29 November 2010

Fair Game-- Telling the Truth

My wife and I saw 'Fair Game" on the weekend. It stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. They play the power couple in Washington DC, Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson. And they play the couple very well. As protagonists they are searingly convincing and we cheer for them from the outset.

One blogger writes "The true story of former CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband retired diplomat Joesph C. Wilson is told in this thriller/melodrama based on Plame's book "Fair Game: My Life As A Spy, My Betrayal By The White House." Here is part of the review from Publishers Weekly, and I quote [...The problem with this book is that it has been heavily redacted by the CIA—and in parts is almost impossible to read.]" If only it were a true story. It is based on a true story, but there are some real problems.

Plame's status as a CIA agent was revealed by White House officials allegedly out to discredit her husband after he wrote a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece saying that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. This false information about a uranium sale between Niger and Iraq is important because it was implied as factual when Bush was listing information about Iraq during his State of The Union Speech in early 2003. The setting is only a few years ago, and strangely we in Australia were not privy to much of this insider talk about spies and yellowcake uranium, about cylinders and the goings-on of then US Vice President Dick Cheney. The story makes for a good tale, but the unpacking of the story is tired in so many ways. The use of hand-held cameras that take us into the scenes in Niger (however it's pronounced) or into Baghdad are wearying and if you have good inner ear balance, may make you nauseous. It felt like Cloverfield, Taking LIves or Saving Private Ryan. My worst memory of this kind was Blair Witch Project.

OK, not a big deal, but I still didn't like it. The other thing, and the more bothersome item was the use of a "Hollywood add-on", a character whom we come to really like, and for whom we feel great empathy. This wasted, and fictional, subplot involving an Iraqi doctor (Israeli actress Liraz Charhi) who works with Plame to find out the extent of Iraq's nuclear program. This also concerns the doctor's physicist brother in Baghdad, played by Khaled Nabawy, who Plame promises will be safely relocated if he helps out in dobbing in other scientists who would know relevant data about the mission to create Weapons of Mass Destruction. (WMD)

The movie gets preachy so often; that part is tiresome, too. And at one point Wilson is seen lecturing from a lectern to a large group of students at a university. This was consummate preachiness.

We get Chief of Staff Scooter Libby (David Andrews) and Senior Advisor Karl Rove (Adam LeFevre) basically just being evil as they plot to discredit the heroic couple. There's a cameo by Sam Shepherd as Plame's wise father that's so badly shot that we can barely see it's him until halfway through the scene.

Now, all that said, I think it's a good flick in many ways and I am sure that Watts and/or Penn will be nominated for Oscars.
The Christian Science Monitor said in their review, "This is not to say that "Fair Game," directed by Doug Liman and written by the brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, is an outstanding piece of political moviemaking. Preachy, sketchy, disjunctive, and with a blistery, solarized sheen that makes it look microwaved rather than photographed, "Fair Game" is a movie that for the most part trades on the Wilsons' notoriety instead of delving into the heart of it."


But of note to me as I reflect on this movie is that fiction doesn't need to be interspersed with a documentary. I felt like I was being programed as if in a Michael Moore movie showing. "Washington DC is corrupt. Washington DC is corrupt. Washington DC is corrupt..." Is it? Honestly, are all politicians interested in their careers and only their careers? Is no one there 'for' the little guys? Does everyone in DC seek his own good? Please, now universal and corporate, but how ignorant.

Otherwise director Liman is declaring what the Bible says. And they wouldn't want that, would they? "There is no one who does good, no not one." (That's what the Good Book teaches.)

At the end we left wondering how much of the show was Hollywooded. (Pardon the verb). And how much of the tale, spun by screenwriters from the memoirs of both Plane and Wilson, is accurate anyway? What if she really did demand that he go to Niger? What if ...oh, so many 'what if's.'

The Monitor continued its attack on the flick with "At the same time, at the height of the scandal, Plame and Wilson posed together in Vanity Fair in their Jaguar convertible, she camouflaged in head scarf and dark glasses. This brazen gesture is barely touched on in the movie. If Liman had connected the couple in that photo with the indignant twosome of his film, he might have succeeded in creating more than a passable piece of politico grandstanding"

See, some facts are not facts at all. So when does propaganda begin? (Or am I being preachy?)

