Monday, December 12, 2005

The Death of a Nation

In a matter of hours, the state of California will murder a murderer.  Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the infamous founder of the street gang “The Crips”, lived a deviant life, culminating with the murders of Albert Owens, Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang and Yu Chin Yang Lin in 1979.   Clearly, Mr. Williams deserves a harsh punishment for his behavior, but it seems to me the state might be letting him off a bit lightly.

Obviously, I oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, but on philosophical grounds as well.  Last night, I watched an old Seinfeld episode, in which Jerry opens with a bit about murder, not about the death penalty, but about the fallacy of the idea of a murder as a means for revenge.  He stated that murder lets your enemy off to easily and made the point it would be more enjoyable to watch your enemy suffer through years of psychological turmoil than to simply kill them, and in killing them release them from their sentence.

In essence, the state of California will release Mr. Williams from his sentence tonight.  Mr. Williams no longer has to wake up with the picture of his victim’s faces etched in his mind.  He no longer has to listen to their cries for help.  The demons that have tortured Mr. Williams every day since 1979 will be released and Mr. Williams will head home to meet his maker.

For the night, California will join the state of Texas as a barbaric government, intent on delivering an archaic form of “justice” that accentuates our violent nature as a nation.  By murdering Mr. Williams, the state of California will not prevent a single murder, nor will they bring closure the families of the victims.  Gang violence and activity will still flourish and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will continue to fall in public opinion polls.  Tonight, the Owens, Yang and William’s family lose, the state of California loses and we as Americans lose.  

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Game of the Century

Growing up in East Texas, few things excite me like Texas high school football.  Scenes depicted in movies like Friday Night Lights and Varsity Blues, though a bit over the edge, capture the passion, pageantry, and poignancy associated with this rite of Autumn.  

I attended a high school that exhibited many of the traits of the fictitious West Canaan, Texas of Varsity Blues and the real Odessa of Friday Night Lights. On Friday nights, Atlanta shut down and residents, clad in maroon, packed the local stadium.  From 1984 to 1999, I missed one Atlanta football game and in 2003 I saw my beloved Rabbits capture their first state football.  From 2003 through 2005, I worked for the Internet’s largest website devoted to Texas high school football, covering the East Texas region and attended many games across the state.  Needless to say, I think this gives me the credentials to critique this game I love.

All week long, the Dallas Morning News published stories concerning today’s showdown between Highland Park ( one of the states most tradition rich programs with names like Doak Walker and Bobby Lane) and Marshall (another tradition rich program that boasts Y.A. Title and was briefly spotlighted in the aforementioned Friday Night Lights).  In the Texas high school playoff system, governed by the U.I.L., opposing coaches come together to mutually agree on a neutral location or flip “hone-and-home” to decide the venue for a game.

Many East Texans feel the key to beating D/FW schools involves getting them out of the Metroplex, so a proposal that would have set the game for Texas Stadium was nixed. The Marshall and Highland Park coaches failed to agree on a location, so a coin-flip ensued.  Marshall won the toss and chose Rose Stadium in Tyler, Texas, to host this state championship game.  While aesthetically pleasing, Tyler’s Rose Stadium seats only 15,000.  State championship games in Texas routinely draw over 30,000 and Highland Park’s 48 year title drought added interest among the Scott’s faithful.

It took mere hours for both schools to sell their allotment of tickets.  Stories of frustrated fans served as the top story in the Dallas Morning News and on local television stations. Fans auctioned off tickets to the game for $500-$1000 a piece on Internet sites. Finally, the schools agreed on a proposal for television coverage and Sirius satellite radio picked up the game for nationwide broadcast and the controversy appeared to die.

However, I woke up this morning to find a page 3 article in the Dallas Morning News, regarding State Representative Dan Branch’s (R-Dallas) attempt to hold public hearings on the way in which the site for state championship games are determined.  I agree with Mr. Branch that the system currently used represents “a broken system,” but our state legislature has bigger problems involving our high schools.  

Currently, the Texas education system stands on the brink of financial ruin.  In fact, Mr. Branch admits, “this makes school finance look like a minor issue.”  I suspect members of the Texas legislature dream big when considering the power they could have over high school football in the state.  State representatives like Mr. Branch know all too well the profits generated by playoff games and seek to get their hands in on some of the action.

The News reports that Mr. Branch “leads a House subcommittee charged with finding revenue sources for schools…” Couple this with the corporate sponsorships picked up for the game (e.g. Wachovia Securities) and the $500-1000 ticket prices and you have the perfect cash cow based your school funding on—commercialization of Texas high school football.  National television broadcasts of Texas high school football games are not uncommon, but UIL rules currently prohibit the live broadcast of Friday night games.  Look for the legislature to next challenge this stance.  By allowing more national broadcasts, the legislature could unlock even more revenue.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Paul: The First Liberal Christian Theologian

After leaving the ministry, I developed a certain disdain for the writings of Paul. Any progressive will tell you, Paul represents what’s wrong with the modern Christian church. After all, most theologians agree that Paul’s writing forms the foundation for the rigid legalism native to the evangelical wing of the Christian church. However, I recently set out to read each of Paul’s letters in an attempt to decipher his true message.

What I found may shock many. You see, outside of Jesus, Paul may well be the most liberal Christian to ever walk the face of the Earth.

I aim not to debate the divinity of Paul’s work, but rather examine his writing in its’ proper context. With that said, begin with the premise that Paul’s letters represent a collection of writings from one man to a group of people, similar to a pastor writing his or her church. Decades after the death of Christ, the early Christian church struggles to take hold in Asia and Europe. Paul never met Jesus, never talked to Jesus, but His life impacted Paul’s life in a way only a “born again Christian” can understand.

Paul dedicates his life to establishing the Christian church and ensuring that the early Christians have the nurturing necessary to survive in the face of harsh persecution.

You see, Paul advocates a religion-free religion, based on a personal relationship with God. Allow me to quote from Romans 14:13-23:

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If you brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by me.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he east, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

I share this passage not to illustrate a strict Christian diet, but to expose a sense of moral relativism in Paul’s writing. Paul urges the Romans to not focus on establishing a Christian community based on legalism (whether or not someone was sinning was between that person and God and not to be defined by neither man nor book), but encourages them to instead focus on their own personal relationships with Christ and to build a Christian community that would support one another in their faith walk. I think verse 19 sums it up perfectly, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Throughout his letter to the Romans, Paul tackles numerous difficult issues such as “justification,” “righteousness,” “grace,” and how Christ’s sacrifice freed us from “the Law.” In fact, Paul points out that, due to “original sin,” “the Law” served as a stumbling block for the Jews. Paul realized that the Romans would be tempted to establish a Christian community like the Jewish community, steep in rigid legalism that no one would be able to abide. Instead, Paul reveals the true beauty of Christ’s love—a love that transforms the heart and mind and controls our thoughts and actions.