Happenings in Russia and Turkey

This article from the Christian Science Monitor discusses the recent violence carried out against Evangelical Christians and the attitudes within Turkish society that led to this violence.

I heard this report on NPR this morning about the Russian government suspending the activities of foreign adoption agencies. Though the report captures the dysfunctional nature of how Russia handles orphans ("Our people will not adopt them, but we will not allow foreigners to adopt them either."), it fails to tell the story of the many Americans who adopt (and frankly, rescue) children from these orphanages. Many of these adoption agencies are run by Christians, as are many of the people who adopt these children. As is the case in Turkey, the aim of the crackdown on adoption agencies is part of a larger effort to put a stop to Evangelical Christian activities in Russia.

Why is this the case? What is so dangerous about Christianity and Christians, that they must be killed or deported? It reminds me of the words of Christ:

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you... But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me." John 15:18-19, 21

The believers in Turkey were killed because they wanted to help other Turks learn about Christ, and the adoption agencies have had their work halted because they help put Russian orphans in the loving homes of American Christians and other kindhearted people. On both counts, this is persecution for righteousness by any definition.


Good stuff I've watched...

...in the last couple of weeks, due to too much free time in front of the TV:

Band of Brothers - HBO miniseries about a company of American paratroopers who, in the course of a year, land at Normandy on D-Day, hold their ground in the Battle of the Bulge, liberate a concentration camp and secure Hitler's secret mountain fortress. Excellently done, with more than a few dusty moments in it - I plan to show it to my cousin Jacob when he comes next month.

The Last of the Mohicans
- Epic movie based on James Fenimore Cooper story from Colonial-era America. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Hawkeye, an absolute badass who risks all for the love of Madeline Stowe.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off - I loved this movie as a kid, and watching it as an adult, I'm amazed at how well-done it was in just about every way. I think George Will considers it the best "movie" ever, as it provides perfect escapist entertainment.

In other news...

I have a project in construction in Boerne right now, which means that I get out of the office at least once a week to enjoy Spring in the Hill Country. I probably should take some pictures when I go out tomorrow, of construction and of the Hill Country.

On Saturday, I think a few of us will pack in a van and go out to Fredericksburg to tour a couple of wineries, and to have a walk around in Fredericksburg. I'm looking forward to this trip so much that I've offered to be the designated driver...

That's all for now...


On Virginia Tech

When I heard about the murders at Virginia Tech on Monday, it reminded something you hear a lot about growing up in Austin. In 1966, about a year before my parents entered the University of Texas, an engineering student named Charles Whitman climbed 28 flights of stairs to the observation deck of the main building, barricaded himself in with several days of rations, and started firing at the lunchtime crowds below. After several hours of terror, Whitman was stopped by two brave police officers who burst into the observation deck and gunned him down. Whitman killed sixteen people and wounded many more. Cho-Seung Hui murdered twice as many, and again we mourn and pray for those affected, and the media rushes onto the scene with their cameras in search of a Pulitzer. Unfortunately I don't believe we're as shocked, at the crime or the frenzy around it.

We've come face-to-face with evil again, in all its self-obsessed, destruction-bent horror, just as we did at Columbine, on 9-11, and in Austin in 1966. As the talking heads debate gun control and wonder why everyone missed the warning signs, the fact remains: Hui had multiple opportunities to seek help for whatever issues he had, and instead he turned away every offer of friendship and decided to destroy as many people as he could before he destroyed himself. It's the same problem we've had since the Garden, and we won't be rid of it until Kingdom Come.

That's not to say we can do nothing in the face of such evil. As the Apostle Paul put it, "do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Everytime there's an episode like this, we hear about acts of selfless courage in the face of it, and this time was no different. A Romanian professor who survived the Holocaust barricaded a door with his own body and delayed the murderer long enough to save the lives of several students, much as this teacher at Columbine did. Bastards like Clebold, Atta, Whitman and Hui will always be around, and they can take as many lives as circumstances allow them to, but they can't take honour, and so long as we value honour and teach it to our children, there will be men like Professor Librescu, Todd Beamer, and Dave Sanders to remind us that evil can be overcome with good.


