November 27th, 2011, by

President Obama's faith continues to be attacked merely as a divisive political tactic. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Cromwell

After countless interviews, faith-based forums and three years as president, folks still don’t know (or want you to believe they don’t know) about Barack Obama’s faith.

So, now we have more people coming out again saying that President Obama is not a Christian. Hmm; I thought we covered this issue already, but apparently old habits die hard, and silly season is back in politics. Just  listen to Bob Jones of South Carolina.

In a recent interview with the National Journal, the conservative minister stated, “I’ve no reason to think he’s a Christian. Anyone can say he’s a Christian.” He goes on to share some more of his thoughts on the subject, including the idea that Obama merely said he’s a Christian just to get elected.

I’m not sure how we keep getting back to this subject, but President Obama’s not a Muslim. The president has stated that numerous times already. It would be one thing if he hadn’t come out and spoken clearly about his Christian faith, but given the fact that he already has, Jones’ remarks look more like a sleazy way of code wording the “Obama is not one of us, don’t vote for him” message, which is highly offensive, particularly when it’s a Christian minister trying to use one’s faith as a weapon against him/her.

During the Oct 19, 2008 airing of Meet The Press, Colin Powell addressed the issue of one’s faith as it relates to the presidency with NBC’s David Gregory. Allow me to share an excerpt with you from the interview here:

“Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.”

People should really take the former Secretary of State’s remarks to heart. His statement underscores the fact that a president’s ability to lead isn’t predicated on his religious beliefs, but on his ideas and plans for the future of this country. In the case of Mr. Jones, his remarks seem to do the exact opposite, which is gravely unfortunate given his role as a faith-based leader.

Presidential politics will always get the attention of our nation, as well as bring fringe elements to the public square. However, when people begin to fabricate truths and feed into the hype already believed within those groups, they create a mass type of hysteria that permeates throughout the country.

Men within the faith-based community, like Mr. Jones, would be wise to consider their remarks more thoroughly before giving fringe elements even more unfounded material to fill their heads.

If Mr. Jones doesn’t like the president’s policies, he can help campaign for the next GOP frontrunner of 2012 and bring forth better ideas to lead the country. Any other half-cocked whisper campaigns designed to undermine Obama’s faith and credibility, however, are totally unnecessary and provide toxic fuel to an already unnecessary flame.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 21st, 2011, by

BY TOM FIELDS-MEYER

How should parents react when they discover that a child faces significant challenges? When mothers and fathers learn that a young son or daughter suffers from a developmental disorder or serious illness, they find themselves in an unanticipated moment of crisis—one for which they can hardly prepare.

My wife Shawn and I faced that very predicament when our son Ezra was a toddler and began to show signs of what turned out to be autism, the neurological disorder that afflicts one in 110 U.S. children. Not yet three at the time, the second of our three sons displayed odd behaviors: he lined up toy dinosaurs in elaborate symmetrical patterns; he cocooned himself in blankets on scorching days; he avoided eye contact, and barely conversed.

In time, I came to realize that Ezra had a different kind of mind. The rules that made sense with other children simply didn’t work with him.

That was 12 years ago. Now, I’ve told the story of the remarkable lessons I learned in a decade raising my son in a new memoir—Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son. Rather than chronicling a battle against a disease, I aimed to describe my decision to celebrate what makes my son unique. Instead of trying to “fix” Ezra, I learned to appreciate and applaud his distinctive qualities: his passion for animated movies; his powerful attraction to animals; and his unique and refreshing ways of interacting with other people.

People expect a book about autism to be depressing, but ours is anything but a sob story. Life with Ezra is endlessly entertaining, and in our family we love to laugh, so the book recounts many of the hilarious episodes I have experienced because I’m Ezra’s dad. (One reader favorite: the time Ezra, then eight, innocently asked an obese neighbor how he got so fat. It got worse—and then better—from there.) Early on, though, it was difficult to see the humor. This excerpt from the book’s second chapter recalls my son’s early isolation and a transformative moment in the office of a family therapist we had consulted for help just before Ezra turned three.