There was a scene when the fictitious doctor asks Plame how she can look people right in the eye and lie to them. I want to ask Liman the same question. And maybe Wilson and Plame. And maybe you. Do you lie? Do you want to understand and live in the truth, no matter the cost?

The phrase "fair game" in the title of Mrs. Wilson's memoir refers to a comment that Karl Rove, then the Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning under US President George W. Bush reportedly told Chris Matthews, the host of NBC's television show Hardball with Chris Matthews: "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, 'Wilson's wife is fair game.'

All that said, truth is worth everything. And truth is Fair Game. And lying is never easy to swallow. Whether it's from the White House, the Hollywood elite or from my neighbour. Let's speak truth to one another. Let's live in the cost of the truth. And pay it gladly. Life is so much easier to live when we tell the stark truth. Am I preaching? If it's truth, so be it!

24 November 2010

Christmas in an American Food Court

I always enjoy the fun of seeing people surprised. And this certainly happened in the US at this food court just a week or so ago. Maybe you will enjoy the video as well.

Beyond that, however, the song itself is one of my favorites. I first sang this in junior high school back in the 1960s at Meadowbrook Junior High School in Prairie Village, Kansas. My parents and I were Orthodox Jews and whenever our choir got to the point in the song (quoting John the Revalator), "The kingdoms of this world have become...the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ" I would simply mouth the word "Christ" and not sing it. I felt that it was a bit of an honor to give the man Jesus, and I wasn't willing or ready to go there.

Things changed for me, of course, when I was 19, and the book of the Revelation from which this quote is taken became one of my favorite books of the Bible.

So much was this on me, that in 1977, when Patty and I married, I wanted this song sung during the ceremony. I guess it was too much, and we didn't have it sung. But I still love it.

A few weeks ago, not to be morbid, but to be forward planning (is there any other kind of planning?), I worked on my funeral. I have a bunch of items (modular) to include and even wrote a message that I hope someone will read there on my behalf. Of course, the chorus "Hallelujah" is included and there should be no reason not to sing it that day. I'll invite you to join us now in the singing, and then in the pondering, if you are around.

22 November 2010

My own story... from 1971!

I hope you will enjoy the telling in just a few minutes of my personal story, how I came to believe in Jesus, although I was an Orthodox Jew. I grew up in Kansas City in the 1950s and 1960s. A peaceful time which became a turbulent time as hippies looked for peace and meaning. Surprises came to my family again and again...and for the fuller story, I'll be adding the longer version so you can see more details. Here it is Bob longer

Thanks for watching, and commenting if you'd like.

19 November 2010

Journeys begin with one step

window jog.JPG
Originally uploaded by bobmendo
The reality shows tire me. They feature stories of wayward youth and troubled pasts colliding with hopes and aspirations. The tears and the teary music remind us of 'not yet' dreams which just might be fulfilled if we vote for our candidate or vote someone else off the island.

And one of the tired words overused on each of those shows is the word 'journey.' Simply put a journey is a distance to be traveled or the time required for a trip. I would think the word emanates from the French for 'day' like journal or soup du jour. But let's not digress.

The producers of reality shows wear us down with stories, and the hosts and judges weary us further with epic journeys of their own.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” That quote is attributed to Lao Tzu (Chinese taoist Philosopher, founder of Taoism, wrote "Tao Te Ching" (also "The Book of the Way"). 600 BC-531 BCE)

As I walked into the Qantas Club today readying to answer emails and prepare for my journey to Melbourne, I heard an announcement "Thank you for making your journey with us today on Qantas." AAAAuuuggh, I thought this was only on the television. Oy.

I sat down and opened my briefcase and found the magazine I had brought along. "Blessed" The magazine of Awesome Church in Five Dock, NSW. It looks like it's been around a long time, but this is actually Volume One. It's really the first step in the journey for Awesome Church. Pastors Gary and Lissa write articles, as well as others are included. How good is God to give them this method of communicating to their own people and well beyond!

So then I found this photo I took out our balcony of the hotel in Malaga Spain a few years ago. Good times. And the walker and the cyclist and the joggers and the swimmer...each began with one step. I looked up on Google to find out which was the hardest stroke for swimmers and the answers were typically ranged from breaststroke to butterfly to... but I remember a famous swimmer from the past who answered, "The first stroke of the day on a cold day."

