,” actor Will Smith’s character initiates a traffic accident killing seven people. For the remainder of the movie, he seeks to make amends by helping to save the lives of seven other individuals.

And in “Gran Torino,” Clint Eastwood’s curmudgeonly retired autoworker sees his lifetime of bitterness and bigotry transformed, culminating in a courageous act that redeems himself and his beleaguered neighbors.

Why this fascination with redemption? I believe it’s because we’re created in God’s image, and redemption has always been His prevalent theme: to redeem fallen creation to its former glory, even going to the cross to die and pay the ultimate price for our sins.

“…our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13-14).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fear . . . and the Media

In his first inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But he never heard about commercial jets flying into giant skyscrapers; bridges collapsing without warning; tainted peanut butter; crazed shooters on school campuses; spiking oil prices, or swine flu.

Or a relentless media that delights in preying on our fears.

In our ever-changing world we have learned to expect the unexpected. Swine flu’s the latest example; it certainly won’t be the last. Last week frenzied news reports sparked concerns that swine flu (now officially known as H1N1 virus) could become the 21st century version of the black plague. The world, as we knew it, seemed poised at the brink of calamity.

Not to belittle potential health risks, but common flu reportedly kills 36,000 people in the U.S. each year, yet somehow life goes on. I suspect the collective media had wearied of bantering about the economy and leaped at a chance to babble about anything different – at least temporarily.

How quickly our inner anxieties boil to the surface. Even if you’re not fearful now, just wait – the media will find something to worry us about.

If our trust is in the government, economy, or human nature, we have every reason to be afraid. But if our hope and faith are in God, fear need not be a constant companion.

In 1 John 4:18 it says, “perfect love drives out fear.” God’s love for us is perfect, even though our love for Him may not be. Despite global terrorism, disease, economic gloom and doom – or personal problems – we can trust Him without fail. As Hebrews 12:28 tells us, “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”