He does not appear to be forming any friendships in his preschool class. The children are young enough that “parallel play” is typical, but Ezra still stands out for his lack of connection. Baffled about how to plan his third birthday party, Shawn invites the entire class and hires a young actress to entertain the kids with parachute games and balloon animals. But when the woman gathers the children in our living room and pulls out her guitar to begin singing, Ezra is . . . gone. I run upstairs and discover him alone in his bedroom, jumping up and down and talking to himself. As the sound of toddlers singing “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain” wafts up the stairs, I watch my son pretending to be Tigger, whom he has watched over and over on a favorite video.

“Ezra, come on down. It’s your party!” I plead.

“Hellooo! Hellooo!” he calls, not to me, but to nobody—to himself, or perhaps to the Winnie the Pooh in his head—as he keeps bouncing, seeming not to hear me. “Hellooo!”

It is difficult to know how to respond. This is the party we had planned for him, yet suddenly it seems entirely inappropriate for him. In fact, the whole life we had planned for him is seeming more and more inappropriate.

We discuss that one afternoon back at Ruth’s office, as Shawn and I once again try sitting on the floor, making vain efforts to engage our son in play. The harder we try to engage him, the more Ezra resists, and the more isolated he becomes. He isn’t defiant, just detached—his voice distant, his gaze diffuse.

On a maroon loveseat, I hold Shawn’s hand, silently listening to my wife, exasperated, wonder tearfully how she will ever get through to Ezra.

Ruth listens and nods with understanding.

“You have to allow yourself to grieve,” she says.

I speak up: “For what?”

“You have to let yourself grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.”

I let that echo in my mind.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

I have not spent much time with therapists. I was lucky enough to grow up in relative happiness. My parents’ marriage was strong. My family of five (like Ezra, I was the second of three sons) has always been close and nurturing. The toughest moments of my life were minor rites of passage: the deaths of my grandparents, and occasional girlfriend problems. I went from college to a successful career as a writer for newspapers and national magazines. At the right time I ran into Shawn, an old childhood friend, and we fell in love and into a strong, supportive marriage. None of that has prepared me for this.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

That night, I can’t sleep. Not because of Ezra. Because of Ruth. As I lie awake, I keep hearing her voice, her quiet tone, her calm delivery.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

And I realize something: I am not grieving. In fact, I feel no instinct to grieve. When I thought about becoming a father, when Shawn and I dreamed together and planned together and decided to start raising a family, I carried no particular notion of who our children would become. I have seen plenty of my friends over the years damaged by their own parents’ expectations and disappointments—that a girl wasn’t a boy; that a younger child didn’t measure up to an older one; that a child didn’t want to be a doctor after all. Perhaps because of that, or perhaps because of some glitch in my own wiring, I didn’t carry any conscious notion of what my children would be like—whether they would be girls or boys, tall or short, conventional or a little bit odd.

I planned only to love them.

The next week, when we visit Ruth, I tell her that.

“I don’t feel that way,” I say. “I’m not going to grieve.”

I am sure she thinks that I am deluding myself. I know the truth. That one statement has done more good for me than all of the play therapy, than all of the listening, all of the advice. It has forced me to find and bring out something within myself. I feel full of love—for the boy who lines up the dinosaurs on the porch, for the child pretending to be Tigger in his bedroom, for the little one I carried and sang to in the first minutes of his life. My answer will never be to mourn. It will be to pour love on my son, to celebrate him, to understand, to support him, and to follow his lead.

Joanna Wilson Photography

 

Tom Fields-Meyer is a Los Angeles writer and journalist who blogs at www.followingezra.com. This passage is excerpted from Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son.

 

 

October 19th, 2011, by

In a previous post, I wrote about how a two-year-old child in China was the victim of a terrible hit-and-run incident. News reports now state that the precious child is brain dead, after being in critical condition for hours.

Many will hear of this news and begin to debate China’s seemingly apathetic attitude when tragedy occurs right in front of its citizens. While writing earlier on this topic, I discovered that what raised many eyebrows the most wasn’t just that this little one had been hit by a vehicle — twice mind you. It was the fact that close to 20 people had walked right past the child.

At first, it seemed as though the Chinese citizens themselves were to blame for the perceived apathy taking place across the country. But, when taking a closer look, I found the real culprit in the matter: the Chinese government’s ill-conceived policies.