I guess Lao Tzu was right. The first step is the beginning of it all. Each man's run honestly begins with baby steps way back when. The Bible records
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (King Solomon in Proverbs. 9.10). So to end well, we have to begin well.

I wish Awesome Church every success in their new journey adventure. And I wish me success as I travel to Melbourne. And I wish you every success in being blessed by God today. Make sure you fear God, and your wisdom will be growing very well.

16 November 2010

Every parent's boast

Every parent's boast
Originally uploaded by bobmendo
Some people put their treasures into safety deposit boxes with jewels and important documents. Some put their treasures in their museums and offices in a gallery of artworks that span the decades if not centuries. I have three treasures, and they are not mine, in the same sense of ownership.

I love it when my children ring me or email me. I like it when they notice that I was gone for a few days. I like it that they want to hang out for a round of spades, double solitaire or Jeopardy on TV. We have fun doing crossword puzzles and eating out together. We especially like to share holidays together as a family.

When I was in Michigan 10 days ago, I saw this license plate on a car as I was racing into the rental car return area. And although I was a bit stressed by the lack of time I had misgauged, I had to pull out my camera and shoot this. Although the boast was not originally mine, I can appropriate it.

I have great kids.

Funny to call adults 'kids', but I guess that's the thing about a parent. We ever think of our offspring as both 'ours' and as 'kids.' My son is 31 and seriously an adult. He's lived on his own since he was 19. My elder daughter is 27 and moved out of house when she was 18. Over two years ago she moved countries back to the US. My 'baby' is 20 and 5'11" and will enter 3rd year university in the new year. Who would call them 'kids?' Only their parents.

The concept of 'ours' or possession is fascinating. My wife.. I say that expression. But does Patty belong to me? In a real way, yes. We belong to each other. The evidence of marital ownership is in our wedding documents, our photos over 33 years, our marriage bed, the regular thoughts we have of one another, and our dreams of what's ahead.

So in a way, our 3 kids are ours. But in every good way, they are adults and growing and making long-lasting decisions which impact our lives and theirs. And my confidence in them grows over time. I'm so proud of my Great Kids. I wish you could know them, too.

11 November 2010

Keeping the Faith

Larry and Averie Alverson
Originally uploaded by bobmendo
Keeping the faith. The year was 2000. Ben Stiller, Edward Norton, A story about two friends, a priest and a rabbi, who fall in love with the same beauty (Jenna Elfman). Fun movie, funny gag lines, but not the best of movies. Apologies to Stuart Blumberg who wrote the movie.

Is that what I'm picturing here? A minister, a rabbi and a woman? Good try, but nope. This is Pastor Larry Alverson from Trinity Assembly of God church in Flint (Mount Morris) Michigan and his wife Averie, along with me, of course.

What's with "Keeping the Faith?" Back in 1971, I came to faith in Jesus, the Jewish messiah. And wanted both to keep the faith and pass it on. And I was able to pass it on to my Jewish family, to other friends, and work colleagues, and then in 1972 I was privileged to start a congregation in Lawrence, Kansas, along with some other fellows.

From his website, we read about Larry. "Pastor Larry was born into an army family in Olympia, WA. His dad, COL Bill Alverson, served in the Korean conflict and two tours of duty in Viet Nam. Army life meant a lot of moves. Pastor Larry went to 13 schools for his first 12 grades of school, living in several states and three years in Europe.

"Pastor Larry finished high school in Kansas and went on to the University of Kansas, where he majored in business. It was there that he met the two loves of his life. First was Averie, who also graduated from KU with a business degree, and then a year after they were married, Jesus Christ came into his life."

You see, it was 1972 when Averie met her friend, a cashier at the university student union book shop, Jeannie, who was a member of the church I started. The name, The Mustard Seed, was something I chose one day in prayer. We started small, like a seed, and hoped to grow. Who knew that Larry and Averie would be part of the growing tree?

So Jeannie led Averie to Christ early that summer and she understood 1 Peter 3 (a chapter in the Bible) to instruct her about keeping the faith, and that would help her (as yet) unbelieving husband to unpack the issues, to learn about Y'shua, and to find eternal life in Him. And that's just what happened.