Letter from Russia

This is a letter from Olga, the girl we met at the orphanage in Apetity who loves to sing. As Louis put it, this is another good reminder as to why we go:

Hello, Louis and Nathan. How was your trip to your town? Louis, as you asked me to pray, that’s what I’m doing. I talked to Sergei by telephone and asked about you and Nathan. Thanks for leaving me envelopes and the address, because I forgot to ask you. Thank you, Louis and Nathan, for not forgetting about me, I am very grateful for your and our Lord Jesus Christ. Louis and Nathan! The children send you a big hello with all their hearts. It’s good that there are such people as you, Louis. I’m keeping your picture where you are with your kitty. I’ll have it until you come to take [a picture]. Louis, I want to say as a secret that you and Nathan, you are my brothers in Christ. Louis and Nathan, when you come again, please bring me a book about Jesus Christ. I will await with faith. Louis, please say hello to Nathan. I respect him very much, just as I do you. Right, what I just remembered is that Yura is my brother in Christ, too. I say to you again that the doors of our Children’s Home are always open for people like you, Louis, Nathan, and Yura. Louis, say hello to your family. Louis, I will never forget you and Nathan, you will always remain in my heart. Louis, I want to tell you an excerpt from the Bible, what Christ said (Jonah was in the belly of an enormous fish three days and three nights and I will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights). Well, then, that’s what, Louis and Nathan, I wanted to write you. The Lord Jesus Christ keeps you and your family, Nathan, and Yura and all who believe. I guess that’s all. This has been Olga Sergeyevna Savelieva writing you. For the time being I await, Louis and Nathan, your reply.


iTunes Playlist: Catharsis

I won't go into it, but I'm a little overwhelmed right now, so as a catharsis, I put together a playlist. Enjoy...

The Pretender, Jackson Browne - When Jackson Browne had his fastball in the mid-1970's, he expressed the angst of the twentysomething man trying to decide between a shot at transcendence and the pursuit of the American dream better than anyone, and never did so better than he did here.

Blues Before Sunrise, Eric Clapton - Needed a great blues song, so I went with Clapton...

Reaching, Carolyn Arends - This is from Carolyn Arends's first album. I've always loved her voice - it has a soothing and hopeful quality.

Everything That's on My Mind, Charlie Peacock - A song of confession - my favorite line from the chorus goes, "I have to say it took me far too long/To find out that my weakness is my testimony." Inexplicably, it's not on iTunes...

Fawkes the Phoenix, John Williams - Watched the tail end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tonight, and this was the theme for Fawkes the Phoenix, who is a symbol for hope for the brave and noble in the story.

Man of No Reputation, Rick Elias - Rich Mullins was going to record this song for the Jesus Record, but didn't live to do so. According to his bandmates, he couldn't get through it without weeping. I know of no song that expresses the heart of Christ better than this one.

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, Willie Nelson - "Always in search of, and sadly in back of/Themselves, and their slow-moving dreams..."

Arms of a Woman
, Amos Lee - Kelly gave me this album for Christmas, and it's been my favorite this year. Amos Lee mixes well with Norah Jones (who played piano on the album). Terrific love song.

Waiting on the World to Change, John Mayer - Soulful and honest anthem for a generation weary of the world and skeptical of its prospects.

Walk of Life, Dire Straits - Dire Straits may be the most underappreciated band of my lifetime. I've been whistling the hook in the car for about two weeks now.

Sweet Baby James, James Taylor - The classic lullaby about a lullaby from JT.

Land of my Sojourn, Rich Mullins - The bookend song about the angst of a Christian wrestling with the blessing and curse of being at once an American and a citizen of heaven. "So I call you my country, but I'm longing for my home/And I wish that I could take you there with me..."

Almost midnight, with ten miles behind me, and ten thousand more to go. Good night.



I just arrived back from my visit to Oregon, and was greeted by a cold blast that (allegedly) dumped four inches of snow on central Texas yesterday. I leave Texas for three days, and see what happens...

The weather was much nicer in Eugene this weekend. A brilliantly blue sky sheltered the towering Ponderosa Pines, the flowering lilies and the impossibly green rye grass that stretched all around the University of Oregon campus. I spent all of Friday morning visiting the Oregon Community and Regional Planning Program. The students were all very nice, and for the most part seemed to be overachieving activists that want to make a difference in the world. They had a craft room in the Student Union, and a group of students in a plaza giving out "Free Hugs." I walked by Hayward Field, the Carnegie Hall of US Track and Field, where Steve Prefontaine was undefeated and Coach Bowerman introduced jogging to America. Eugene is a great place, and Oregon is a great school...

...but before I left the campus, I had made my decision: Texas. If I am going to school to learn to make better cities, I feel the best place for me to do so is in Austin, the city I know and love more than any other. It's my home, and though I'm certainly willing to leave it in the future, now is not that time. Therefore, I went to Autzen Stadium, bought the ugliest yellow Oregon shirt I could find (which, incidentally, features an angry Donald Duck "donald-duckin' it"), and took off for Portland.