Reports indicate those wanting to step in and help in the midst of a tragic circumstance are looked at suspiciously by law enforcement officials as potential suspects in a crime and not as individuals simply looking to help as first responders. As such, many Chinese citizens would rather let someone go without assistance than be wrongly accused of incidents or injuries for which they weren’t responsible. In fact, right now in China, there are no laws that protect individuals for being “Good Samaritans.”

Reports online even tell the tale of a Chinese taxi driver who while trying to be a Good Samaritan to a man claiming to be very ill was himself arrested for not having proper license for his vehicle. The culture of suspicion and blame are so rampant in China that the people are paralyzed with fear to step up and help.

This is worse than just bad policy; efforts like these can destroy the human spirit. The principles of giving and compassion are innately tied to us, and having laws that are designed to prevent either is simply wrong.

This tragedy will remain in the public eye for quite some time and force the Chinese government to take a hard look at their repressive regime. In the meantime, officials will have to bear the burden of their policies having such an impact on this child’s life and family. I pray they make that change soon.

October 19th, 2011, by

Here’s a classic parable told from a modern day event in China:

Recently, a two-year-old child was the victim of a hit-and-run accident — twice.

What was even more shocking was the startling fact that instead of men and women immediately rushing to the child’s aid, the two-year-old was simply ignored, several times, by over a dozen people!

So, just imagine, all the “business people,” “city folk” and “social elite” walking by, and not one of them lifted a finger to help. Finally, a sanitation worker took it upon himself to aid the helpless child.

While Chinese media outlets wrote about the level of moral ineptitude shown by the scores of passersby that day, it made me think about the story of the Good Samaritan. In the Bible, the Good Samaritan is the story of the man who helped another man who was hurt, when no one else would.

Ministers and preachers often use the story to illustrate how those who consider themselves to be religious can oftentimes fall short of the actual spiritual teachings found in the Bible. For others, the story is also used as a parable that one’s blessings may come from unexpected sources.

In this modern day parable, we see that this child was vulnerable — to the elements, the conditions of being hit by a vehicle and, worst of all, the chilling amount of apathy when compassion was needed the most.

Of all of the sources from which this child could have received help, it was in fact one person, a garbage man. Much like the Samaritan of the Bible, this Samaritan in China was arguably the person who many people on any given day would look past and disregard; yet he wound up being this child’s only source of help.

It’s amazing to me how stories from so long ago can still have such a strong message today.

So, perhaps the story of the Good Samaritan in China is a serious reminder to us all. One – even though we may need help sometimes, people can still be reluctant to assist us. And secondly, recognize that when in need, one’s help may come from an unlikely source. These are lessons we would all be wise to remember.

October 17th, 2011, by

As a blogger whose job it is to find cool things and share them with you, I have a particularly high degree of respect for whoever runs The Impossible Cool, a Tumblr devoted to iconic images of stylish people, past and present. The usual suspects are all accounted for: Steve McQueen, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra; but there are also plenty more unusual tributes, like Vincent Cassel and Robert Altman. There’s not much to the blog, except for cool pictures of people looking cool, which is enough for me.

If you like these, you should also check out Nerd Boyfriend. It’s even more esoteric and breaks down each person’s look in even more detail.

October 16th, 2011, by

I watched the new Ryan Gosling movie Drive recently, and while I found the film’s spaghetti western-inspired dialogue and plot left something to be desired, the aesthetic of the film was perfect. From the hot pink 1980s-style opening credits, to the perfectly noir neon-lit cityscape, to the moody, understated soundtrack, there was plenty to appreciate. Best of all, though, was Ryan Gosling’s costume, which, at the risk of sounding overly emphatic, was icon material.

A quick foray into the land of Internet-style blogging reveals I’m not the only one taken by “The Driver”‘s attire. GQ‘s Web site features not one, but two stories on the look, from Gosling’s custom Patek Philippe watch, to a detailed interview with the film’s costume designer about the process of putting the actor’s wardrobe together. The film fashion blog “Clothes on Film” also has a good piece on the movie and its costumes.