A couple months later, Larry was born again on his way home from Topeka to Lawrence, and pulled off the highway to pray and ask Jesus to forgive him of his sins. God was more than willing to give Larry faith.

I baptized them both a short time later and they have continued in faith now 38 years on. And God is well honored. They have indeed kept the faith.

And they have passed it on for decades as well. Since 2002, they have ministered at Trinity AOG and I was privileged to preach there last weekend. Go to the Trinity website Trinity to hear or watch the sermon, and experience along with us the joy of finding friends from 38 years, and appreciate with me God's helping us to keep the faith until He returns.

08 November 2010

Buds in autumn?

Buds in autumn?
Originally uploaded by bobmendo
I enjoyed our walk in suburban Detroit on Saturday. The chill was in the air, the sky was high and crystal blue. Autumn leaves abounded in piles in some yards and in disarray in most. Then above me, on the mighty oaks were buds. Thousands and thousands of promises, in the form of buds. I don't know that I ever really thought about them before that.

This from a nature center information document: "Winter branches are not bare! Winter twigs are studded with jewels. The tip of each branch contains the packaged promise of next year's growth. This package is called the bud.

A tree bud consists of next year's leaves, stems, and perhaps flowers, which are folded, twisted, crumpled, pressed together and covered by a waterproof coating of modified leaves called bud scales.

Buds are small. You have to be close enough to touch a tree to notice its buds. Take time to examine a twig in fall or winter. You will be amazed by the diversity of color, form, and texture of these distinctive features of our winter flora. Tree buds come in any shape that can be constructed with a curved line." (http://www.wildwnc.org/education/naturalists-notes/this-buds-for-you)

God always provides for his creatures, even for his botanical ones. He, after all, created everything.

He even created you and me. And that promise/ provision of the future in the bud, is in us as well. Maybe that's why we believe we will be ok when we sit in a bus or train or airplane. Why we trust our unseen future when we attend classes at school or university. Maybe that's why we take new jobs or take leaps off snow lifts into fresh snow-covered mountains.

The adventure of living requires us to live in faith. But faith is not empty. Nor are the buds. Faith is filled with confidence because of the God who has demonstrated himself in the past. I wish I could return to this park near the middle school in West Bloomfield come springtime. I wish I could take a photo of this tree and we could all enjoy the fruits of our faith. We could see leaves and abundant leaves at that filling this massive tree. And those leaves would cause the tree to breathe and live again.

God has put buds in us, anticipating buds which long to experience the reality of the life of the Almighty. Our times are always ready for springtime, but often we have to walk through all seasons to get there. Be patient. Be anticipating. Be faith-filled.

God knows.

01 November 2010

The Tragedy of Forced Marriages and Conversion of Christian girls to Islam

from http://www.crosswalk.com/news/religiontoday/11638059/

Shah Taj, a fourteen-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan, was on her way to school last year when a vehicle occupied by three men pulled up beside her, grabbed her, threw her in the car and sped off. As frightening as this may seem, her ordeal had just begun. She described what happened: “I was standing at the bus stop. Three Muslims came up to me in a car. They were armed with weapons. They pushed me into the car and took me to a hotel. While there, one of them raped me. Afterwards, at gunpoint they took my thumb impression and my signature, placing them on blank papers.”

“I tried to make noise; but they pointed their guns at me and threatened to kill my father and my brother if I make a noise.” Taj was forced to marry a Muslim man and convert to Islam. They had used her signature and thumbprint to create a document saying she had converted to Islam. Like Shah Taj, Christian girls throughout the Islamic world are being abducted and trafficked for commercial sex and coerced into domestic servitude. Muslim men are offered financial incentives to marry Christian girls - an incentive designed by fundamentalists to convert girls to Islam forcefully.

Recent investigations have revealed information exposing the criminal phenomenon of forced Islamization of Christian girls which occurs on an alarming scale. On April 16, 2010, eighteen members of the United States Congress wrote to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office, concerning continued “reports of abductions, forced marriages, and exploitation of Coptic women and girls in Egypt.” The Egyptian government and state security have routinely denied the problem’s existence, refusing to sanction cases that have been commissioned to court.