After visiting Oregon, I drove up to Vancouver, Washington to visit my cousin Leo and his family. Vancouver is just across the Columbia River from Portland, and attracts a lot of residents because you have the advantage of no state income tax in Washington and no sales tax in Oregon. Leo and his wife Lennie have a nice townhome that practically overlooks the Columbia River, and just had their first daughter 13 months ago.

I last met Leo seven years ago, when he asked me to be a groomsman in his wedding. The wedding was a fun one all around, and featured the Greatest Wedding Moment that I've ever witnessed: Near the end of the reception, Leo, dressed in overalls and no shirt (it was a casual reception) and slightly drunk, got up to give a toast to his bride. He gave a short speech talking about how he and Lennie wanted to make the world a better place, and announced that their first dance would be to the anthem of the Communist Catholics (At this point, let me mention that Leo is a Communist). Leo and his bride and a few others then danced to a uplifting chorus singing something about "the New Revolution," while my grandfather, Gregor, retorted, "Boo! Boo! You ruined Eastern Europe!" Good times...

As was the case on my last trip to Oregon, my time with Leo was the absolute highlight. On Friday night, we played three hours of basketball at the gym, then talked religion and politics into the wee hours of the night. Though our philosophies are diametrically opposed (Leo is effectively agnostic, I am a Christian), we had a mature conversation where we both communicated what we believe and why we believe it, and came out with respect and esteem for one another. Two things struck me in particular:

1) Leo and I are both unusually motivated to make the world a better place, and struggle with how to walk that out in our lives.

2) When I posed the question to Leo, "What is so different about Christianity that would cause it to grow and survive as a religion for 2,000 years?", he responded that, after his daughter was born, he was astounded at the power he had over her, and saw God the Father of the Bible as a metaphor for parenthood, and saw the whole Christian religion as a guide for good parenting. I was astounded by this insight - though I think he had the relationship backwards, it was as if God had revealed a little bit of himself to Leo through his relationship with his daughter.

On Saturday, Leo and I continued our conversation as we visited an autonomous camp called Dignity Village. Dignity Village was started by a small group of homeless people (with the help of Leo), and I thought it was a great example of broken people working together to build a responsible, loving community. We also went a pub to have some West Coast microbrews, and to Powell's Bookstore, the largest independent bookstore in the U.S. That night, we watched Once Upon a Time in the West, which I definitely need to buy on DVD, and I went to bed.

I returned on the morning of Easter Sunday, having dined on a Denver Omelette on a stopover in Denver, and returned to a colder Austin than I left. I had missed church, but this did not change the things I know most deeply: Christ is risen, God is good, and by His grace, I'm going back to Texas. Can't complain about that...


I don't know what disturbs me more

1) That Keith Richards allegedly snorted his father with some cocaine, or...

2) ...that the fact that Keef snorted his father doesn't shock me in any way. It's about as surprising as a Sooner football player admitting to taking money he didn't earn, and acting incredulous at the insinuation that he did something wrong...

This Keith Richards story a good example of what I will call the Cherry Tree Principle. We are all familiar with the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree:

When George was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was extremely fond. He went about chopping everything that came his way.

One day, as he wandered about the garden amusing himself by hacking his mother's pea sticks, he found a beautiful, young English cherry tree, of which his father was most proud. He tried the edge of his hatchet on the trunk of the tree and barked it so that it died.

Some time after this, his father discovered what had happened to his favorite tree. He came into the house in great anger, and demanded to know who the mischievous person was who had cut away the bark. Nobody could tell him anything about it.

Just then George, with his little hatchet, came into the room.

"George,'' said his father, "do you know who has killed my beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? I would not have taken five guineas for it!''

This was a hard question to answer, and for a moment George was staggered by it, but quickly recovering himself he cried:

"I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.''

The anger died out of his father's face, and taking the boy tenderly in his arms, he said:

"My son, that you should not be afraid to tell the truth is more to me than a thousand trees! Yes - though they were blossomed with silver and had leaves of the purest gold!'' (ML Weems)

Though the story is probably apocryphal, the point of the story is this: it was so typical of George Washington to act in such a way that people could believe that it happened. If I told you that I drove into my garage with a bike locked to the top of my car a couple of weeks ago, knocking off said bike and bending my roof (and I did), I'm sure you would believe me, because it's typical of me to do such things. Same goes for an Oklahoma football player taking money in violation of NCAA rules- it's happened so often over the last 40 years in the land of Barry Switzer that it's not that surprising.

Therefore, whether or not Keith Richards really did snort his father is irrelevant. The fact that a reasonable person could think him capable of it tells you a lot about who he is.