The most striking element of Gosling’s costume was by far his satin, scorpion-emblazoned souvenir jacket, which, according to GQ, was a custom creation inspired by Gosling himself. The kicker? For those who really, really want to get the look, you can order your very own replica. Too bad they won’t ship in time for Halloween…

October 11th, 2011, by

Ever go out to the movies and think to yourself, hey there aren’t a lot of positive films out there that address people of faith?

Well, Stephen Kendrick is making sure movie goers have a choice when they want to see films that speak to them not only as individuals, but persons of faith.

The Albany, GA minister, along with film director and brother Alex, have been in the filmmaking business just a short while, but their impact is creating buzz around the movie scene. The projects are produced by Sherwood Pictures, the media branch of the Albany-based Sherwood Baptist Church.

The brothers’ latest film, Courageous, has been doing well at the box office and certainly giving movie goers an alternative choice when it comes to films.

In movie terms, what the Kendrick brothers and church have been able to do is nothing short of extraordinary. With just $20,000, the brothers produced their first motion picture Flywheel with a cast and crew of dedicated church volunteers. What started with a brief viewing at a local theater, turned into a six-week stay at the box office. Not bad for a first time project.

Now, with four films under the company’s belt, Courageous looks to be on the rise with audience excitement and studio credibility. As a result, their ministry has a much larger impact on a wider scale. Box office estimates place the film at $9 million nationwide.

Much like the celebrated work from Sundance Film Festivals, Sherwood Pictures allows for an independent filmmaker to take a project that may not have a Hollywood budget to Hollywood hit.

Critics have hailed Courageous as a family film of substance and credits it for its message of inspiration. If you’re looking for a a film that satisfies the mind and spirit, this may be the film for you. Be sure to check it out.

October 7th, 2011, by

Katie Davis isn’t a household name, but she’s found what many consider to be the key to life: giving to others.

The 22-year-old philanthropist and mother was just like any other girl. She had friends, a family and a dream. But when she heard the call from God, she did something different. She went big.

At the ripe age of 15, Davis told her parents that she wanted to pursue mission work after graduating high school. Her parents weren’t overly thrilled by the idea at first, but they knew their daughter had a mind of her own.

On an overseas trip to Uganda, Davis fell in love with the people and was hooked. She knew Uganda would be her new home for a long time to come. After living in the country and seeing the level of need of the children she saw, she knew she wanted to make a difference in their lives.

To say Davis is in love with the children of Uganda would be an understatement. She’s crazy in love with them. In fact, she was so enamored with the children there that she adopted 13 of the children them as her own.

If that wasn’t enough, Davis got started on giving back even more. She began Amazima Ministries, a non-profit in Uganda designed to feed, educate and encourage orphaned children and the vulnerable in Uganda.

The organization receives its funding from generous supporters from all across the world. She also chronicles her trials and triumphs online through her blog, and recently released her first book, Kisses from Katie. She attributes her passion for mission work, the children of Uganda and the non-profit work she’s doing as her calling from God.

She says along with the work she does, she also spreads the message of Jesus. Katie’s story is tremendous. It speaks volumes about what her faith in God is allowing her to do and what we can do when we channel our efforts towards a larger calling in life.

October 7th, 2011, by

Steve Jobs at MacWorld 2005 Photo: mylerdude

Steve Jobs was a bright light in the world of technology. He is certainly one of the men who had a significant impact on the world through his genius and innovation. In light of his passing, I decided to post an excerpt from  his commencement address  at Stanford University in 2005.

His story, in and of itself, truly is an inspiring and touching testimony of faith, conviction and perseverance. Something we could all use a bit more of in life.  Check out the entire transcript of his speech if you like or watch the video online.  -S.N.
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When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960′s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.”

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
October 7th, 2011, by

“Anger is like liquid. It’s fluid. It’s like water. You put it in a container and it takes the shape of that container,” says Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee on our show this week. “We took our anger and put it into a peaceful container…That anger, in that peaceful container, propelled us.”

Today, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Gbowee, Yemeni women’s rights activist Tawakkul Karma and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – the first woman to win a free election in Africa.

The Nobel committee chose these women “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Both Gbowee and President Johnson Sirleaf have appeared on our show. Be sure to watch our conversations with them below and share your thoughts.

(View full post to see video)

(View full post to see video)

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