International Christian Concern (ICC) recently visited Egypt to investigate. Meeting with human rights lawyers and activists who have defended Egypt’s Christian minority, they obtained names, birth certificates, and conducted personal interviews with the parents of victimized Christian girls. Source after source exposed astonishingly similar cases. Forced marriages are systematically orchestrated. What appears to a girl to be a natural and inconsequential friendship with a young man may on the contrary be a deceptive plot to lure the girl into a forced marriage.

A Muslim man or his accomplice exploits the girl’s trust by convincing her of the man’s friendship. “They are planning and organizing a plot to fool this person. it may seem like friendship or falling in love, but in actuality, it is a planned seduction,” Bishop Thomas of the El-Quosia Diocese in Upper Egypt told ICC. Most forced marriages are accompanied by physical abuse and sexual violence. Once the paperwork is finalized, it is as if the Christian girl never existed.

The town she grew up in, the names of her parents, and the date she was born become mere memories, known only by those closest to her. All documents revealing the girl’s childhood or family history are burned or tucked away in bureaucratic files where there is no likelihood the girl’s whereabouts will ever be discovered. She becomes a ghost, with no past, but only an uncertain future, but only an uncertain future which will likely be lived-out as a resented wife to a detached husband.

The girl is then kept captive in her husband’s home. The Muslim husband may take a second, third or fourth wife, using the “Christian” girl as nothing more than a servant. If the girl is bold and fortunate, she may escape. However, according to a report by Christian Solidarity International, girls who are able to escape “usually remain so heavily burdened with social and legal problems that anything like a normal life is impossible. While they may be successful in obtaining a divorce from their Muslim husband, they are rarely able to obtain a reversal of their religious status.”

In Cairo, Mamdouh Nakhla, a Coptic lawyer and the Chairman of the Al-Kalema Organization of Human Rights, said he has reported hundreds of cases of abduction to the police, and their response is always the same. “The police say the girl is happy with her marriage and happy to be a Muslim and they demand that I stop looking for her. The police know where she is, but they choose not to tell me. There is an ‘unsaid contract’ between the police and the kidnappers.”

Mr. Nakhla then takes the case to the District Attorney, who orders the man and the girl to appear in court. The man appears alone, having prevented the girl from attending the hearing. Before the judge, the man either denies the accusations, or professes that the girl willingly chose to marry him and is happy in her present circumstance. The District Attorney then refers back to the police to verify the man’s statement. The police, honouring their agreement with the man, return with a positive report confirming the kidnapper’s testimony. With that, the District Attorney closes the case.

According to Mr. Nakhla, since January 2006, there have been more than 2,000 cases of girls who have appealed to return to Christianity, but have been denied their right to testify in court. Human Rights Watch reported, “The abducted girls typically face no difficulties converting to Islam and acquiring identity documents recognizing their conversions, but those who subsequently wish to return to Christianity meet with refusal and harassment from the Civil Status Department (CSD) of the Ministry of Interior.”

Regrettably, the three men who abducted Shah Taj will likely never be punished for their crime. “I hate what has happened to me,” explained Taj. “They kidnapped me and raped me, that’s why they must go to prison and be punished.” Yet, Christians throughout the Islamic world are unable to justly punish those who have violated their daughters by deliberate assaults of planned seductions and kidnappings. Wagih Yacoub, a Coptic human rights activist, told ICC that in Egypt, the rights of Christians are not equal to those of Muslims.

“The only way to protect yourself and protect your people is by the law; but if the law is not on your side, then you have no assurance of protection. We are the minority in this country. The Muslims have the support of the Egyptian government, their religion and the police security. The Christians cannot stand against an entire government.” In Egypt, Christians makeup roughly ten percent of the population, yet they remain a marginalized religious minority on account of being governed by Islamic Shariah law, a principle source of Egypt’s legislation.

Even though it is stated in the Egyptian Constitution that, “The State shall guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites, in practice, it severely violates religious freedom. As of 2008, Christians held less than two percent of seats in Egypt’s People’s Assembly and Shura Council. With little political power, the Christian community is left vulnerable to discrimination and oppression, incapable of defending themselves against even the most apparent and fundamental human rights abuses.

Source: Intercessors Network